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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Battered New Yorkers Organize Relief Efforts

NEW YORK CITY (CN) - With city and federal agencies overwhelmed by Sandy, public housing residents in the "Zone A" evacuation area in Queens and Brooklyn sought aid from grassroots relief workers Wednesday.

Occupy Sandy, an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, teamed up with community groups and the nationwide environmental group 350.org to help residents of northern Queens and southwest Brooklyn.

Workers said the city has given Zone A short shrift in its massive effort to restore transportation and energy and remove downed trees.

Con Edison promised hundreds of thousands of Manhattan and Brooklyn residents in areas with underground wires that energy would be restored within three days, but warned that areas served by above-ground cables would be without power for at least a week.

That means many residents of Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood will be in the dark, with no heat, well into November.

The temperature dipped to 48 degrees Wednesday, but it felt colder, with winds whipping from the surrounding Upper New York Bay.

In Red Hook's gentrifying Northside, families of trick-or-treaters wandered down Columbia Street, where rows of houses surrounded independent bookshops, restaurants and bars. The bike lane connecting the neighborhood to the wealthy Dumbo neighborhood has been swept clean, and was filled with bike riders Wednesday afternoon.

The picture changed south of the overpass, where the toll road to Brooklyn Battery Tunnel divides the neighborhood. A few blocks down, dozens of people lined up around the community group Red Hook Initiative, waiting for hot meals, candles, child and senior care and other goods and services.

At the door of 767 Hicks St., volunteers handed out intake forms stating that free meals would be served and noon and 6 p.m., and asking what people needed and how they could be contacted. The form directed people to check off boxes if they needed cleanup, batteries, flashlights, matches, food, water, child care, elder care, transportation or medicine.

Lashawn Sowell, a 41-year-old resident of Red Hook East Houses around the corner, said she found out about the project from a neighbor in her building.

She said the New York City Housing Authority, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Con Edison have not shown up for three days, though elderly people have been stuck in their homes without elevator access, hot water or lights.

"Two housing workers came into the building this morning to see if there was any damage done to the apartment. Not to question how are the tenants doing, but is there any damage to your apartment that housing needs to know about," she said.

She said the workers would not talk about the Housing Department's response because they hope to shift the liability to Con Edison.

"Where's all these people to help all these people in the community who were in a Zone A evacuation area?" she asked.

"Why does the community have to do all the work when FEMA is out there? We can support each other, yes, but how long is that going to happen?"

An older woman chimed in, "Ain't nobody talking about Red Hook," on TV news.

The woman, an employee of Intercruises, said her cruise ship, the Queen Mary, berthed at Brooklyn's Pier 12, was diverted last weekend because of the storm.


"They didn't warn people about their cruise ships," she said. "A lot of people thought they were going to Bermuda on Sunday. They ended up in Boston. If you had no insurance on your cruise ticket, they got no refunds."

She preferred not to give her name.

Luigi Carlucci said he served 20 years in the Marines, and had seven bullet wounds from a tour in Afghanistan. Lifting his shirt to show his scars, he said he took advantage of service benefits, earning a master's degree in business law.

"When they give me seven holes, I'm going to get seven back," he said.

He said he used his education Wednesday to represent a friend who had a desk appearance ticket in court.

His neighborhood of Marine Park, well east of Red Hook, was badly battered by the storm, and he picked up candles, milk and other supplies.

Eventually, volunteer Bobby Cooper wandered out of the center with a cardboard sign with "Far Rockaway Caravan" scrawled in black Magic Marker.

Cooper said his group had sent "hundreds of sandwiches" to the Far Rockaways, in eastern Queens. They also were trying to help Breezy Point, where more than 100 homes burned down.

Unlike that mostly evacuated area, scores of people remain in shelters in the Far Rockaways, reminding Cooper of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

"I did hurricane-related work after Katrina, and it looks like that," Cooper said.

Back in northern Queens, Pam DiFrancesco, a 31-year-old organizer, spearheaded local outreach, where the storm's damage was light compared to the rest of the city.

As the day began, she told Courthouse News that she thought that few would need her help, but later in the day she said she connected with the residents of Building 12 of Astoria Houses. She said the building was "pitch black," with no light or electricity.

The city shut off elevators in public housing in evacuation zones before the storm, and they remain out of service. She said her partner saw residents carry a man in a wheelchair downstairs.

Three people organize outreach for this group on AstoriaRecovers.org, she said.

She said about 50 people have offered donations through the site, and more than 200 have offered services, including car rides, senior care, tree removal and translation.

Elsewhere in the city Wednesday, the annual Halloween parade was canceled for the first time in decades, as police were needed elsewhere. So local residents staged their own little parades in Brooklyn's Cobble Hill and Midwood neighborhoods.

Manhattan parks are still closed due to fallen trees and power lines, as is Brooklyn's Prospect Park, where police cars were parked at every entrance as lines of city trucks carried away debris.

Limited subway service was expected to begin today - free.

Manhattan's Federal Court will be closed until the end of the week. Lower Manhattan, including the Financial District, is still mostly dark, without traffic lights, though the New York Stock Exchange reopened Wednesday.

Sandy killed more than 70 people in the United States, after killing nearly that many in the Caribbean. More than 5.5 million homes and businesses were still without power Wednesday - down from a peak of 8.5 million immediately after the storm.

Nearly 2 million homes and businesses in greater New York City and on Long Island were still without power Wednesday.

New Jersey, where the storm's eye, made landfall, was particularly hard hit. The National Guard helped evacuate Hoboken and distribute supplies. More than 2 million homes and businesses are still without power.

Heavy snow fell in West Virginia and Kentucky, and waves topped 16 feet on Lake Michigan before subsiding.

And Sandy, blowing itself out, headed toward Hudson Bay.

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