Rudi Reichert arrived from Linz, Austria, hours before the New York City Marathon was canceled three days ago. Instead of racing yesterday, he spent the day helping victims of Hurricane Sandy on Staten Island.
Linz joined about 1,000 other race entrants to run around the borough where the race was to begin handing out food, water, batteries, flashlights and prepaid mobile phones to people affected by the biggest storm in Atlantic Ocean history.
- Special Report: Hurricane Sandy
“It was heart-breaking to see the devastation and speaking with people who lost everything,” Reichert, who was in town for his second New York marathon and 15th overall, said in an interview. “They were so happy we came to help.”
Staten Island, where the marathon was scheduled to begin, was one of the hardest hit areas when Sandy reached New York, accounting for about half the city’s 41 fatalities. The storm left 4.8 million people in the region without power and caused as much as $50 billion in damage. As of last night, New Jersey’s power losses dropped to 999,927, according to the U.S. Energy Department.
The cleanup effort may be hampered by another depression forming off the coast of Florida that’s forecast to reach the New York area by Nov. 8. The system may dump two to three inches of rain on the region and bring wind gusts of about 50 miles per hour with temperatures in the low 30s Fahrenheit. Snow is also possible.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg canceled the race -- for which about 47,000 participants had registered, including about 20,000 from overseas -- late in the afternoon of Nov. 2, two days after saying it would go ahead as planned. It’s the only time since the first edition in 1970 that the marathon hasn’t been run.
Sports medicine doctor Jordan Metzl was all geared up for his 30th marathon before the mayor, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, acceded to rising anger among residents and city officials and stopped the event.
By 1 a.m. on Nov. 3, Metzl -- still wearing his white coat after finishing work at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York -- had helped create the New York Runners in Support of Staten Island on Facebook. When he awoke later in the morning, the site had more than 3,000 hits.
“Our first reaction was it’s a shame and then we wondered what can we start to do to help,” said Metzl. “Let’s run into Staten Island.”
Metzl spent about $250 on goods to hand out to islanders and figured he’d cover about 15 miles (24 kilometers) yesterday. With a 15-pound (6.8 kilogram) backpack, he expected the course to be more challenging than the 26.2-mile marathon.
“That’s only a minor inconvenience,” he said. “Marathon No. 30 is going to have to wait.”
As many as 500 runners, wearing their orange marathon shirts and carrying backpacks stuffed with items including baby wipes, personal hygiene items, medicine, garbage bags, hats and gloves, traveled on the 8:30 a.m. ferry to Staten Island yesterday.
Runners were thanked by residents including Anthony Demott as they arrived on the island before splitting into small groups and running to distribution centers around the borough.
Demott, 62, was supposed to run the marathon, although he decided not to on Friday before it was canceled.
“We would have respected and protected the runners if the marathon went on,” he said in an interview.
A further 500 or so runners waited at the ferry terminal for later crossings, while other marathoners ran wearing their numbers in Central Park and along the Hudson River bike trail.
“This was my first marathon,” Simon Baltovic, a Londoner who lives in New York and who joined the group of relief runners on Staten Island, said in an interview. “I was a little upset that they canceled the marathon, but I knew it was unlikely if not irresponsible to run it.”
Marianne Fabozzi, a Staten Island resident who volunteered in Midland Beach, said she was glad the race was canceled.
“It would have been atrocious if they used resources for runners instead of giving them to people who need them,” she said.
Most of the runners took their supplies to a distribution center in Midland Beach and helped Staten Islanders clean homes that had been flooded.
The cleanup effort will continue today, some volunteers said.
“A marathon is over in a few hours, while recovery in Staten Island is just past the starting line,” Harlem resident Charles McNamara, who was set to run the New York marathon for the first time, said in an interview yesterday. “I will come back tomorrow.”
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