A couple weeks ago, we sat down for breakfast at a bustling breakfast restaurant in Manhattan’s Chinatown.
We ordered a plate of rice, a bowl of omelets, and a plate full of pancakes.
As we sat, a few of the tables around us nodded as the waiter, a middle-aged Chinese woman, brought a plate to the table.
“It’s been awhile,” she said.
She smiled and replied, “The forest is coming.
And we’re going to get in trouble.”
A few weeks ago we sat a few tables away from a restaurant in Chinatown and a few minutes later, the world was ablaze with a cacophony of news reports about the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy.
People were leaving their homes, people were fleeing to the woods, and thousands were still displaced.
People are calling for help.
A fire that had started on a roof of a New Jersey hotel was extinguished in minutes.
But people are still fleeing to get away from the devastation.
We sat and watched.
The weather was perfect, and we were eating.
The waitress at the diner was serving us pancakes, and I asked her what was up.
She said, “I’m sorry.
I know you’re worried.
But it’s all good.
There’s a fire, a lot of people are hurt, there’s a lot people who don’t have homes, and the forests are coming.”
“I’m going to need to buy a house, but that won’t happen for a while,” I said.
“It won’t be long, though,” she told me.
“You’ll be okay.
You’ll be back in your home.”
When I asked how the fires would play out over the next few weeks, the waitress nodded.
“The fires will be controlled by the National Guard,” she continued.
“There are no fires on the ground.”
I asked, “What does that mean?”
The waitress explained that, because there is no FEMA response, the National Guardsmen will be on standby.
But, she said, the fires are not going to stop.
“People will have to get out and make sure that there is enough food, water, and fuel to get people out,” she added.
“And, it is going to be difficult to do that.”
I asked, what happens if people don’t make it out?
The waitress looked at me and said, “People will need to leave.”
“They are not in control of it.
They have no control.”
It took several hours before the waitress realized what I was asking.
She took my order and walked away.
I watched her leave the restaurant.
When she returned, I asked why.
“I want to buy my house,” I told her.
“How is that going to work?”
She was gone, but the fires were still burning.
I looked around, and people were walking toward the fire, waving at each other, and yelling, “Help!”
It was a scene I would never have imagined two years ago.
In February, the US Coast Guard reported that the total number of fires in the New York City area had grown to more than 3,000.
A week earlier, I watched as the fires burned in my neighborhood.
As the fire grew, people came out to help.
In the days that followed, I had the opportunity to walk around my neighborhood and ask people how they were coping with the fires.
One young woman told me she was having trouble sleeping.
I asked what she was doing.
She replied, “[We’re] sleeping in the same room, I’m afraid.”
The woman was the only one I spoke to who had made it out.
She told me that she was scared, but it was because of the fires that were burning in her neighborhood.
On Wednesday, a week after the fires started, the fire season was over.
But that didn’t mean that the fire was over for many residents.
As of Tuesday morning, over 100,000 people remained displaced, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
While there are no reports of injuries from the fires, some residents have lost everything, and many of those are likely homeless.
“Everyone in the city that we know is in crisis,” said Chris Krasno, who lives in the area of the Long Island Rail Road station that is the site of the fire.
“Nobody is safe.”
The fires have also created a major shortage of food.
“Some people don’ know what to do,” said Krasyes, who works in a warehouse.
“When the fires start, I have to put my job and my kids and my dog and my motorcycle on hold for a few days.”
While many people have been displaced, the New Yorkers who live in areas where the fires have burned most are not.