Staten Island, New York
By Mike Segar
As New York braced for the arrival of Hurricane Sandy three weeks ago, I was in California for a long-planned personal event. But I wasn’t about to miss what was shaping up to be a major story. I was determined to get back. I found a united flight to Detroit, Michigan, that was still listed as “on-time.” How far a drive would that be to New York? 10 hours? Through a hurricane?… I’ll take it, I thought. Seven hours later I was on the ground in Michigan driving through the night towards New York as winds howled and Sandy was coming ashore. I made it back to a region knocked to its knees by this storm.
The next seven days were a blur of finding and photographing those worst hit by the storm and hunting for gas for vehicles to keep going (not to mention returning home to a house without power, heat or hot water and without my wife and children who had evacuated to Massachusetts). Together Reuters photographers Lucas Jackson, Shannon Stapleton, Brendan McDermid, Keith Bedford, Adrees Latif, Andrew Kelly, Tom Mihalek, Carlo Alegri, Steve Nesius, Chip East, Adam Hunger and myself covered the immediate aftermath of Sandy in countless locations. We documented places and people affected by this massive natural disaster, one of the most destructive ever to hit the Northeast U.S. Our team made amazing pictures throughout and our collective photographic documentation of this disaster speaks for itself.
I found myself mostly covering the particularly hard hit borough of Staten Island where at least 23 people died. Many Staten Islanders say they live in New York City’s “forgotten borough.” On Staten Island’s south shore there are several long low-lying communities of mostly working class New Yorkers, many with civil service jobs. With a mixture of ethnic backgrounds of long-time residents and recent immigrants, this area consists of mostly beach bungalow style homes. The homes are mostly single story and packed closely together near the shore that stretches for about six miles and faces the Atlantic Ocean.
As I met more people and was invited to photograph what was left of their homes, I became interested in just who these neighbors were. Could I find a way to photograph them in a similar style and tell some of their stories? I began to try to put a face on this tragedy with compelling portraits as I moved through the area documenting the results of the storm surge.
I decided to ask all the subjects (I photographed more than 30 for this project) to look into the camera, and I photographed them all in a similar technical style. I felt that a completed set of pictures along with a short written piece about each person could stand out by itself and perhaps put more of a human face on the disaster for our readers.