Capt. Jay Vizcarra made his way back to Staten Island, N.Y., the week of Hurricane Sandy to aid family members and neighbors. (Courtesy Capt. Jay Vizcarra)
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Neighborhood watch. Pseudo-guardsman. Neighbor. Son. Those are all titles Capt. Jay Vizcarra held for Staten Island residents affected by Hurricane Sandy.
Vizcarra, an RQ-4 test lead and flight commander with the 53rd Test and Evaluations Group at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., knew he had to get back to his hometown even as many were fleeing the area.
"Born and raised in New York, snowstorms are one thing, but this was something else," Vizcarra said. "Maybe it was the military guy in me, but I felt like my city was attacked, and I had to do something."
As the storm approached Oct. 29, he lost contact with his mother, who was worried the sewage pumps would stop working if the power went out. When the power failed, her basement flooded up to the ceiling, and 4 feet into the first floor of the house. After some time, he couldn't get back in contact with her.
"They just couldn't find her, which was a major driving factor for me to get out there," he said.
Vizcarra couldn't fly out to Newark, N.J., until Oct. 31, three days after the storm hit, but by that time he was following the news on Facebook.
"Family, friends were all sending me pictures of debris everywhere, the damage, and I was just upset no one was reporting on Staten Island yet," he said.
Vizcarra ended up tweeting at CNN's Erin Burnett, asking why no one had been reporting on the storm in Staten Island. CNN's Twitter page eventually tweeted back at him saying they were looking into the devastation on the island.
"I think a lot of people throughout Staten Island felt angry that the media didn't pay attention to an area that got hit the hardest. It wasn't until I got there I learned my intermediate school was being used as the local morgue," Vizcarra said.
After finally reaching his mother, the following day, friends he hadn't seen in 15 or 20 years joined strangers who had come to help with the cleanup, which kept him motivated.
At night, the airman became the neighborhood watch, driving around in his car from midnight on. The days following, he would help transport generators up and down city blocks. Move furniture. Drive to donation centers and distribute goods throughout neighborhoods for those whose cars were flooded. Toward the end of his visit, he volunteered with a joint task force of the National Guard, asking them to go into neighborhood homes and help remove damaged furniture and debris. And he's returning in a few weeks.
"I don't know where my energy came from [those two weeks] but there was a lot on my mind," he said. "It wasn't until I was leaving that I had a moment to stop and think — I saw hundreds of people in the streets helping — and I just thought, 'It will all be all right.'"