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Chelsea Residents Frigid As Fulton Houses Regain Power, but No Heat

By Patrick Wall | November 5, 2012 7:01pm

CHELSEA — Since Sandy struck last week, Gladys Torres and the five relatives staying at her apartment in the Robert Fulton Houses have relied on boiling water for heat.

Pots filled with water bubble at all hours on the stovetop. At night, they position pots of hot water near where they sleep in the living room. They take shifts crawling out from blanket cocoons and replacing water that has cooled with freshly heated pots.

Their devoted pilgrimages back and forth haven't prevented one of the two young grandchildren staying with her after fleeing their storm-ravaged home in Long Island from developing a cough and a fever, Torres said.

And as temperatures continue to drop, the family must work even harder to stay warm.

“It’s terrible,” said Torres, 51. “I’m covering myself with five blankets now, and it’s still not enough.”

Like other public housing developments in areas affected by the storm, the Fulton Houses on Ninth Avenue between West 16th and West 19th Street lost electricity last week. But when the power returned Friday, the heat did not.

Heat may not return to the development’s 11 buildings until next Monday, according to tenant president Miguel Acevedo.

"We don't have heat or hot water, and we may not have it for another week," he said.

NYCHA did not immediately respond to questions about heat at Fulton, but Acevedo said he was told that the development's electrical system is not yet able to power the buildings' heaters.

Most buildings have gas for cooking, which many residents said they have used to keep stoves and ovens fired up for warmth. But two buildings' gas pipelines have been knocked out by Sandy, according to Acevedo.

NYCHA gave residents in those buildings hot plates, “but the plates they gave them aren’t even working,” Acevedo said.

Development staff and some volunteers have conducted regular sweeps to check on the sick and elderly, Acevedo and residents said.

“People have been coming — it's very wonderful,” said Beatrice Olsen, 102, who lives on the 22nd floor of one of Fulton's towers.

Olsen, who does not have an electric space heater in her apartment, has bundled up in blankets and sweaters to stay warm, she said. She hopes her heat returns soon.

"It's been very slow," she said. "I wish we had hot water."

On Monday, officials were considering whether to set up a temporary “warming station” inside a community center at the development by connecting large heaters to gas-powered generators, Acevedo said. The elderly would be given preference for cots in the heated station.

P.S. 11 on West 21st Street has offered to open early this week to allow students who live in Fulton and other buildings without hot water to shower before school, Acevdeo added.

Jose Rodriguez, 43, lives with his girlfriend and 3-year-old son in one of the Fulton buildings that lacks both heat and cooking gas.

Last week, Rodriguez bought $6 plates of hot food from a nearby grocery for his family, “but that adds up,” he said. Over the weekend, he used a hot plate to cook rice and beans.

When the power returned Friday, but not the heat, he sent his son and girlfriend to her mother's Downtown apartment, which still lacks central heat, but has an electric heater.

"He was freezing," Rodriguez said of his son.

Rodriguez stayed behind to watch the apartment and the family's dog and cat, which have buried themselves in pillows.

Rodriguez said the shock of having the power return without heat was hard to take.

"I feel like I got abandoned," he said. "First, I was in the dark. Now, no heat."

The National Guard delivered self-heating meal packs, bottled water and blankets to the development Sunday.

On Monday, they returned with more supplies, including infant formula and diapers, soap and toothpaste, gloves and bright orange ponchos that were originally intended for runners in the city’s canceled marathon.

Volunteers from New York Cares arrived Monday to help distribute the supplies and to canvass the development to check on homebound residents, said volunteer site captain Sam Fuhr.

“We’re here to help in any way we can,” said Fuhr, 39.

Helene R., who lives in Midtown East and asked to give just her last initial, stopped by with six shopping bags filled with peanut butter, bread, bottled water and granola bars that she bought at Duane Reade.

Her apartment building near the United Nations headquarters was unaffected by the storm, she said.

“I just feel so lucky that we didn’t lose power or heat,” said Helene, 43. “It’s almost embarrassing. I feel guilty.”