When Diane McLean learned about the East Village explosion that destroyed her home, her first instinct was to make sure her neighbors were safe. She rushed from her workplace, Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx, to her neighborhood, where she found her building blocked off by NYPD.
"I told [NYPD officers] I was trying to find our neighbors who live and work in the building and that I'd already communicated with several other neighbors," said McLean. "I pulled aside one officer and said, 'I know people who are safe from that building on the corner,' and he took down our names. I wanted to give some good news."
McLean said she did not even know her building was decimated until midnight. "Someone sent me a photograph that showed that the center of my building didn't exist anymore," she said. McLean had lived in the building since 1979. "It's my only adult home in my whole life," she said.
"We walked out that Thursday morning with just our clothes, and all of our history is gone," said McLean.
Though McLean was devastated by the loss of her home, she found that her friends and community members immediately came to the rescue.
McLean's three young children, Rose, 8, and twins James and Annabelle, 5, all attend the Children's Workshop School in the East Village. McLean, who is a single mother, said that right after the explosion, the school started collecting clothing and food for her family and organized childcare. She and her family have been staying at friends' homes while they search for more permanent housing.
Sarah Tomlinson, whose son Chaska is James' classmate and friend, said she felt compelled to help. "I said, 'I have to do something,'" she said. "Chaska keeps saying, 'We have to get James a new house.' He wants to give James his favorite toys and cars, but he really wants James to find a house." She set up an Indiegogo page to help McLean and her family find a new home; it has already reached its $5,000 goal. A former nanny for the McLean family has also set up a GoFundMe page with a $200,000 goal; so far, it has raised over $90,000.
McLean, who works for the city as a child psychiatrist, said her biggest challenge is finding affordable housing. "So many places are just completely not something I could possibly afford," she said. "I'm open to anything - I am completely open to a stable place."
McLean said her only condition is for a new apartment is that her children will be able to commute to their school from the neighborhood. "Everyone is so connected to the school," she said. McLean said she has received tremendous support from the school: The principal provided McLean's daughter Rose with a bathing suit on a special swim day, and kindergarten teachers threw a "celebration of love" pizza party and sang for the McLean children.
McLean said even though she has lost all of her possessions, she feels fortunate to be alive. "Let's talk about what home is," she said. "Home is our hearts and our family and each other and our bigger home is with our friends and broader family in our city."