CONEY ISLAND — MTA driver Mamie Zaida navigated a shuttle bus Tuesday morning, squeezing past ambulances on flood-worn Coney Island streets, looking for voters. She was one of the three MTA shuttle bus drivers giving free rides to people who wanted to vote on Coney Island.
Her bus was nearly empty.
As she drove along her route starting at 5:30 a.m., the Staten Island native would stop her bus, open her door, and yell out to people asking if they were heading to the polls. She told those who were to hop on the bus.
"It felt important for me to do this," said Zaida, a Staten Island resident who got up at 4:30 a.m. to get to work. "If there's any day the buses should run it's today."
Many Coney Island residents lacking access to information since the neighborhood was pounded by Hurricane Sandy, were unaware of the MTA's free shuttle service and made their way on foot to the polling stations.
Emilia Rivera walked almost two miles. Sweating and short of breath as she entered the voting line, Rivera was upset about the lack of information about transportation and the location of polling places.
“I could hardly find out where to go,” she said. “I don’t have television or phone and the radio wasn’t giving out any specific details about polling stations.”
There was no way the shuttle bus could access her block on West 29th Street anyway, she said, because it was covered in sand.
More than a week after Hurricane Sandy hit, many residents are still without electricity, heat, and hot water. Apartments have soggy floors quickly turning moldy, broken windows and spoiled food in the kitchen.
Still hundreds of voters that made it to the polls Tuesday morning. And some, mostly by luck or word-of-mouth, were able to flag down the passing shuttle.
“Son of a gun, is this my lucky day?” said 84-year-old Jerry Muraw as he climbed onto the bus. Muraw’s second floor apartment was still wet from the storm and he had no electricity. “And I thought it was gonna be a bad day.”
Muraw hasn’t missed an election since he was 18-years-old. And he said Hurricane Sandy wouldn’t keep him from is perfect record.
Out on Staten Island, residents who turned up at Susan E Wagner High School had to be taken by shuttle bus to another polling location at the College of Staten Island. The high school had been turned into a shelter from the storm, and buses were leaving every half hour.
"It's no hassle — I'm looking forward to it," said Shakila Shivji, 46, who brought her 8-year-old daughter, Sukaina, to vote with her, as she waited for a bus to take her to vote. "I could drive there, but I enjoy getting on the bus."
Joy Nadukudy, 53, and his wife, Sherly Joy, 53, stepped off the bus after voting and coming back, saying they enjoyed the experience. The entire process took about an hour, they said.
"We already made the time," said Joy. "We wanted to vote, so we voted."
But not everyone was as enthusiastic.
Alexander Kapustin, 76, and his wife Susan, 77, turned up at the school and were immediately told to get on a shuttle bus. Because of the extra hassle, they said they will likely not vote for the first time in 20 years.
"We're old people, nobody informed us about this change," said Alexander Kapustin, a Romney supporter. The couple's daughter had her house destroyed by Sandy, and the pair had focused on helping her repair it for the past week, not on any changes to polling sites. "I'm not going to leave my car to get on a bus to go there and I don't know where the new place is."
Back on Coney Island evacuees came from afar to cast a vote. Isadora Carter was evacuated from her apartment more than a week ago and has been staying with her daughter in Brownsville. She leaned on a walker in line where she hung a blanket and a plastic bag full of her belongings.
“This is what I have left from my home,” she said.
She traveled four hours from Brownsville to her polling station on West 1st St. in Coney Island. Using a combination of Access-A-Ride and public buses, she stood in line by noon, eager to vote.
Although Carter was aware that Gov. Cuomo signed an Emergency Order Monday night, allowing people in disasters zones the right to vote at any polling station, she was afraid of any confusion getting in the way of her vote.
“I knew if I came to my station, it would most likely go smoothly,” she said.
Rosland Goldheimer, 86, is another evacuated voter who refused to miss this election. She has been staying with her son in New Jersey. According to her son, her Sea Gate house was under 5 feet of water. But Goldheimer has not been back to see it yet.
“She wanted to vote first,” said her son. “Next we'll go look at what is left of her home.”