Misery Mounting at Red Hook Houses as Residents Wait for Heat and Power

By Leslie Albrecht on November 6, 2012 8:05am 

RED HOOK — Most of the sprawling Red Hook Houses — the largest in the borough and home to more than 6,500 people — have been without power, heat and hot water since Hurricane Sandy flooded the neighborhood.

With nighttime temperatures expected to hover just above freezing this week, bone-chilled residents in the dark, cold buildings say they're piling on blankets, wearing their clothes to bed, and using their ovens for warmth. One woman said she's been boiling water to keep the cold at bay, which makes the walls of her apartment drip with condensation.

"It really is tough on everybody," said resident John Luke, 50, a disabled military veteran who walks with a cane and used four blankets to fend off the cold Sunday night. "We're suffering bad out here."

Some at Red Hook Houses now have power, but others said they've been without hot water and elevator service since Oct. 28, the day before Hurricane Sandy ravaged the area.

Among them was Hector Marreno, 51, who said he's frustrated by the lack of information and answers from NYCHA. "Every day it's the same," Marreno said. "No one from the city is coming to see what's going on."

Marreno is starting to worry about his 72-year-old mom, who suffers from severe anxiety and depression. Her condition has worsened since the storm and she refuses to leave her apartment, he said. She gets scared when he leaves her alone, Marreno said, and he's hoping he can find a doctor to visit her at home.

With elevators out of service, disabled and elderly residents have been forced to climb up and down stairs in search of food and other basic necessities. Celia said she knew of two residents with heart conditions, one on the ninth floor and one on the seventh floor, who had risked their health by venturing downstairs for supplies.

Incinerators haven't been operational, and garbage is piling up in trash chutes as high as the second floor, residents said. The stench is starting to attract vermin. Patricia Philip, 40, said rats have been squeezing beneath her front door to get into her apartment.

"They're looking for heat," she said.

Local groups such as Red Hook Initiative, Calvary Baptist Church and Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church have organized hundreds of volunteers to hand out hot food, clothes and other supplies, but officials say they're not sure of how to solve the heat problem.

Community Board 6 District Manager Craig Hammerman said he hadn't heard from NYCHA about when power and heat would be restored at Red Hook Houses.

"They need to pump water out and test their equipment before Con Ed would risk turning the electrical service back on," Hammerman wrote in an email. "And because of the shallow water table in Red Hook, seepage has been a big problem."

Ann Cowan, board chair of Red Hook Initiative, said volunteers could bring space heaters to people who have electricity, but noted that doesn't help those without power.

RHI might try to use generators to power some buildings, but Cowan said she's not sure how that would work. RHI usually runs youth and economic development programs in the neighborhood, but has become a disaster relief hub since Hurricane Sandy.

"This is so not what we do," Cowan said, referring to heating buildings. "I need the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers."

Lack of information has also contributed to heightened fears. With rumors of muggings circulating throughout the Red Hook Houses, fearful seniors in darkened apartments have refused to answer their doors — even for concerned neighbors bringing them hot meals.

"If they don't know your voice or your name, they're not going to open the door, so they were pretty much starved until today when volunteers from the building started delivering meals," said Celia, a 50-year-old resident who was giving out food to her neighbors on Monday. She declined to give her last name.

"The hallways are dark so if they look through their (peephole) they can't see who it is," she added.

An NYPD spokeswoman said police have received no reports of muggings at the Red Hook Houses since Hurricane Sandy. "It's just a rumor," she said.

But with another storm forecast for Wednesday, residents say they're bracing for the possibility of a fresh round of troubles.

"I'm scared for the next storm," said resident Nicole Harris, a 31-year-old mom of three whose daughter's school was relocated to a new building because of the storm. "I heard there's a nor'easter coming with snow. We're not ready yet. All we can do is pray."

NYCHA did respond immediately to a request for comment.

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