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“Jesus, Come Help Us!" What It's Like With No Power, No Running Water and Little Food Post-Sandy

Many New Yorkers can barely survive the week after the storm.

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In the middle of the afternoon a man named Ron, a volunteer fire-fighter wearing his US Air Force uniform, said to grab a case of water and follow him to the 14th floor. After the long walk up, Darlene Martin, 57, welcomed us into her apartment. She suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and needed medication. Ron took a gas tank out of his bag, affixed a breathing mask to Darlene's face, and told her to inhale and exhale slowly. After several minutes, she said, “Oh, that feels a lot better.”

Ron then talked about his experience during Sandy, as a first responder in Broad Channel, and area that was hit particularly hard. “I was walking through water this deep,” he said, pointing at his chest. “I saw transformers exploding, and I thought to myself, 'OK, this is where I'm gonna die.'” He said he felt like Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump, who doesn't want to be pulled from battle. “I was thinking like that. If I'm gonna die, at least I'll die with honor,” he said, as we both watch Darlene exhale vapor through her mask.

During one mid-afternoon trip up the dark stairwells, two men in military fatigues and helmets emerged from the darkness, illuminated by our flashlights. It was the National Guard, they announced, here to deliver food and water. Six days after the storm, it was the first institutional disaster relief the towers had seen, and residents were excited about the substantial amount of water and nonperishable food they delivered. Still, the roughly 50 boxes of emergency meals were not enough for the residents of both buildings, and the organizers of the supply room planned to do their best to distribute the food evenly amongst the hundreds of people in need.

As the sun began to set, everyone hurried to return to their homes. The mother and daughter that had been organizing the supply room, Dee and Mia, encouraged us to leave before it got too dark. Two members of the Red Cross arrived to drop off a few boxes as people made their exhausted final trips up the stairwells. “I've got four kids, and I've been telling them ghost stories all week,” one mother told us. “I never knew I was so creative.”

Although many exhausted residents were smiling and laughing with one another throughout the day, there was a deeper anxiety just beneath the surface. Saida was concerned that if the city deems the buildings structurally damaged, hundreds of people will lose their homes. She emphasized that they were okay now, as long as they wouldn't be forced to leave.

Residents of the building constantly asked if we were coming back the next day. It was clear that the city isn't meeting their needs. The Red Cross delivered two boxes of perishable sandwiches to a building with no power. The National Guard delivered water and emergency rations late in the afternoon, but without a working elevator the tenants need assistance distributing the supplies. The building also needs more batteries, diapers, and cleaning supplies, though some have been supplied by activists, including people involved in Occupy Sandy efforts. Upon our arrival, a man in his 30s looked at us and said to his friend, “They're doing more for our building than the fucking city is.”

Molly Knefel is a writer, comedian, and co-host of Radio Dispatch, a political podcast that airs Monday-Thursday. Follow her at @mollyknefel.

John Knefel is the co-host of Radio Dispatch and a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter at @johnknefel.
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