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Western Pa. helps with Northeast's recovery from storms

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Rick Wills and Mary Ann Thomas
Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Red Cross volunteer Ken Brown said his best moment since leaving home for hurricane-battered Long Island was seeing the streetlamps come on in the town of Bellmore.

“That just made people who live there real happy. This has been a real long haul for them,” said Brown, 63, a retired engineer from Jefferson Hills who arrived in Long Island on Sunday and saw the lights start working two days later.

Through special collections of money, donations of food and clothing or just by giving their time and labor, people from Western Pennsylvania are aiding hurricane victims who endured brutal weather Wednesday for a second time when a nor'easter packing winds of more than 60 mph slammed into New Jersey and Long Island.

“It is blowing quite a bit out there. There's some snow. The weather seems like it could be a problem again, just as people are starting to pick up the pieces,” said Brown, one of about 35 Western Pennsylvania Red Cross volunteers sent to New York and New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the area last week.

Lower Kiski EMS Chief Pete Frejkowski spent six days in New Jersey — including time in Seaside Heights — with a crew of eight EMS workers.

“Some of the patients we relocated said they were in the water for 12 hours waiting for rescue,” he said.

Yet, the rescued were in “shockingly good spirits.”

“They were grateful that people came from so far away to help,” Frejkowski said.

Brown sleeps with about 50 other people in a social hall at the Deer Park Fire Department. He and other volunteers deliver meals, although they could not on Wednesday because of the weather.

In Mahwah, N.J., Red Cross volunteer Barbara Stefanik, 55, a nurse from South Park, helped about 100 people staying at a shelter at the Bergen County Police and Fire Academy.

“We are dealing with many elderly people and displaced families. Many of the people here were evacuated and had only 15 minutes to get out their homes, so they don't have much with them,” Stefanik said.

Red Cross vehicles in New Jersey were ordered to be off roads by 4 p.m. Wednesday, said Stefanik, who arrived on Friday and is now taking unpaid days off work to remain.

The Salvation Army will have red kettles at Monday night's Steelers game to collect cash for hurricane victims.

Pittsburgh Catholic Bishop David A. Zubik has called for a special collection at Masses this weekend for hurricane relief to be channeled through the national office of Catholic Charities.

Last week, Brother's Brother Foundation sent four tractor trailers, one each to Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Manhattan's East Village, with nonperishables, water and blankets.

“Tunnels were closed, so trucks had to detour onto bridges, which sometimes took several hours,” said Luke Hingson, president of Brothers Brother.

Five Salvation Army volunteers from Western Pennsylvania drove two mobile feeding kitchens to northern New Jersey, where each truck served 1,250 meals each day.

“Two volunteers stayed in a building without power. They work about 15 hours a day. But they helped people who sometimes had not eaten for a day, and those people were very grateful,” said Michael Riemer, director of the Salvation Army's Western Pennsylvania division.

Nick Waltenbaugh, 40, of Freeport, the equipment mechanic leader for the Army Corps of Engineers' Allegheny River Lock and Dams 5 through 9, is checking generators in hospitals, nursing homes and assisted care facilities to ensure they were working.

Based on Long Island, Waltenbaugh said that, generally, New Yorkers seem upbeat.

“They have been receptive to our help, and everyone seems grateful,” he said.

Robert Stewart of Harrison rented a trailer to haul supplies that had been collected by his two daughters. The Stewarts called Staten Island, N.Y., officials and learned what the storm victims needed: blankets, clothing, cleaning supplies. “I didn't think I'd need a trailer,” said Stewart, who owns a half-ton pickup.

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at

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