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New York Post-Sandy Is a Lesson in How Social Injustice Will Amplify the Ravages of Global Warming

There's a reason some of New York's public housing communities were forced to wait so long for basic services to be restored after the storm.

A policeman carries blankets donated by Ikea for people affected by Sandy in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
Photo Credit: AFP


This article was published in partnership with  GlobalPossibilities.org.

Sixteen and a half days after Hurricane Sandy sent an 11-foot wave surging over the boardwalk, Coney Island is slowly resurrecting itself. Workers carry sheetrock into gutted bodegas on Surf Avenue, the street closest to the ocean. A block inland, a hammer resounds inside the United Community Baptist Church on Mermaid Avenue, rebuilding the wrecked pulpit. The church took on five feet of water, and “nothing in here was salvageable,” says Pastor Connis Mobley, but he hopes to have power and water restored by the spring.

The Surf Neighborhood Gourmet Food bodega is restocking, the sandy sidewalk out front piled with plastic-wrapped pallets of paper plates, cups, Clorox Wipes, and beer. It’s the first grocery in the neighborhood to reopen, says manager George Fox, and everything has to be replaced. “What was good we donated to the community. We threw out everything else.”

The neighborhood’s supermarkets are still closed. The nearest open one is on the Brooklyn mainland, more than a mile away, says Tiesha, a 42-year-old mother who just picked up donated food in the parking lot next to the minor-league Brooklyn Cyclones’ ballpark. About 50 people are lined up there. Women pushing strollers with toddlers in pink parkas fill shopping carts with cases of bottled water and tiny school-lunch cartons of milk and orange juice, boxes of crackers and pasta, cans of beef stew and jars of spaghetti sauce. An orange-vested volunteer calls out “Next!” and “Keep it moving.”

On a chilly Thursday afternoon more than two weeks after the storm, almost 6,000 Coney Island residents still don’t have heat and hot water. They were among more than 14,000 of the city’s public-housing tenants who didn’t, including about 1,800 in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn and 2,200 on the Rockaway peninsula in Queens. Lower Manhattan, also badly flooded, got its electricity turned back on in four days, but in the projects of Coney Island, Red Hook and Rockaway, more than 4,000 people had to wait two weeks to get their power back.

“We just started getting hot water yesterday, heat today,” says Shirley Aikens, 59, who’s lived in the Carey Gardens project since the 1970s. Carey Gardens is the easternmost of the nine public-housing developments clustered 10 to 20 blocks from Coney Island’s iconic trinity of the Cyclone, the Wonder Wheel and Nathan’s. These developments are home to more than 9,000 people.

The storm surge flooded the boiler room and damaged a lot of wires, Aikens says, and it looked like a dam bursting. “It was coming in so fast people couldn’t move their cars. The transformers were blowing up like firecrackers.” But she stayed home and stuck it out. “I’m old-school,” she says. “I was born in the ‘50s. I know how to survive in the dark. I had enough blankets to stay warm and enough candles for light.”

“This is probably the worst thing I’ve ever had to deal with. You see it in other countries,” says Edward, a burly 45-year-old from the Red Hook Houses, Brooklyn’s largest project, on the Wednesday two weeks after the storm. He fell down a flight of stairs while visiting his godmother in her sixth-floor apartment. “It was pitch-black in there,” he recalls. “I thought I broke my leg.”

Residents boiled water to wash up and wrapped themselves in blankets to keep warm. “When the kids go to bed, we have to put on jackets, at least two or three sweaters,” says Kayan Robinson, 32, of Red Hook, returning from a shopping trip with her family. The Fine Fare supermarket was still closed, and they couldn’t use their food stamps because all the machines that take EBT cards, electronic-benefits transfer cards, were down.

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