Neighbors were the truly helpful ones
Shortly after 8:30 p.m. that Monday, October 29 everything went down: the lights, the electricity. We were plunged into darkness. I had just finished heating my dinner in the microwave. As fate would have it, a few days earlier someone gave me a rotary phone. It rang out. My brother was on the other end; he lives on the Upper West Side. “Why are you still there?” he asked, “They said they were evacuating Stuyvesant Town on the news.”
That’s the first I heard, I told him. I’ll call you back, we just lost our electricity. So much for the intercom.Years earlier, Tishman Speyer won the right to charge us for it during one of their many MCI battles. The intercom, they argued, could also be used as an “emergency warning” system — yeah, right!
As our building began to shake palpably in the hurricane winds, I decided to go out to assess the situation and hopefully move my car which was parked on 13th St. between Ave. C and Ave. D. As I left my apartment, I got a text from a neighbor. Her and her partner were stuck in the elevator. I called to them to make sure they were alright, (they were), and I told them I’d get help.
Meanwhile, other concerned and anxious neighbors came out into the hallway. I told them to call 911 and Stuyvesant Town while I tried to get help. But, they said, “They couldn’t get through to Stuy.” Keep trying, I said, as I made my way down the stairs using a pen-light as a guide. Almost immediately, I ran into another neighbor in the stairwell. She was very concerned about the neighbors on the 8th floor that were trying to rescue the people trapped in the elevator. “They’re gonna cause a short or start a fire or something.” I told her I would talk to them.
I got out on the 8th floor where a large group of concerned neighbors had assembled. One neighbor was trying to jimmy the elevator door open with a screwdriver. I recognized him and told him to please stop because it might make things worse. The people stuck inside were okay and others were calling for help. I would go outside to get help. Little did I know.
Nothing prepared me for what I was about to see. The water on the Ave. C loop was waist high, lapping the stairs leading to the T-levels. I lived in Stuy Town nearly thirty years and I have never seen the water come up that high. It was a bit of a shock and it stopped me in my tracks. Where would I go, how would I get there. We were surrounded by water. There was literally no way to get anywhere without going through the water. I wasn’t so sure about this rescue plan anymore. I finally decided to go through it.
I would make my way to Ave. B and 14th St. by hugging the building walls along the C Loop while holding onto the trees and bushes for support. Gingerly at first, I made my way through the waist-high water, in pitch darkness, to the beginning of the path that leads to Ave. B. I was surprised by how far the and deep the water remained. At that point I started to encounter other people with flashlights. Each time I saw someone, I asked if the were from Stuyvesant Town, and each time I got the same response: “No!” For some reason, I kept expecting to run into one of the vast array of personnel from Stuyvesant Town: someone from security, management or maintenance.
I ran into many people on my way to 14th St., but no one from Stuy Town. Where were they; where was this vast armada of workers one usually sees around the complex? I mean, the hurricane wasn’t exactly a secret. News outlets had been warning about it for at least a week. Why didn’t CompassRock have more of a presence; why weren’t they more prepared? It may seem naive, but I was surprised.
At 14th St. and Ave. B there were various emergency workers: firemen, police. They had a rescue boat available in case it was needed. And they cordoned off 14th St. so you couldn’t go east toward Ave. C. The water was too high and it was too dangerous. They told those assembled to go home. I reported my neighbors predicament to all the various emergency personnel. They were sympathetic and said they would report it. I knew my car was a goner.
Finally, I asked if anyone from Stuyvesant Town had been around. I kind of knew the answer but somehow felt compelled to ask. The answer was the same, no!
Matthew Handal, ST