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East Villagers Who Lost Power Worry About Safety

EAST VILLAGE — New Yorkers who were battered by Hurricane Sandy after defying a mandatory evacuation order in the East Village were bracing Tuesday for a second dark night with no electricity.

Residents, particularly those in the public housing complexes along the East River, were concerned about looting and safety following the storm's heavy flooding and a massive Con Edison explosion that cut power to tens of thousands of people.

"I am scared of people going looting," said Jasmine Arrogo, 28, who lives in Jacob Riis Houses on Avenue D. "If they don't have food in their house people will go crazy."

Arrogo saw people drinking openly outside her building and said she wished there were more police patroling the neighborhood. 

"It makes me really scared," Arrogo said. "I am just going to make sure I am home before dark."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he planned to add extra officers to areas without electricity Tuesday night, but some Lower East Side residents said they were still worried, especially because many locks on buildings are electric.

"This is a thieves' sanctuary right now," said Georgiana Williams, 40, who lives at 286 South St. "If they want to go on a spree, you could just walk right in."

Williams had no power in her apartment Tuesday, and she was also concerned about her 2007 Chevy Tahoe truck, which was submerged in floodwater in a garage beneath the Pathmark on South Street.

Michelle Duran, 52, who lives with her daughter in a high-rise on South Street, said she already spotted kids and teens stealing from a store in broad daylight on Tuesday.

"They were just stealing stupid things, like cake, candles and chips," Duran said.

There was a block-long line outside the story but just two clerks inside to maintain order, Duran said. 

By 6 p.m. Tuesday the Lower East Side streets were black and some residents walked with flashlights. A few stopped at a bodega at Clinton and Henry streets to pick up supplies.

"Be safe," one man said as he left the bodega, which was lit by a single candle. "It's going to be crazy out here tonight."

As the brunt of the storm hit on Monday, many residents spent a sleepless night watching a torrent of water engulf the streets around them after a shocking explosion at the Con Edison plant about 7 p.m.

Some said they were caught off guard by the harrowing conditions, despite the mayor's pleas for Zone A residents to leave their homes prior to the storm.

"With the water rushing in on Avenue C and this [Con Ed] explosion, it was all a little scary," said Gloria Pitre, 59, who lives at Haven Plaza on East 13th Street near Avenue C, just across from the Con Ed plant.

Like many of her neighbors, Pitre spent the evening in her 10th-floor apartment cut off from outside communications.

"It lit up the sky and we could smell smoke," she said of the explosion, "but we had no idea what was going on."

Officials from Con Edison confirmed that the explosion knocked out power to about 230,000 customers in area.

Pitre also watched the surging East River wash away parked cars and litter the streets with debris such as mattresses and large pieces of wood. She added that many of her neighbors failed to prepare with supplies like batteries, water and a radio to get information from news services. 

"People just got very complacent," she said. "Boy, were we in for a surprise."

Danny Baker, 49, a lifelong resident of the Jacob Riis Houses on Avenue D, said Monday night was so frightening that he will go to a shelter if New York City is ever hit with hurricane again.

"I didn't think it was going to be this bad, so I decided to stay," he said. "I'm lucky nothing happened to me."

Like Pitre, Baker also watched as the streets began flooding and wondered when it was going to stop.

"As long as I have lived in New York, I have never seen anything like it," he said, describing the scene as something out of an apocalypse movie. 

West Hernandez, who lives in public housing along Avenue C, also described the scene as a horror show.

"It was like a movie script, except you were the main actor. People were actually swimming in it," he said. "With the wind, with all the noise, that alone wouldn't let you get to sleep."

When the water eventually receded about 6 a.m., Hernandez said he was one of the many local residents checking on his car, which was parked on East 13th Street at Avenue C. Logs and debris were strewn around the vehicles, the waterline made obvious by a layer of dirt and leaves making a streak above the tires.

"I will have to check the battery, the alternator, spark plugs," Hernandez said as he removed wet mats from the floor of his car. 

Other vehicle owners around him were fishing leaves out of their engines and using cups to empty inches of water from their cars' floors.

Regardless, Hernandez said his car's safety was far from his mind during a sleepless night listening to the whipping winds.

"At the time you are thinking about your life," he said, "not your car."