One year after Hurricane Sandy poured more than 10 feet of harbor water into their Red Hook home, Clyde Harewood and Jean Bleasdell are still waiting to get back inside.
Harewood, 82, and Bleasdell, 75, evacuated to Bleasdell’s son’s one-bedroom apartment in Queens a day prior to Sandy.
Bleasdell came back after the storm to check on the three-story yellow townhouse on Van Dyke Street, where Harewood has lived for the last 52 years, and she was shocked by the mess she found. The basement and first floor filled with water, mud, and debris, and when the flood receded, it left the inside of the couple’s abode nearly unrecognizable.
“I never knew water could move a fridge. Everything in the house was upside down,” said Bleasdell, who emigrated from Trinidad in 1988 and worked as a home health aid.
Harewood relies on a wheelchair to get around and Bleasdell still gets the creeps thinking about what might have happened had they not made it out of the house in time.
“If Clyde was there, I’m sure he would have drowned,” she said.
Now, 12 months after the storm, the couple is still sleeping on an air mattress in the cramped Queens living room. They spend their days on the phone with neighbors in Red Hook, tracking the progress of repairs. Lately, though, work has slowed to a crawl and the talk has focused on how to raise enough money to pay workers and finish in one last big push. Every day away from the home where Harewood has spent most of his life is a painful one, according to the retired city bus driver.
“I miss everything,” he said.
The hurricane recovery effort that spanned the Eastern Seaboard from the Jersey Shore to Montauk definitely did not skip Red Hook, but it did not quite get the elderly couple back on their feet, either. Within hours of Sandy’s floodwaters subsiding, groups mobilized to rebuild the neighborhood’s hundreds of flooded homes and businesses. Red Hookers and community groups worked frenetically for months, aided by an influx of volunteers and money from around the world. The reopening of major Red Hook institutions, particularly Fairway Market, has led many commentators to declare the neighborhood recovered. But as the one-year anniversary of the storm nears, most of the visiting volunteers have moved on, and many donors have closed their pocketbooks, leaving some storm-stricken Red Hookers such as Bleasdell and Harewood, stuck in makeshift living situations, with no end to their exile in sight.
“It’s been hard to find resources,” said Jovan Burch, co-founder of the recovery group Red Hook Volunteers. “We’re at a standstill.”
Burch helped form the organization days after Sandy to fix up storm-damaged homes, including the one belonging to the pair of seniors. The group has helped people move back into 1,300 houses and has plans to work on 88 more, but its core of volunteers has dwindled from hundreds to around 30, and its repairs on Harewood and Bleasdell’s house, which lost windows, doors, heat, electricity, and floors to Sandy’s floodwaters, has all but stopped, Burch said.
In the case of the two oldsters, the work slowdown is especially aggravating because the job is nearly done.
Red Hook Volunteers, along with members of Grace Church in Brooklyn Heights, dug tons of tidal-water-carried mud out of the house, installed new heat and electrical systems, and restored the first floor, but the groups have largely checked out and the couple is relying on a handful of neighbors who squeeze the effort between their day jobs, supporters say. An ongoing online fund-raising campaign has raised just $1,243 of the $10,000 friends and neighbors say they need to make the pair’s home whole again.
Richard Dennis, a 61-year-old artist and contractor, began working on Harewood and Bleasdell’s home shortly after Sandy dissipated. Dennis has lived across the street from the couple since 1999 and says that the pair who owned more than 10,000 rhythm and blues, jazz, and rock and roll albums made for loud neighbors, but good ones.
“He was always playing music,” Dennis said about Harewood.
For Dennis, Red Hook’s recovery is personal. “I want to see my neighbor back in the neighborhood.”