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NYCHA Residents Struggling to Survive Without Power, Water

By  Jeff Mays James Fanelli Patrick Wall and Meredith Hoffman | November 1, 2012 5:19pm | Updated on November 2, 2012 1:24pm

DOWNTOWN — Getting up to her sixth floor apartment at the Elliott Chelsea Houses has been a struggle for Peggy Toole, an elderly resident who would only say that she is older than 50.

Normally Toole uses an electric wheelchair and takes the elevator to her floor. But with the elevator out since Hurricane Sandy hit, she's relied on a cane, to which she affixed a children's light-up toy with a rubber band, to help her navigate the pitch-black stairs.

"I go one step at a time," she said.

Last night, she used her stove to cook a TV dinner in a frying pan with hot water.

On the start of the third day without water and power for thousands of New York City Housing Authority residents, many said they were reaching their wits' end and have begun using creative ways just to survive after Hurricane Sandy.

The most basic tasks, such as keeping clean, have become a monumental struggle.

James Espinar, 55, who lives in the Jacob Riis Houses on the Lower East Side, hasn't showered since the storm and has been getting water from an open fire hydrant. He makes the trip with two buckets about four or five times a day and has been using a towel to clean himself.

"You take a little towel and do what you can," Espinar said. "I feel like I'm in the Marine Corps again."

NYCHA officials say they have 2,000 staff members on the ground working to assess and repair full operations to its developments.

There are still 365 buildings experiencing outages. The agency has completed assessments for 80 percent of their buildings, and NYCHA officials say 50 percent of the buildings examined have experienced flooding in the boiler and meter rooms.

Residents say the conditions are becoming more difficult. They complained that NYCHA has failed to communicate with them. In some neighborhoods, residents were relying on the National Guard to bring them water and charities to give them food.

Tenants at the Elliott Chelsea Houses on West 25th Street and Ninth Avenue said water in both their toilets and their sinks had been restored to apartments up to the 10th floor, but that apartments above that floor only had toilet water. Before Thursday morning, residents in the development had no water at all.

Ama Adomako, a resident at the Elliott Chelsea Houses who said she suffers from bipolar disorder, said conditions have been horrible, with no electricity or water since the storm. Her disabled mother has been trapped in their 13th floor apartment.

"It's been difficult, but people are sticking together," Adomako said. "You never pass someone by without them offering a flashlight or water."

Adomako has had to rely on strangers to carry water to her apartment. NuCare Pharmacy on the corner of 25th and Ninth Avenue has given her medicine for her bipolar disorder for free.

In addition to the free medicine, NuCare Pharmacy owner Rob Marchini has been giving out free water and food and has set up an area for people to charge their phones in an area normally used for patient exams.

Marchini said he's had to deal with some thefts but that most people have been fine.

"I'm just trying to help my neighborhood survive," he said. "At times like this, I can't worry about money."

Maria Little, 62, who lives in the Elliott Chelsea Houses and works with seniors, was in the pharmacy to charge her phone on Thursday.

Over the past few days, she said she has faced price gouging, paying $4 for a small bottle of juice that normally costs $2 and $8 for a single pack of batteries.

"I live on the 11th floor so I'm not happy. When the phone went out, I walked all over the place. This is the only place that has let me charge my phone," she said

Dwayne Carter, 44, a security guard and a resident of the Elliott Chelsea Houses, said his family fled to Brooklyn, but he stayed behind to watch the apartment.

Carter has been spending his days volunteering at the pharmacy to prevent theft. Whenever someone comes in to steal, Carter flashes a flashlight to put the staff on alert.

"I keep out the bad guys, the knuckleheads," he said. "So far, it's only been about 10 percent of people."

They said members of the New York Dream Center church on West 23rd St. have distributed bottled water, bread, energy bars, groceries and Halloween candy over the past few days. They returned with boxed lunches on Thursday.

Some residents at the Elliott Chelsea Houses were frustrated with NYCHA, which they said had provided little information to residents in the past days.

"There's no communication," said Patricia Lara, 44, who lives in the development with her son and daughter. "This is crazy."

Lara and her children drove to Queens Tuesday and stayed in an older daughter's one-bedroom apartment, along with her daughter's husband and baby. They returned to the development Thursday to see if there were any improvements, but found none, Lara said.

"We feel like we're homeless people," she said.

At the LaGuardia Houses on Cherry Street, residents expressed frustration at what they felt was unfairness in the lack of attention these housing developments have received, from lack of generators to neglect of the residents at nearby shelters.

At one point women were yelling from multiple windows in the building: "We need generators!"

"It's not fair. They're treating us like savages,' said resident Monique Henderson. "We're not getting help out here."

Neighbors said they had tried to charge their cell phones at nearby shelters but were turned away.

"How am I supposed to call 911 if someone tries to hurt me?" Henderson added.

Stacey Diaz, 39, stuck out the storm with her parents, Lucy Diaz, 61, and Julio Diaz, 70, who live on the seventh floor in Haven Plaza, a Section 8 apartment building.

They get a "little stream of water, and it comes out clear from their faucets."

They aren't drinking it, though, until they boil it on their stoves. As for washing, they warm water in pots on the stove and then pour it into the bath tub. It takes at least 15 or 20 minutes to prepare the bath.

"We're bathing like peasants," Stacey said.