Looking Back: One Year After Superstorm Sandy

By Alex Sanders, October 29, 2013 - 12:19pm

he day before Superstorm Sandy blew through New York City, a police officer knocked on Maria Davila’s door urging her to evacuate her apartment. Maria lived in the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) Ocean Bay Apartments in Far Rockaway, Queens, bordering the beach. She lived in one of the 26 developments in evacuation Zone A. She was one of 80,000 NYCHA residents displaced from her home after Sandy.

The day before Superstorm Sandy blew through New York City, a police officer knocked on Maria Davila’s door urging her to evacuate her apartment. Maria lived in the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) Ocean Bay Apartments in Far Rockaway, Queens, bordering the beach. She lived in one of the 26 developments in evacuation Zone A. She was one of 80,000 NYCHA residents displaced from her home after Sandy.

She weathered the storm in her mother’s one bedroom apartment in Manhattan with her two children, and tried to return to her Far Rockaway home about two weeks later.

“We lived a block and a half from the beach and there was sand halfway into the housing developments,” Maria said.

When she walked into her second floor apartment after being displaced for two weeks, Maria was met with water damage, and her son's asthma was exacerbated due to the mold. A NYCHA staff member contacted Maria soon after to assess the damage and help Maria’s family find a new home. A month and a half later, they had a new apartment at the Johnson Houses in Manhattan.

“When I handed over my keys before I moved, the Red Cross was still bringing food and other things to Far Rockaway,” she said.

When Maria walked into her new apartment, it was fully furnished. Through generous funding from the Robin Hood Foundation totaling $55,000, Community Solutions was able to work with NYCHA to replace furniture and household goods for 82 NYCHA families, who lost their belongings in the storm.

“After the storm, I started to price things out and got overwhelmed,”Maria said. “But I was so full of joy when I walked into the furnished apartment! I think I even cried!”

According to NYCHA, 422 buildings were impacted by the storm.

NYCHA transferred 139 residents who were impacted by Sandy, and the organization placed nearly 200 low-income New Yorkers in public housing who were identified by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development as people who had lost their homes as a result of the storm.

While Maria’s post-Sandy experience wasn’t tumultuous, she said that some of her neighbors did not fare as well after the storm.

“The building I resided in was predominantly elderly people,” she said.“With me, I’m good. I can walk and talk and get out of there. I was fortunate, but there were people who weren’t. A lot of people stayed behind because they didn’t listen. There were shelters being offered for people who had nowhere else to go. They even said to evacuate specific zones.”

Over the past year, NYCHA held engagement sessions about emergency preparedness during 36 on-site meetings at vulnerable properties and during Family Days in vulnerable low-lying areas.

After the storm, NYCHA worked quickly to restore heat, hot water and electricity by November 18, 2012 to all residents who lost those services. Service was restored to half of that population within one week. Community Solutions worked with NYCHA to survey tenants still in their apartments after the storm to assess their needs.

This past summer, NYCHA released results in the September issue of their journal of a post-storm survey they conducted to gauge how prepared residents are for the next storm and find out what additional support residents might need in similar situations.

About 2,000 residents, including Maria, were surveyed. One quarter of all surveys were completed by households with limited mobility or life-sustaining equipment, and these vulnerable households were more likely to report the need for uninterrupted electricity for life sustaining equipment and medication refrigeration.

Since the storm, NYCHA began an aggressive process of getting residents who could be vulnerable in an emergency to fill out a special assistance form. This Emergency Assistance Registration form allows residents to notify NYCHA if they have conditions such as limited mobility, vision impairment or if they require daily medication or life-sustaining equipment. With this information, NYCHA can better coordinate with other City agencies and partners to deliver important services.

According to the survey results, ‘four out of five NYCHA residents said they are now ‘very or somewhat prepared’ for a major storm  hitting New York City, and that most have enough food, water and medication to shelter in place for up to three days. Before the storm hit, only one in four residents surveyed said they were prepared for a major hurricane.

More than one third of respondents said they would be willing to take a training course to become qualified to help their community recover from a disaster. Maria said she thought that would be the key to making sure the most vulnerable residents are safe during storms, as well as residents participating in emergency preparedness training.

Since the storm, NYCHA has identified an alternate space for their Emergency Operations Center and conducted a large-scale assessment of its infrastructure to determine how to best procure and protect important equipment that may be needed in an emergency. NYCHA also plans to elevate most of its systems to above flood levels.

“I think for the next storm, there will be a better response because there is more knowledge now that people saw what really can happen,” said Maria.

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