Powerless in Red Hook

Powerless in Red Hook
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Residents of the Red Hook Houses say the city has abandoned them in the weeks since Hurricane Sandy flooded their complex, and now they’re forced to live in Third-World-like conditions, with no electricity, heat, or hot water.

The surge from Sandy knocked out the essentials to the city’s largest housing project, located on six blocks between Richards and Clinton streets, flooding the basements where its boilers and electrical rooms are located, and transforming apartments into confinements.

“This house is like a prison – no lights, no heat, and there’s nothing you can do about it,” said Dwight Street resident Manuel Ortiz,

Tenants at the 2,878-unit project say they’ve been patiently waiting for nearly two weeks for the city to finish pumping seawater from their basements and repair equipment so electricity can be restored, but many say that patience is wearing thin.

“It’s unbearable,” said resident Desmond Hill of Hicks Street. “Everybody is just tired of this. We just want the power back on.”

Right now, residents must trudge up several flights of stairs with only a flashlight to light their way, keep their stove burners on just to keep warm, and sleep in layers to stay warm within their buildings with no elevators, heat, or hot water.

“When I wake up in the morning the floor is freezing,” said Ulyses Bermudez of Dwight Street. “I shiver in the bathroom when I brush my teeth, and to take a shower is just inhumane. The water is ice.”

The only thing keeping residents going is the outpouring of support from the neighboring communities and groups like the Red Hook Initiative, which has volunteers going door-to-door to distribute food and supplies to the elderly who are home-bound in what have become 14-floor walk-ups.

“They’ve been a huge help,” said Ortiz.

As of Monday, more than 2,000 Red Hook housing tenants were still without power, according to the New York City Housing Authority, which manages the property. The agency said it was working with city, state, and federal agencies to bring in additional generators and boilers to provide heat and power to the buildings that have yet to be restored.

But the city wouldn’t give an estimate on when the power will be restored or if the buildings basements were still inundated, and that leaves residents with little hope.

“People feel like they have nowhere to go,” said Tony Schloss of the Red Hook Initiative.

For some, the only salvation is going to work, where there actually is heat and hot water.

“It’s an escape just to get out of this reality,” said Hill said.