This article originally appeared in the Metropolitan Monitor, October 2012

 

Residents of the Red Hook Houses – Brooklyn’s largest housing project – remain without
power and a reliable source for food after Superstorm Sandy, and may be for days to
come. Banding together, fluctuating groups of about 50 residents from Red Hook Houses
descended upon a donation event Wednesday with the hopes of regaining a portion of
what Sandy took away.

Tasia Shabazz, a tenant of one of the 2, 878 apartments within Red Hook Houses’ 33
buildings, journeyed through piles of scattered debris and pools of murky water to the
donation center set up by the non-profit, Red Hook Initiative. She remains without power
while apartments in her building had power from the third floor up. “I have to go to my
neighbor’s fourth floor and throw six or seven extension cords down to keep my
refrigerator on.”

Most of Red Hook is in Zone A, the portion of the city that was advised to evacuate
Sunday night. But many residents ignored evacuation instructions, citing last year’s
experience of receiving evacuation notices for Hurricane Irene and returning to find only
minimal damage. Residents of the Red Hook Houses described Sandy’s floodwater levels
as rising to four to five feet and completely destroying the basement and first-floor levels
of their buildings.

“It was crazy, I really thought it was going to be the end of the world,” resident Letisha
Brown said of the storm. Brown and her friend Brittney Robinson arrived at the donation
center Wednesday looking for flashlights but were told the non-profit had run out.
Candles were the alternative.

“I have five kids in my house, we need as much light as we can get,” Robinson said as
gray clouds darkened above.

The Red Hook Initiative has been a lifeline for the residents since the storm. The
non-profit, founded in 2002 to combat health and community issues in the neighborhood, is
located only a few blocks from the edge of the harbor. It was spared extensive damage
and became a donation center for the area’s residents who have been without power since
Sunday.

Tony Khadijah, a volunteer at the organization, directed those who were in need of
medical supplies, like diabetic syringes, toward the opposite side of the building. “Look
at all these people. It is awful, no light; no water; no food,” Khadijah said.

As Khadijah gave updates to residents in front of the entrance, she tried to keep spirits
high. She turned to a male friend, “Come here, give me some sugar!” They shared an embrace and
friendly kiss before he returned to the growing line of people awaiting supplies.

Tenants expressed confusion as some sections of buildings still had electricity.
Nahisha McCoy Freeman, a resident, stood in the middle of two housing buildings and
pointed to windows where traces of light could be seen behind closed curtains.

“The problem is old wiring and the salt water,” said Naiyma Holmes, a volunteer at Red
Hook Initiative. She says Con Edison announced they will have to rewire many of the
buildings. The company has sent boilers provide heat, but many basements are still
flooded, leaving them without a place to hook them up. “There is just so much damage
that it’s going to take a while. Con Ed said hopefully before Thanksgiving.”

Piles of clothing increasingly grew atop two tables in front of the building; and residents
slowly scrapped through the collection. Tim Moss, whose wife is the PTA president at PS
29, unloaded goods in front of the Red Hook Initiative that were collected from a school
in Cobble Hill – an affluent neighborhood in Brooklyn that experienced interrupted cable
service and downed trees as a result of Sandy.

A few residents voiced concerns to Moss, telling him that they were in need of food and
lights rather than additional clothing. Though several bags Moss unloaded contained food and toys,
a majority was clothing. Subsequently, the organization told Moss they had an excess of clothing
and redirected him and others who followed to donation centers Nearby.

Kemishael Landgarten, a native of Trinidad, laughed in disbelief when describing the
experience of seeing water rise to her first-floor windows. She said relocating might be in
her future.

“Not me,” said Viva Smith, a friend of Landgarten. “I’m happy. It scared me, but as long
as my children are safe, I’m good.”

Both women waited for dinner to be distributed at 6 p.m. by the organization.
“The Red Hood Initiative is doing great,” Smith said. “I couldn’t be more proud of being
a part of this community. People are really going out of their way for each other, and you
don’t ever really see this.”