Life after Sandy remains hard for New York's poor

 

New York

The elevators had been out for four days at the Jacob Riis Houses, a public housing complex in Lower Manhattan, and there was only one way down for Adonis Brice.

The stairwell: 11 flights turned pitch black since Hurricane Sandy tore through the city and cut off electricity, water and heat. These 154 steps were his only path to the bread, candles and water he needed to care for his two small children, jumping on the mattress in the bedroom.

Brice, 26, took a serrated knife from the kitchen, where the sink was filled with stacks of dirty pots and dishes. He put on his coat and slipped the knife into his pocket. He walked past the bathroom, where a putrid odor wafted from a toilet that hadn't flushed in four days. He kissed his girlfriend, Dalisha.

"Lock the door," he told her, walking out.

Four days after the storm, New Yorkers talked of their subways roaring back, of Amtrak restoring service and museums opening, and the sense that life once again was taking on a recognizable rhythm.

But on the Lower East Side, in a housing complex of 19 brick high-rises where about 4,000 poor and working-class New Yorkers reside, life remained darkened and difficult. The Jacob Riis Houses, built during the Truman administration, were named for a muckraking journalist whose chronicle of 19th-century slum life was titled "How the Other Half Lives."

At Ninth Street and Avenue D, the other half was alive, but it was not living so well.

All morning, people lined up at open fire hydrants to fill pails and jugs with water. They walked across the street to buy bread from a man who they said had doubled the price, to $2. They went in search of cigarettes, an ATM that worked and their benefits checks.

Each trip began and ended with a walk up and down those darkened stairs.

"Nobody comes to help us," Brice said, walking down slowly, finding his way with the glow of a cellphone. "The cops don't come in here. No one's bringing us flashlights. No one's bringing water. No one's doing anything."

Down he went, the 11th floor turning into the 10th and then the ninth. "There could be dead people inside these apartments," he said. "We wouldn't know."

He was trailed by his brother, Andre, 21, and a friend, Steve, 24, both of whom were visiting the night Sandy raged — when a few blocks away the Con Edison plant went "boom!" as they described it, and the lights went out all over Lower Manhattan. And they hadn't left since, lighting the gas stove to keep warm, trying to figure out what to do next.

"We defend each other," Andre said.

As they arrived at the second floor, they passed a Chinese woman and her 12-year-old son, the two lugging a wire cart containing an oversize red pail filled with water. After each step, the woman grunted.

"Don't let go," Enuyan Ouyang, 57, warned her son in Cantonese.

"This is crazy," Bryan Ouyang replied in English. He stayed with her. Water splashed out of the pail. It was 10:20 a.m., and they had 11 more flights to go.

Up.

Their apartment is at the top of the building, on the 13th floor.

On the third floor, they encountered Raymond Perez, who lives in Apartment 3C with his 82-year-old grandmother. A couple of days earlier, she had slipped on those darkened stairs.

"For $10, I'll take that up for you," Perez told Ouyang. Her son had to translate for her. She shook her head and spoke in Cantonese.

"She said she only makes $700 a month," the boy said.

They started walking up again, reaching the fifth floor at 10:26.

"Sometimes, I wish we lived on the first floor," the boy said.

At 10:39, they arrived at their apartment, where his father answered silently. The boy's mother said they would turn around and make another trip for more water soon.

Ten floors down, in Apartment 3H, Jeanette Luciano, 50, was getting ready to leave. She needed food, but first she had to get her $702 monthly disability check. The office where she usually gets it was closed. She would have to ride the bus to Harlem.

She was afraid to leave her apartment, her two televisions, her laptop computer. "The last time there was a blackout," she said, "the apartment downstairs was robbed. Completely robbed."

Out the door Luciano went, down the stairs, blinking as she emerged from the stairwell and walked into the gray light of the day.

On the sidewalk in front of the building, a crowd clustered around a van. The owner was allowing people to charge their phones off his battery for $2.

A few yards away, Phil Trueba was helping his grandmother into his car, after climbing six floors to her apartment and telling her that he was taking her to the Poconos until the power returned. He had led her down the stairs, and now they were outside, next to Ramel Green, 61, who leaned on a cane after walking down 11 flights.

Green's plan for the day was a trip by bus to Harlem to visit his ex-wife. Then back before dark to climb his way back to his apartment.

"It's a poor rat that has one home," he said. "Ever hear that one?"

On a bench to his right, Jamie Diaz, 67, sat with two jugs of water he had bought for his sister, who was on the ninth floor and too sick to come out.

This, he said in broken English, would be his third trip to her apartment this day. He shook his head, then stood, walked inside the entrance, took out a flashlight and began climbing.

When he reached the first floor, he stopped and put down the jugs. He took a few breaths.

A moment later, he pressed on.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Howard Marks has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, he has announced
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
Rowan Atkinson at the wheel of his McLaren F1 GTR sports car
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us