Allied with Occupy, Disabled Victims of Sandy Persevere

Search form

Allied with Occupy, Disabled Victims of Sandy Persevere

Allied with Occupy, Disabled Victims of Sandy Persevere
Thu, 11/15/2012 - by Eric Moll

When the New York City Housing Authority shut off the elevators in her building two days before Hurricane Sandy, Cecelia was trapped on the seventh floor. Some residents were warned that the elevators would be shut off, but Cecelia didn’t find out in time. Cecelia and her boyfriend Darius live in Red Hook Houses, the largest projects in Brooklyn with 2873 units and 6,500 residents.

Cecelia has multiple sclerosis. On a good day, she can walk without a cane. On a bad day, she needs her wheelchair. I met Darius and Cecelia on a good day, eleven days after the storm, after they had a chance to recuperate for a few days at a friend’s house. They’re a charming couple; young, articulate, instantly likeable. Darius is a social worker and Reiki practitioner. Cecelia is a writer.

Cecelia could walk when I met her. Her symptoms had been worse before the storm. “How am I gonna move fast enough to evacuate before the buses stop running?” she asked. “Every time you go to the bus, there’s already a wheelchair person on it. I can’t possibly evacuate if the buses stop running at 7 p.m. and you gave me a notice at 5 p.m.”

No transportation whatsoever was provided to the residents of Red Hook Houses. There were two shelters in the area, but one wasn’t handicap accessible and the other had an outbreak of stomach flu and had to be evacuated.

Then the power went out. With no windows, the stairwells and hallways were pitch-black, even during the day. Four days after the storm, I met two older women with severe respiratory ailments. Unable to evacuate, they were waiting for batteries to run their nebulizers, wheezing and trying not to exert themselves.

Another resident, a blind woman with mobility issues who lives alone, had no way to get down from the eleventh floor. When I met her, she was praying that power would be restored so she could get to the airport. She was supposed to fly to Florida for a surgical procedure which might partially restore her sight.

The Red Cross was supposed to provide food and water to residents, but they claimed that they were too understaffed to go inside the buildings. The National Guard set up an aide center in Coffey Park next to Red Hook Houses, but they weren’t bringing anything up the stairs either.

FEMA, the National Guard and Red Cross were unwilling or unable to actually go into the projects, so Occupy stepped up.

“They came in heavy on their bike brigades,” says Cecelia, “You could see like fifty bikes chained to the project gates.” According to Darius, Occupy was great in the first days following the storm, bringing “flashlights, candles, batteries, paper towers and toilet tissues, and constantly asking for volunteers, talking to people in the hallways, knocking on doors and reaching out to people.”

“The food they were delivering was the military rations, those boxed meals that heat themselves. It was Occupy delivering that,” says Darius, “The National Guard was using volunteers from Occupy!”

The police station, literally inside the same building, was humming with generator electricity less than two days after the storm. “The police station at the bottom of our building has power, water and heat. It’s located in the first floor of our building. It is baffling. Completely baffling,” says Cecelia. Two weeks later, the rest of Red Hook Houses was still without power, heat or running water.

As the temperature dropped outside and the first blizzard of the season approached, many residents risked carbon monoxide poisoning by heating their apartments with their ovens.

Residents banded together to help the elderly and disabled, but there was only so much they could do without help from trained medical personnel. Several women on Cecelia’s and Darius’s floor were trapped for two weeks. One woman’s child went to stay with family who still had power.

“She hasn’t seen her child in thirteen days,” says Cecelia. “She has back problems like me, she’s on disability, and she’s anemic. She’s had a thousand blankets around her the whole time, and she’s been sick for like three days now, because she’s sweatin’ under all those blankets.”

Without running water and only a limited supply of bottled water being given by aid organizations, people couldn’t spare water to flush their toilets.

Resourceful residents opened up the standpipes of the building’s sprinkler system to get water. “Someone took a wrench, opened it, and we just had a bucket system,” explained one resident. “Three guys were there with a bucket, and once that was filled, poured it in a bigger bucket, and two women were there filling up the little jugs of water and we then disseminated that to the floor.”

The water wasn’t fit to drink even after boiling, but it could be used to flush the toilets – until the sewage system backed up. That’s when Cecilia had had enough. After eight days without water, heat or electricity, her MS was flaring up. The snowstorm was approaching. FEMA offered “warming shelters,” but they weren’t open 24 hours, they were miles away on Coney Island, and absolutely no transportation was provided.

“Why aren’t the buses free?” said Cecelia. “All the ATMs in the area are off line. We cannot access money. You have to walk 23 minutes to get to any ATM that’s pumping out cash.”

No one from FEMA or the Red Cross did anything to get disabled residents out of the building. Cecelia is slim with a slight build, so Darius was able to carry her. “He gave me a piggy back ride down all seven flights,” she said.

Because of her condition, Cecelia can’t be on subway for more than twenty-five minutes. Luckily, they were able to get a ride to a friend’s place in Brooklyn Heights. After a few days there, they returned home. It was twelve days after Sandy. The lights were back on in the hallways and stairwells, but the apartments were still without power or water and the elevators weren’t running.

The basement was still flooded. Residents complained that only one small pump was being used for the entire building – even though other buildings in the neighborhood had several pumps running, even though the Army Corp of Engineers was able to drain flooded subway tunnels in a matter of days.

I spoke with a housing authority employee working to drain the basement. He said that they weren’t using a bigger pump, nor were they pumping 24-hours a day, because they were concerned that someone might steal the pump. Water continued to pour in as the surrounding groundwater drained.

Cecelia celebrated her 25th birthday nearly two weeks after the storm, by candlelight. As of Wednesday, November 14, the basement is still partly flooded. Electricity is back, but NYCHA refuses to say when heat will be restored.

Article Tabs

FarmDrop and Open Food Network stress the desire to create positive, systemic social change that disrupts the existing dominance of supermarket provision of food.

Republicans are arguing that Wall Street should have the constitutional right to influence politicians and the investment decisions those politicians make on behalf of pension funds and pensioners.

As the outrage in Ferguson takes on new forms and becomes less openly confrontational, the shooting of Michael Brown has started a nationwide dialogue about race, class and American law enforcement.

The vote on Independence is a moment of unprecedented possibility for Scotland to peacefully reject the U.K.'s failed neoliberal agenda.

Grassroots organizations that once made American democracy strong plummeted in the Reagan era – when political parties stopped representing the views of constituents and turned instead to money.

Charlie Hardy, the 75-year-old former Catholic priest now running for Senate, wants to halt NSA spying on ordinary citizens and overturn Citizens United with a Constitutional amendment.

Posted 6 days 16 min ago

A group of watchdogs at Maplight has introduced an interactive tool to track not only the level and location of political donations, but how the money impacts specific pieces of legislation.

Posted 6 days 19 hours ago

If we want a healthy society that follows its laws and applies them equally to everyone, we must demand a full investigation and criminal prosecutions for everyone involved in the mortgage backed securities fiasco.

Posted 3 days 15 hours ago

The vote on Independence is a moment of unprecedented possibility for Scotland to peacefully reject the U.K.'s failed neoliberal agenda.

Posted 2 days 20 hours ago

From clashes during the Occupy movement to violence this month in Ferguson, Mo., researchers say protests get ugly when officers use aggressive tactics, dress in riot gear and line up like military.

Posted 6 days 5 min ago
America's Newest Commodity: Prisoners

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), owner of the largest private prison system in the United States,

Pussy Riot Band Members Sent to Remote Prison Camps

Two members of the anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot have been sent to remote prison camps to serve their sentences, the group has said.

A new report shows politicians' campaign cash from the natural gas industry has soared 231% in states that frack, and more than doubled even in the states that don't. Fact: seven of eight U.S. Congress members are on the gas industry's payroll.

The fatal shooting of a black teenager by police ignited protests that lasted several hours.

What's Your Dream Job?

The question "What's Your Dream Job?" seems like a question we last answered in grade school. But filmmakers from Occupy Toronto wandered their encampment and did just that, asking activists to envision their ideal role in society.

Sign Up