| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Nov 7 At nighttime, high up in the
apartment buildings that tower over New York's Rockaway
Peninsula, it's so inky black inside that residents have to use
their hands to feel their way along the concrete walls, inch by
inch, to get up and down the stairs, over to their neighbors, or
back to their front doors. The windowless passageways feel like
a crypt, unnerving even the most hardened of residents.
For more than a week, ever since Superstorm Sandy turned
their community into a beachfront dystopia, flattening cars,
mangling the boardwalk, twisting their roads, and cutting off
their power, these residents have made do. They've walked up
stairs, some as many as 13 flights, to the top of housing
complexes like the Dayton Towers in Rockaway Park. They've
watched their flashlights die, their toilets clog up, and their
neighbors kids bawl a lot. They've lived without cellphones,
stores, or showers, eating vacuum-packed, government-supplied
ready-made meals of rubbery chicken and paste-like potatoes.
Now, as another storm began hammering through on Wednesday,
dropping temperatures to freezing, they see the new reality
getting only grimmer as they shiver in the Stygian dark with no
"All my neighbors are still living here, old people, too,
and it's getting cold," said marble-installer Eddie Romanoff,
33. "But we have nowhere else to go."
Just a week after the worst storm in many years to slam the
Eastern Seaboard trashed thousands of houses and left nearly 1
million people without electricity, local and federal government
officials hav e said that tens of thousands of people in New York
and New Jersey are likely to need temporary hous ing. Either
their houses have been demolished or they are unfit to live in
because of severe damage and the absence of power, heat and
And now they all need a place to live in a region with some
of the lowest apartment vacancy rates, and most expensive hotel
and rental rates, in the world.
On Monday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it
would provide vouchers for people to stay in hotels, paying as
much as $295 a night as well as subsidizing longer-term
rents. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration has
hired a new housing czar, Brad Gair, to help find housing for
But Wednesday's storm, named Athena after the Greek goddess,
is making it painfully clear that for all the good intentions
and multiple press conferences, local and federal government
officials haven't kept pace with reality. While the so-called
nor'easter isn't anything like as dangerous as Sandy, it will
bring very strong winds, heavy rain and flooding to a region
that isn't in a position to soak it up without further misery.
Up and down the Rockaways peninsula, in communities like Far
Rockaway, Belle Harbor and Breezy Point, residents said they had
no idea where to go or what to do, or how to stay warm. "This
entire community is homeless," said Mary Beth Bevacqua, 40, who
was cleaning out her mom's flooded house in Breezy Point on
Tuesday as neighbors passed by in waders and wagons. "No one has
any place to live."
The refrain, in a number of neighborhoods here, was the
same: More help is desperately needed. "We've been forgotten,"
said Mary Anne Semon, 52, as she helped her mother navigate the
misshapen street outside her bungalow in Breezy Point.
As the latest storm got closer, threatening even longer
delays for power restoration due to forecast wind gusts of up
to 60 mph (100 kph), another complicating factor emerged. "It's
the high season in New York for hotels," says Herve Houdre,
regional director of operations for New York's InterContinental
Hotel. "It's already the highest time of demand for the year."
Some hotels that accept the FEMA vouchers have long been
booked. In Riverhead, Long Island, some guests traveled from as
far away as upstate New York to get a room at places like Hotel
Indigo and Holiday Inn Express. Both properties are accepting
FEMA vouchers. "But we have no rooms," says the director of
operations for both properties, Kristen Reyes, who has been
getting texts all week from guests begging for rate reductions
and time extensions. "We are 100 percent occupied this week and
And as far as apartments go, the displaced say they are
encountering the harsh realities of scrambling for rentals at a
time when all of their neighbors are, too.
"They're all taken, people were taking those apartments
right after the storm, sight unseen," says Ed Power, a
53-year-old retired firefighter from West Islip, a hamlet on
Long Island. He doesn't have power. And his father's house in
Breezy Point has been knocked off its foundations and turned
askew. He says he can bundle up in thermals to handle the
cold, but he hasn't been able to find anyplace for his dad to
stay. "When you're 93, you're freezing, even in summer."
The day after his red-brick Colonial in Belle Harbor got
slammed by Sandy, Matthew LaSorsa started looking for a place
for himself, his wife and their 14-year-old twins to stay. He
even got his employees, at his wine shop, to do a search. But
none of them could find his family any place to live. LaSorsa
even lost the $4,400 a month two-bedroom in Brooklyn Heights he
thought would come through. "The rental apartments don't seem to
be available," says LaSorsa. "There's no emergency relief in
terms of housing."
SMELL OF GAS
His relatively well-off neighborhood is marked by
disintegration and decay. Front lawns are filled with people's
moldy belongings. The air smells of gas. Sewage, sand and hills
of dirt fill the streets.
At night, in the pitch black, LaSorsa says it feels like the
science fiction movie "Bladerunner." "It's scary," he says.
Like people up and down the Rockaways, LaSorsa and his wife,
Jane, say they registered with FEMA, hoping for help with
housing, electricity, gas - anything. But they say they haven't
heard a thing. They remarked at the irony: living in a world of
information with no information. "We're in the dark with what's
going on," says Jane. "We're in an echo chamber, there's no
Three weeks ago, Kelley D'Antonio, a nurse in a neonatal
intensive care unit at Maimonides Hospital, bought her first
house. The 34-year-old put 40 percent down on a $355,000
bungalow in Breezy Point - two feet away from her parents' house
next door. It was the place she had grown up in, remembering
evenings when she was carted around in a wagon in her pajamas to
eat ice cream and watch fireworks. She knew everybody up and
down the sandy lane. Now the houses are twisted around or pushed
into the street, have raw sewage coursing through them and red
condemnation stickers on their doors. Her own home has lost part
of its foundation.
Her housewarming party was supposed to be this weekend. Says
her mom, Judy, "We were going to string party lights from our
house to hers."
(Reporting by Michelle Conlin; Additional Reporting by Jennifer
Merritt and Karen Freifeld; Editing by Martin Howell and Steve