In New York, Duke Alumni Aid in Sandy Cleanup

A group of more than 100 alums helped a Staten Island neighborhood regain its footing

A group of Duke alumni spent a recent day helping Staten Island residents recover from Hurricane Sandy.

More than 100 Duke alumni from the New York City area spent a recent day helping residents of hurricane-ravaged Staten Island piece their lives back together.

They partnered with a larger volunteer group targeting neighborhoods left flooded by Sandy. On Saturday, the Duke alumni group took a ferry and a train before walking a mile to the Newdorp/Midland Beach neighborhood, where proud residents were reluctant to ask for help even as their waterlogged homes, 10 days after the storm, continued to drip.

"We did things like tear up floors, remove dry wall and insulation that was soaked," recounted Julie Ehlers, a 1985 Duke graduate and member of the Duke New York alumni association board. "We helped carry washers and dryers out of basements, up narrow stairways. We picked up trash."

Armed with shovels, brooms and garbage bags, the group split into teams of 10 and knocked on doors. They wore silver duct tape on their arms, an ad hoc symbol -- a la the Red Cross -- that they were there to help.

"It was truly devastated with flooding," said Ehlers, a sales executive whose Manhattan home was largely spared. "People's houses are just buried in debris. Cars are flooded. Basements are flooded."

Ehlers said the response by Duke alums was encouraging; she put out a call last Thursday morning and had at least 70 volunteers by that afternoon.

The group may hold another cleanup day. It also plans to collect gift cards to donate to the neighborhood when the holidays draw nearer, she said.

"It's pretty clear Christmas is going to be pretty bleak out this year, when you've lost everything," she said. "It's astonishing."