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Hurricane Sandy: Crisis and Response

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Nine of Community Access’s 17 buildings, housing 360 people, lost electricity, heat, hot water, phones, Internet, and elevator service because of Hurricane Sandy on Monday, Oct. 29.

Twenty-nine scattered-site apartments leased by Community Access for supported tenants were also in the dark. Electricity was restored by Saturday, Nov. 3 and the heat was back on in all our buildings, except one, by Nov. 4. Three buildings were flooded; one of them, Gouverneur Court, got a direct hit as water from the East River rushed into the basement, rising to about 4 ft., and enveloping the kitchen, dining room, our Art Collective center, exercise room and offices.

Cleanup began immediately, with intrepid staff converging on Gouverneur Court to start the process of pumping out the flood waters, and tossing out water logged furniture, food, computers, phones, and supplies. Among the irreplaceable items destroyed were the paintings and drawings created by members of the Art Collective.

Flood waters tore through the basement of Gouverneur Court with terrible force, causing approximately $150,000 worth of damage

Quickly, CA’s East Village Access location at 242 East 2nd Street was established as the headquarter for an ad hoc crew of staff, residents, board members, and volunteers. With the aid of social media and word of mouth, neighbors and friends began to drop off copious donations of food, water, flashlights and blankets. Others generously donated money, helping us to defray some extraordinary expenses incurred.

Teams were formed – cooks, messengers, visitors, handypersons. Using bikes, cars and feet, they fanned out to deliver necessities to stranded residents, to check on people, and to hook up generators to provide lighting and power pumps.

Many dedicated staff members stayed overnight, some for days, in darkened buildings to keep the tenants safe. Others scoured stores for scarce supplies and drove them in to Manhattan, through gridlocked streets. Staff and tenants in buildings with power made food for their less fortunate neighbors. Everyone seemed to do what they could. Their generosity was overwhelming.

Actress and philanthropist Kristin Davis visited our Gouverneur Court building
to deliver blankets for tenants affected by the storm.

Unfortunately, however, other casualties of the hurricane included our main office downtown at 2 Washington St., which will be out of commission for at least another month, and our much-loved annual Howie the Harp Graduation Ceremony, which had to be postponed. We successfully kept our tenants safe and sound, but Sandy's terrible impact is still being felt. Perhaps our biggest problem now is the repair of Gouverneur Court. The entire first floor is being decontaminated (thanks to our friends at Belfor Property Restoration), and must be rebuilt and refurnished.

We would like to thank everyone who has done so much to help so far, either by donating their time, goods or money (from New Yorkers rallying to our cause, to girl scouts in Kentucky, environmental clean-up crews from Alabama and South Carolina, to individual donors as far away as Europe). We would also like to thank Robin Hood and Capital One for emergency grants they gave us just a few days after the hurricane, and a caring family foundation that serves the elderly and people in need in NYC for their generous donation. At this challenging time, it's reassuring to know that our call for help hasn't gone unanswered.


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Comments (4)

  1. I am really saddened by this loss. Some of the artwork I have left at the art collective was one of a kind in a sense of history. But, I hope that the other artists with Art Collective will see this as an opportunity to feel inspired about continuing to make art and not see it as a total loss. A sort of "phoenix rising," i guess.
  2. My heart goes out to the creative losses at the Art Collective. Many years of creativity, sweat, tears and time were lost in various people's artwork. They cannot be replaced. I truly ache for them.
  3. Even though Hurricane Sandy caused so much destruction, it's been another example of how adversity often brings out the best in New Yorkers. For example, when my colleagues and I hastily rearranged an Advocacy Department forum on Medicaid Redesign (in a conference room in my residential building!), the number of people who showed up truly was amazing. In all, there was 74 of us. We comforted each other, and then had a wonderful discussion about what mental health recipients want to see in medicaid redesign. Our guest speaker said afterwards that audience participation really was off the charts!

    A community coming together in this way is an inspiring thing to see.
  4. A few of us went along to Gouverneur Court with some food donations and found a lot of residents gathered in the community lounge in semi-darkness, all wearing their coats and hats, some sitting, others standing around chatting. A big cheer went up when they found out we brought some jars of jelly to go with their peanut butter! No lights or heat, but everybody just glad they had a building still standing. Real hardy.

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