NEW YORK – Melanie Lopez celebrated her 16th birthday Tuesday by clearing out her family's soaked furniture and destroyed winter clothing from their flooded basement. Now, still without power, they are running short on basic supplies, like blankets and food.

“Nobody wants to help around here,” Lopez, who lives in the Rockaways, Queens, said Thursday. “There's people now, but cops, they don't want to help.”

Lopez clutched the hands of her two young neighbors, aged 5 and 8, and pointed her chin to an unmarked ground level office with its doors open. It launched Wednesday as an adjunct community center to counter the heavy impacts Hurricane Sandy had on this tiny, hard-to-reach peninsula, caking its streets with sand and mud and decorating tree branches with sliced electrical wires.

It wasn't Red Cross or Salvation Army volunteers stacking towels and preparing hot pasta dishes inside the gutted office, where a muted brown line marked the five-feet point waves reached Monday night, when Sandy struck New York City and New Jersey.

It was local community members and Occupy Wall Street organizers, who have raised more than $5,000 for Sandy hurricane relief work in the New York City region since Tuesday. Occupy Sandy Relief, as the new movement is tentatively called, is setting up hubs for food and supply distribution in flooded areas like Red Hook, Brooklyn and the Lower East Side, Manhattan, while also coordinating volunteers.

“With the network we have, we have the ability to organize really quickly,” said Diego Ibanez, an organizer for a site in the Rockaways. He lived in Zuccotti Park for two months when the Occupy movement launched its global protest in September 2011.

“It's about filling the gap between the concentrated areas that are being helped by the city and the areas that are being ignored.”

People affected by Sandy in the Rockaways, a middle and lower-middle class community with a large immigrant population from Central America, said in interviews that they haven't seen or heard from any aid agency assisted by the government's emergency agency, FEMA, or from the city or state.

They said police are patrolling the neighborhoods, wary of nighttime store looting and house robbery reports, but government assistance, so far, has stopped there.

“I think that's how it happens,” said Sal Lopizzo, who offered his office space, a recently opened employment training center for women, to Occupy Sandy Relief. “I expect nothing else. This is really turning into something like New Orleans.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the charred remains of a row of storefronts and houses still emitted smoke. Adan Rizo, a 50-year-old immigrant from El Salvador, stood next to where his house once was with three of his family members. He revealed an untreated, split burn on his arm he received when an electrical fire, reportedly killing five, broke out on Monday.

Rizo carried four blazers and a few rolls of toilet paper and paper towels distributed by Occupy Sandy Relief. He told a reporter that these goods now constitute his only belongings, aside from the unwashed clothing he wore.

By late Wednesday, a FEMA station said to be set up on a main street in the Rockaways was gone for the day. A policeman didn't have a number to give to people, but said he would post it once he knew.

FEMA provides direct monetary assistance to people affected by natural disasters and emergencies and also funnels money to local governments that distribute food and supply aid to people in need.

Aid accessibility to affected regions in the New York City area has varied, says FEMA spokesperson Bill Rukeyser.

“A whole lot of supplies have been brought in and gone to our local partners and a whole lot more are needed and are on the way,” he said in a phone interview.

Sandy's damages are estimated to cost citywide upwards of $10 billion and have crippled New York City's daily flows of life, affecting its public transportation system and gasoline supply. The death toll neared 100 on Friday.

About 250,000 customers – but many more people, estimated at 1 million – are without power in New York City. About 46,000 of those customers are in the Rockaways.

The Red Cross has four emergency teams in the Rockaways, it said in a media release, and 10 emergency teams in Staten Island.

Occupy Sandy Relief plans to scout new community sites in affected areas and continue to boost the ones it has already set up. Ibanez says he imagines this humanitarian relief effort will give a new focus to the political and social justice ideology behind the Occupy movement, even after the immediate recovery work for Hurricane Sandy wraps up.

But he's hoping to also disassociate the Occupy movement from the Sandy relief work and community centers, which will eventually be run only by local people in the communities.

“Most of us met through Occupy, but we don't want to focus on anything political right now,” Ibanez said.

The Occupy movement's involvement in the Rockaways' Sandy relief center wasn't apparent to Patricia Bakert, 51, a painter who lives down the block. She lined up for soup, the first of two hot meals served that day, and explained that she was going to leave the peninsula tomorrow to find a working ATM and restock on supplies. The Rockaways is only accessible to Brooklyn or Queens by a shuttle bus, which, since Sandy, stops running at 6 PM.

Melanie Lopez talking to an Occupy Sandy Relief organizer. She's on a line with a group of people waiting to receive food and supplies.

“I knew the Occupiers were people with a lot of heart but they just went underground and I was waiting to see when they were going to surface and how,” she said. “But they are still together and still strong. It's quite a surprise and I'm quite happy about it.”

People affected by Hurricane Sandy or other natural disasters and emergencies are encouraged to contact FEMA and apply for assistance by calling 1.800.621.FEMA or visit

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Trump's politics are not the problem.

The fiery Milwaukee Sheriff is on the shortlist to head the Department of Homeland Security.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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