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Sandy relief: How trips to the Hamptons turned into a mission of mercy

New Yorkers have come together to help each other in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy – from volunteers reinstalling drywall to lawyers helping victims navigate government bureaucracy.

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“The outpouring of support is amazing,” says Bill Lienhard, executive director of Volunteers of Legal Service in New York. “We’re figuring out our needs and how to stagger the volunteers so we have consistent support over the next six to seven months,” he says. “We don’t want everyone to all show up at the same time.”

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Another group that is looking further out is All Hands, a Boston-based volunteer group. After spending four days on Staten Island, Jeremey Horan, director of operations, says they have identified cleanup as a major way the organization's volunteers can help.

“Some people are saying, 'We’ve cleaned the house, but we still have this smell,' ” he recounts. “That is a great first step, but they may not know they need to remove the drywall, the flooring, the subflooring,” he says.

“Tearing apart a home is incredibly difficult to do,” says Mr. Horan. “We have a lot of good volunteers with experience in helping other people who can make sure it’s done in a responsible manner. They are chomping at the bit to help.”

Sometimes the scenes of the devastation have inspired individuals to see that they can do. That’s what’s happened with Dottie Herman, the CEO of Douglas Elliman, a New York real estate brokerage.

The real estate firm opened its offices so people could recharge their cellphones, make calls, or just get warm. Through a radio show on WOR, Ms. Herman encouraged many people to offer their services to volunteer organizations. “I haven’t slept for two days, we were so overwhelmed,” says Herman.

A company that had 20 trucks volunteered to help move food and supplies. Some 800 people dropped by the company’s offices with supplies.

One of the people who heard her show worked for East End Helicopters, which has four choppers. After the storm, the company had heard about roads that were impassable because of fallen trees and sand that was three feet deep. Then, first responders could not get to some communities because they could not get gasoline.

“That kicked us into high gear,” recounts Scialabba.

Shortly after they started making the mercy flights, one of his crew heard Herman’s radio show asking for yet more help. He told Scialabba, who called Herman.

“He offered to continue to fly the helicopters all week, as long as we supply the fuel,” says Herman who is trying to raise the money for that effort.

On Monday, East End, which got a load of fuel from DHL, got a call from the police on Fire Island, a barrier island off the south shore of Long Island.

“The police chief said they had no water, so we loaded one helicopter just with water,” recounts Scialabba. A second helicopter brought in other supplies.

Scialabba says he’s burning through his DHL fuel supply. He’s told Herman, “find a way to fund my fuel, and I’ll keep flying.”

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