Disabled and Elderly Stuck in Coney Island Building Week after Sandy

By Ben Fractenberg and Janet Upadhye  on November 5, 2012 3:10pm  | Updated on November 5, 2012 3:11pm

CONEY ISLAND — Huddled in the cold, just two blocks from the boardwalk, a group of residents consoled each other outside the Ocean Towers Housing Development in Coney Island one week after Hurricane Sandy swept through their community. 

The elevators in the 20-floor, 360-unit building are not functional. The closest subway stop at Stillwell Avenue is closed. There are no open food stores within a mile of the complex. Residents without running water have resorted to using the stairs as a toilet, making it hard to walk past the stench or avoid stepping in the waste. Nearby banks and ATMs are shut down, leaving locals with no access to money. Local pharmacies and the hospital are closed, leaving locals in desperate need of life-preserving medicine.

Amid the wasteland of suffering all around them, neighbors fear they are being forgotten as they struggle to cope with daily challenges.

"We are facing crises of health, finances, transportation and more,” said Tamara Perkins who lives on the third floor. “We have been forgotten.”

A building worker said the elevators in the affordable and low-income complex were in the midst of being repaired Monday, but it was unclear when they would reopen. Calls to the buildings' owners, Astrella Development, were not picked up at their offices on Monday.

Marcia Swaby, a 61-year-old stroke survivor who lives on the 12th floor, is a stroke survivor who uses a pacemaker. The day after the storm she walked down 12 flights of stairs and over two miles to Coney Island Hospital, only to find that it was closed.

“I didn’t have electricity or phone service,” she said. “I had no way of knowing the hospital was closed, no one came to tell us.”

Swaby is worried about the lack of available pharmacies in the neighborhood.

“In the next few weeks my situation will become desperate if I don’t get meds,” she said.

Cherry Barnett, 43, has four children. Her daughter Schania, 7, uses a wheelchair and has not been able to leave her apartment since the storm. Barnett’s neighbor, Bonnie Kirshtein, 66, uses a walker and had also been unable to leave the building.

“We have the elderly and the disabled completely stranded,” Barnett said. “This is no place to be with a kid in a wheelchair.”

Barnett has been walking to the FEMA station a couple of blocks away to get food for her family and for her neighbor.

Tamara Perkins wants to vote and says that her neighbors are also worried they may not be able to vote. The closest subway stop at Stillwell Avenue is still closed and there are no shuttles transporting residents to another station.

“The mayor says that the city is up and running,” she said. “But I look around here and I see nothing working right.”

According to Perkins, even the elderly in the building who can walk down the stairs are afraid to do so because of the state of the building’s stairs.

“The biggest barrier to us voting is the stairs,” she said. “We cannot get down our stairs to be able to vote. People are literally slipping and sliding on human waste.”

Money is also a concern for Ocean Towers residents. Deborah Smith says that she is running out of cash and doesn’t know where to go to get more. She says that all of the banks and ATMs in he neighborhood are closed.

"Unless you keep your money under a mattress, you are going broke right about now,” she said.

But with all of the barriers residents face to living the lives they had before Hurricane Sandy, they are coming together to make sure basic needs are met. A group of residents made a grocery trip to Flatbush Monday morning to get supplies for the housing complex, making trips up the stairs carrying box loads of food.

“We are helping each other out,” Perkins said.

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