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LES Public Housing Residents Ignore Hurricane Sandy Evacuation Orders

By Serena Solomon | October 28, 2012 9:02pm

LOWER EAST SIDE — While Hurricane Sandy bears down on New York, many public housing residents are ignoring mandatory evacuation orders for tenants in buildings in danger of severe weather damage — chalking up the lack of urgency to what many felt was an overraction to Hurricane Irene last year.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Sunday ordered evacuations for NYCHA complexes in flood-prone Zone A, which includes low-lying land near the East River, telling public housing residents in the area to leave immediately and  that elevators and gas would be shut off starting at 7 p.m.


Despite the warnings, many residents were determined to wait out the weather inside their homes — citing the hype over last year's Hurricane Irene, which was downgraded to a tropical store by the time it reached New York City and did not cause major damage in the city.

"The last time — nothing happened," said Alberto Loera, 29, who lives in the Jacob Riis Houses on Avenue D between East 6th and East 13th streets, where an evacuation order was issued during Irene last August. "Being somewhere else is really difficult."

Loera loaded boxes of groceries, including water, cereal and other snacks, from his car to take up to his family's 12th-floor apartment in the complex. The car had a full tank of gas if a quick getaway was needed, he said.

"Especially, when you have kids, it is just safer to be at home," said Loera, adding that he and his family would not feel as comfortable in one of the city's evacuation centers set up to take in residents during the storm.

"I have tons of faith we are going to be just fine," Loera said, as he and his 6-year-old son unloaded the groceries while the winded whipped around them under heavy clouds.

"They are over-exaggerating," said Leonora Ruiz, 37, as she pushed a big cart of groceries through the Baruch Houses near the Williamsburg Bridge. "The storm last time — nothing happened."

Ruiz explained that many of her neighbors had chosen the luxury of their apartments with television, movies and board games, even if it meant the inconvenience of no elevators or heat.

Despite the seemingly relaxed atmosphere in the two public housing complexes, the official word from Bloomberg at an afternoon press conference was one of urgency.

"If you live in Zone A and have not yet evacuated to a safer location out of the Zone, it's crucial that you do so as soon as possible," he said. "Timing — time is running out."

The mayor emphasized that the evacuation — which will affect nearly 46,000 residents in 23 NYCHA buildings in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens — was mandatory.

Many residents in the two housing complexes said they had been expecting the order for days, and had been informed either by fliers, NYCHA staff going door to door to inform tenants, or police alerting residents through loudspeakers as cop cars drove up and down Avenue D.

Gina Mitchell, 30, was one of the Baruch Housing residents heeding call to relocate to a safer area, but still remained calm.

"The kids are excited," she said, of her two and 6-year-old daughters. "They think this is Christmas."

The family was able to relocate conveniently to a relative’s house in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, with a plan to take the subway before the system was shut down at 7 p.m.

Gloria Rivera, a resident at the Riis Houses for 27 years who uses a walker, also relocated to a friend's house on nearby East Sixth Street, further inland.

"If something goes wrong, I can't walk," she said, of not being able to access the complex's elevators.

Nelson Cancel, 57, a superintendent at a building on the edge of the evacuation zone in the East Village, said it seemed business as usual for many in the neighborhood. 

"Most people left last time," he said of Tropical Storm Irene in August last year. "This place was deserted compared to now."

Cancel described residents in the evacuation zone as "excited" but prepared, noting the many bare shelves at local supermarkets where people has stocked up on supplies for Hurricane Sandy.

"People who evacuated last time were angry that nothing happened," he said.