Sandy Evacuees Continue to Move Into Temporary Shelters

By Tenzin Shakya for Northattan

City officials announced that schools are set to reopen Monday, Nov. 5, forcing many Hurricane Sandy evacuees out of their temporary shelters once again. For many, this will be their third move within the last five days.

Steven Upson, his wife and their three children evacuated their home on the Lower East Side Sunday evening. They took shelter at the Seward Park High School in Lower Manhattan until the building’s power was cut off.

“The past days have been chaotic,” he said. “They sent us to one school but it was so compacted, they said up to 750 people, but it felt like 1,000 people, And now they’re moving us up to yet another school with more people.”

They are headed to the George Washington High School, one of the eight city schools that will not resume classes Monday. Instead, the Washington Heights school will remain as a shelter until further notice from city officials.

“I didn’t want to move from the first shelter but then they said they will be separating people with children from the other people, so then we jumped on the bus,” Upson said. “But, if I’m going to be cluttered at the end of the day, I might as well be cluttered with my family.”

Subway flooding and downed trees brought public transportation to a halt. Many evacuees were not able to reach the uptown shelters where space was available until Tuesday.

Roughly 68,000 people evacuated their homes because of Sandy, according to the city’s Office of Emergency Management.

Many city employee volunteers said, roughly 80 to 90 evacuees were brought from downtown to Harlem shelters.

Angela Moore was visiting from Chicago. “This is my first hurricane experience and definitely not what I thought I’d be doing on my trip to New York,” she said. She was staying at her friend Carin Gurgone’s apartment near the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel when she noticed the waters coming in. “They cut the electricity, but we thought we would be OK,” she said. “And then when they cut the water off, we couldn’t stay there anymore, so we had to evacuate.”

Moore and Gurgone checked into a downtown shelter, but had to be bused to Harlem after the generator failed. Moore said she’s ready to fly home.

“I’m hopeful it will go out of LaGuardia,” she said. “Or, I’ll rent a car and figure out a way to drive home. At this point I’m not sure.”

“They had a little house and it got flooded. They had to be evacuated on a boat,” she said while apologizing for trying to catch her breath and stop crying.  “You think about the people who went through Katrina, they literally had nothing. But now, it’s happened to me. I could just imagine how they felt.”

She said she’s hopping on the train and cabbing back home, in the Baruch Houses, on the Lower East Side.

Limited public transportation has been restored to most of the city, but no service is going below 34th Street, where power is still off.

Gurgone is also planning on heading back to her apartment near the Battery tunnel sometime soon after her friend heads back to Chicago. “I think I dreamt last night that the kitchen was flooded from the melting of the freezer,” she said jokingly. Speaking about the power, she said, “hopefully it’ll be back on, otherwise I’ll have to find someplace to stay again.”

Despite public transportation’s resuming services, some evacuees are still unsure of their route back home.

“I’m gonna go back, I’m gonna try to go back tomorrow by bus,” said Jefferey Cowser, a landscaper from Belmar, N.J. “My main concern is basically getting home to look at what was destroyed in my place.”

Cowser has been stranded in Northern Manhattan for five days now. Though he didn’t have to move from shelter to shelter, he said he’s desperate to go home. His house is just two blocks away from the city’s boardwalk. According to the National Weather Service, that area was hit with roughly 80 mph sustained winds.

“I don’t know the extent of the damage but I know from the way that ocean was, and from what I saw on television, it’s pretty much destroyed,” Cowser said.

But, if Cowser can’t bus across the river, city official volunteers said, “no one would be turned away.”

That’s good news for people like Kim Serrano and Nola, who live and depend on the city’s shelter system.

“We get hot meals, blankets and they do activities with the kids. It’s nice,” said Nola, who declined to state her last name. “They told us it would take a little while for the electricity to come back in the other shelters. So, in the meantime we have to go where they tell us to.”

Nola said there are a lot of children inside the shelter, which led the volunteers to organize a Halloween party.

Hamilton said she took her two nieces and three nephews out to trick-or-treat. But she said, “They felt hurt because there were other kids that had costumes they didn’t have.” Hamilton’s 15-year-old niece is a diabetic and forgot to pack her insulin kit.

“She went a whole day without her insulin,” she said. “It’s hurtful, you know. The volunteers called 911 and they had to rush her to the hospital.”

Serrano said she was walking endlessly in Lower Manhattan and experienced Sandy’s wrath from all sides. “I felt the debris and saw the trees being all knocked down and seen glass popping all around. Just broken glasses everywhere,” she said. “I’m happy to be here, somewhere safe where I can sleep and, I feel safe.”

Though most evacuees said they were well fed and comfortable, some are still eager to return home.

Kyra Gaunt is a 2009 Inaugural TED fellow and lives in the Lower East Side. She was one of the evacuees who arrived at the shelter on Tuesday with a 75-year-old woman, whom she referred to as “Ms. Lucy.”

She met Ms. Lucy in the midst of the evacuation chaos downtown, and decided to help her out.

“When extreme circumstances leave you alone and people come together in a shelter, it’s not the volunteers but usually the people you meet that make it bearable,” she said. “So I did that for Ms. Lucy and she did it for me.”

Cowser said he’s headed to the Port Authority bus station where he’ll catch a bus to New Jersey, because his employer told him they received a contract to start rebuilding houses.

“My boss called me saying there’s much work to be done,” he said. “I need to get home and I need to work. I’m losing money staying here.”