Red Hook, Brooklyn, is a bad scene. The neighborhood is right on Gowanus Bay and when I visited, water was spurting right up out of a crack in the sidewalk. Everyone was out on the street like a block party gone wrong. Everywhere you looked, there was garbage and water. An entire block of businesses was trying to bail water out of their basements.
Without power, St. John Frizell, the owner of a local café bar, tells me headlamps are now at a premium.
“These things are like gold around here — having a working headlamp. That’s why I’ve got three around my neck,” he says.
Frizell says the flooding destroyed tens of thousands of dollars of produce and restaurant equipment in his basement and he took me downstairs for a tour. The lights were out and the stairs were narrow and slippery — covered in black, oily goo.
Then there was the smell. Frizell says he doesn’t know yet exactly what was in the flood water. Some of the store owners I talked to said probably rat feces. The whole thing was surreal — a flooded basement, lemons and limes floating around in the dark, like something out of “Alice in Wonderland.”
But the problems are serious. The water didn’t just hit Frizell’s basement; it came into his dining room too. You could see the watermark left on boxes of Tabasco sauce about a foot off the ground. Everything from bottles of wines in Frizell’s cellar to his ice machine and compressors for the refrigerator were ruined. Frizell says he’s still waiting for estimates on the damage, but he doesn’t have flood insurance and he already knows he won’t be able to cover the costs without help.
But as corny as it may sound, there are some things money can’t replace. A few blocks away, I found Octavio Cadiz hauling trash to the curb in front of his house. The basement of his brownstone was also completely flooded and he and his wife lost personal items that are tough to put a value on.
“My wife collects ornaments. she had a lot of stuff she brought from storage so we could stop paying storage fees. And she did that less than a year ago, and it’s all in the garbage,” he says.
Cadiz is a payroll coordinator at a law firm. He says his brownstone is a family home that he couldn’t afford with his income which he says is far below the 1 percent. But no matter where you fall in the wealth column, there’s only so much you can do against a flood.
“Those are sand bags that we tried to use to stop the water although four sand bags don’t do much against four feet of water. We did our best to prepare, but it didn’t happen,” he says.
The weather is a great leveler. Even in Scarsdale, N.Y. — which, in case you’re not familiar with its reputation is a nice place to live — people were hit by the storm. Drew Kerr says he and his family live comfortably there, but still, he’s been without power, heat or hot water since Monday. Kerr’s mother-in-law had been staying with his family for the storm, but then the heat went out, so his family decided she would be more comfortable in a facility for seniors, one with heat, and a bill for $130 a day. And don’t forget, Kerr says, the challenge of keeping your business running during a hurricane.
“The other day was the end of the month and that’s normally the day I send invoices, but I didn’t think it would send the right message. So I’m going to wait another week,” he says.
Kerr owns his own public relations firm in Manhattan. His business depends on getting his clients covered in the media. But it’s a tricky time. He told me about a tweet he saw by a New York Times reporter.
“And it said, ‘Dear PR folks, if you think that enough time has passed by to pitch your stuff after Hurricane Sandy, you’re absolutely wrong,’” he says.
Kerr sent the link to his clients. He said this week is about managing their expectations.
For right now, he and his wife and kids are roughing it Scarsdale-style, in a cold house, eating a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
“I’m sure there are people that are much worse and I know there are people that are much better — but we have to make do,” he said.
Kerr’s kids are stuck at home and bored. So he took his teenage daughter for a ride while he charged his cell phone in the car. They drove around Scarsdale and looked at the homes of other people who were lucky enough to have backup generators.
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