9/1/2015 New Jersey Organizing Project’s Sandy Survivors Travel to New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina 10th Anniversary

9/1/2015 New Jerey Organizing Project’s Sandy Survivors Travel to New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina 10th Anniversary, Jon Coen, The SandPaper

Last weekend marked the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the Cat 5 hurricane that forever changed the Gulf Coast. Many locals recall watching the storm and the aftermath unfold on the national stage, mostly telling ourselves, it could never happen here. Then in October 2012, Superstorm Sandy hit, thankfully with less loss of life, but bringing similar challenges in rebuilding.

Members of the opens in a new windowNew Jersey Organizing Project, a nonprofit formed in 2014 by activist opens in a new windowAmanda Devecka-Rinear of Cedar Bonnet Island to tell elected officials to “Finish the Job” of rebuilding, traveled to New Orleans recently on a trip organized by the Sierra Club for three days. Julie Suarez of Mystic Island, Sandi Mackay, Joe Mangino, Sophia Mangino and Joe Karcz, all of Beach Haven West, as well as Krista Sperber of Belmar went to show solidarity with the victims of Katrina.

“There are so many similarities with us. The tourist areas are up and running, which is great, but there are communities and families who are still struggling,” said Joe Mangino of Beach Haven West.

Mangino famously organized gutting and rebuilding efforts in the wake of Sandy, working with Waves for Water and Jetty, and cofounding opens in a new windowSTART. After being flooded, he and his family have battled with the RREM program and its contractors since they moved out to have their home raised last November. He made national news when he opens in a new windowfollowed Chris Christie’s presidential campaign to Iowa and told him to go back to New Jersey and “finish the job,” and the NJOP has played a part in getting several key pieces of legislation passed since. After volunteering with NJOP for the last 10 months, Mangino was given a paid position this summer. The Jetty Rock Foundation donated the money to pay for Mangino and his daughter, Sophia, 14, to travel to New Orleans.

“A politician down there said they are done with rebuilding and are now about creating. But there are still hundreds of homes with the big  ‘X’ and the number of dead painted on the outside wall,” Mangino noted.

The NJOP members in the “Big Easy” took part in a Story Circle, walked the Katrina March and were invited to a service. They shared notes on resilience and made contacts.

“We were at this Baptist church way out on the bayou to support these victims and they flipped it around. They were supporting us, telling us that we would recover and how everything would be all right.”

Mangino noted that developers had plans to simply wipe out entire neighborhoods when families were displaced, and the residents had to work just to keep their communities. He took note of the impact the storm had on the areas of less wealth, those who live in disaster-prone areas and have the least resources to rebuild. There were discussions on climate change bringing about stronger and more frequent storms, and how the poor will be most affected.

“There was a common theme that they kept repeating that we always have to repeat here, and that’s ‘Fight for It,’ whether that’s to save a community or get insurance money that you’re owed. You always have to fight for it.”

The group also raved about the music and food. After all, it was, and is, New Orleans.

— Jon Coen joncoen@thesandpaper.net