Photo Community Reaches Out To Help Family Rebuild
By Heather Graulich
There is an edge to photojournalist Al Bello’s voice, a shocked incredulity at the events of the past few weeks. Shocked first by the fact that his Merrick, NY, home would, for the second time in as many years, be largely destroyed by the tidal surge of a major tropical storm.
But there is also a welcome shock from the awareness that many dozens of people from the photojournalism community are reaching out to help him by donating to a relief fund started by photographer and friend Donald Miralle.
“All these people from all over the world over the years that I’ve made friends with ... I’ve just been overwhelmed by the notes and generosity, it’s changed my life for the better,” says Bello, who has built his career in New York with Getty Images, covering major sporting events around the world.
“I don’t know what to say. I’m overwhelmed with emotion. People are out there, when it seemed like the world forgot about us.”
And by us, Bello isn’t just referring to his own family. All the neighbors in his Long Island community saw their homes damaged by Hurricane Sandy, which sent three storm surges through the streets of Merrick, one every 12 hours with the tide, until the storm subsided.
“There are so many stories like his, his entire neighborhood’s been wiped out,” says Miralle from his San Diego home. He and Bello met in the 1990s when both worked for Allsport (later part of Getty), and have remained close ever since. “I was this young guy fresh out of UCLA and he would always help me out. He’s a good guy, the kind of guy who doesn’t complain and for them to get the house all fixed up and then to have this happen, my heart just broke for the guy.”
So Miralle and his wife, Lauren, called Bello to find out what he needed.
“Can you build me a house?” he joked. But the Miralles thought, why not? At the very least, the tightknit photojournalism community could give him a head start. They set up the Bello Family Relief Fund at a local bank and put the word out via Facebook.
“You talk about karma,” says Miralle, “He deserves ten times the karma for all the photographers he’s helped over the years.”
Had Just Finished Rebuilding
Before Sandy approached, Bello had concerns, but thought he knew what to expect and started to prepare.
Last year, Hurricane Irene sent a foot of water through his home, destroying the entire first floor. It took months to make the house livable again, with Bello financing most of the repairs himself except for a small payout from the National Flood Insurance program. He had new walls, carpet and a whole new kitchen.
So when Sandy threatened and forecasters began issuing warnings about the pending “perfect storm,” Bello, his wife Debbie and their children, Nicole and Daniel, put furniture up on wood blocks, moved other valuables to the second floor and prepared sandbags for doors. Bello drove his cars to higher ground near a train station.
He sensed Sandy might deliver on all the dire warnings.
“I just didn’t feel right about this one,” he says. He convinced several neighbors to move their cars, as well. Then, as waves began to whip on the bay across the street from their home, the Bellos kept vigil.
But all of the preparations were no match for Sandy, whose storm surges the Bellos tried to fight off using a generator to power a shop vacuum that pumped out water until the home’s very walls began to buckle. With the power out, Bello evacuated his family to the second floor of their home, where they used a flashlight to send reassuring beams of light toward neighbors hunkered in their own upper levels.
When the storm was over, the Bellos found themselves where they’d been a year before, only worse. This time, water had risen four feet in the house. Everything on the first floor was, yet again, a total loss. Flood insurance will probably only cover a fraction of the repair costs.
“This time, it’s just so hard,” says Bello. “You spend your life saving and then, you know, what do you do?”
But, Bello says, he plans to stay in Merrick, at least for now.
“I’ve got to try to rebuild my house,” he says. “I have kids and I want them to have a normal life. I’m luckier than a lot of people, my house didn’t shift off its foundation.”
He is humbled by the outpouring of donations and the support of his bosses at Getty Images, who told him to take as much time off as he needs to deal with the house. He was ecstatic to see the cable guy finally show up at his address over a recent weekend so that he could have Internet service back and respond to the crush of supportive eMails.
“My family’s okay and that’s what is most important,” he says. “I want to believe that with the help of good people out there I’ll get through this again and I’m gonna try to do it again. I just wish (the storms) would be more spaced out, not a hurricane every year. You just have to hope. But what do you do? How do you get another house? I can’t sell a house that’s wrecked. I have to at least get it back to normal. You just try to move forward.”
And as he continues to speak, Bello’s voice, that of a born-and-bred New Yorker, takes on an edge that has moved a little closer to defiance.
“I’m gonna overcome this, you watch.”
To donate to the Bello Family Relief Fund, you may use Bello’s PayPal account via [email protected] If you mark your donation as “personal” and “gift,” there are no extra fees. You may also mail donations to the Bello Family Relief Fund (routing # 121137522, account #1894689049) to Comerica Bank – MC 4583, 1000 Aviary Pkwy., Ste. 104, Carlsbad, CA 92011.
To read more, visit: https://www.facebook.com/TheBelloFamilyReliefEffort