Lisa Bova-Hiatt ‘94 spends most days as the Deputy Chief in charge of eminent domain in the Tax & Bankruptcy Litigation Division at the New York Law Department. But when Superstorm Sandy battered her native Staten Island, her “real” job took a back seat to her other role: as a member of “Team Staten Island,” a small group organized by the Mayor’s Office to coordinate shelters and emergency response teams in the face of impending storms.
As forecasts predicted Superstorm Sandy’s arrival in the tri-state area, Bova-Hiatt headed to the Petrides School in Staten Island for the second time in just over a year. Last August, as Hurricane Irene battered New York City, Bova-Hiatt and Vinny Sisto, the head custodian of the Petrides School, supervised a shelter for 225 evacuees who rode out the storm and its aftermath, some staying up to four days in the shelter.
Bova-Hiatt and Sisto got to work preparing for Sandy, arranging to have basic supplies on hand at the school. They had no idea that within the weekend the school would become home to over 200 evacuees from “Zone A” who had voluntarily left their homes to ride out the storm at the school, and that within the week, the school would be overflowing with over 900 evacuees, many of whom were rescued from their rooftops as a catastrophic storm surge swept into Staten Island. Even as the water receded, first responders continued to bring in busloads of people throughout the night, including families with children, many soaked and distraught.
“It was unimaginable, what we saw,” said Bova-Hiatt. “A few hours before these people were sitting on their couches when a wall of water swept into their houses and turned their worlds upside down. Now here they are soaking wet in the middle of the night. Many of them were completely overcome with emotion.”
Adding to the challenges of housing, feeding, and clothing over 900 people - not to mention at least 75 pets - the shelter dealt with intermittent power outages throughout the week. As the storm passed, leaving swaths of Staten Island submerged, Bova-Hiatt and her staff began collecting and sorting through the donations of food and clothing that came in droves from the community. The shelter even held a Halloween party for the 200 children at the school with volunteers donating bags of candy and craft supplies to make costumes.
For the next month, she was part of a team of 10, led by the Mayor's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, which coordinated recovery efforts from a distribution site at Miller Field on Staten Island. Bova-Hiatt and her co-workers worked closely with the National Guard and FEMA to help embattled residents in any way possible. A bright spot among all the destruction was when President Obama, along with Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg, visited the distribution site to offer their support.
The distribution site closed after Thanksgiving, but Bova-Hiatt is still working with the Mayor’s Office to help get Staten Island back on its feet. “This experience is, by far, the most amazing and challenging and emotional, and satisfying experience I have ever been through,” Bova-Hiatt said. “This is my community, and this is what you do when your community needs help.”