Hundreds of seniors and other residents remain trapped in Coney Island’s major co-op developments, and efforts to help them are hampered by supply shortages and language barriers.
When Esther grabbed me by the arm, pulled me in for a hug and told me I was the only person who had come to see her in days, I cried. This was an 80-year-old woman living on the 19th floor of Building 3 in the Luna Park co-ops. While all of the other buildings have electricity and some have water, Esther and anyone else above the 10th floor does not.
Hesitant to open the door at first, she eventually revealed that she didn’t prepare well and didn’t have water. She was starting to feel lightheaded. When I saw her face-to-face, she could only ask about her 82-year-old brother in Building 5; she didn’t know that his building had power and water.
Bensonhurst Bean food writer David Cohen and I walked up to the 20th floor with as many water bottles as we could carry. Then we made our way down through the dark hallways, knocking on doors and checking in with over the 160 or so mostly Russian-speaking seniors living in Building 3. We ran out of supplies by the 15th floor.
Unable to make the trek down many flights of stairs for food or water, and with few outsiders aware of their plight, the seniors are trapped. In fact, most of the high-rise co-ops west of Ocean Parkway that house a large senior population are without water, heat or electricity. In some cases, they are without all three. The potential of the freezing nor’
Thursday saw a storage room at 2770 West 5th Street in the Amalgamated Warbasse Houses turned into a makeshift staging area for the drop-off of goods, packaging, water distribution and volunteers. Volunteers especially. Over a hundred people showed up, including a group from Bushwick calling themselves ”The Drink.”
Local organizations were there for the effort too, including COJECO and the Met Council. Otherwise, it was locals who wanted to help Brooklyn’s most vulnerable residents. No signs of the National Guard or FEMA on the scene.
Volunteers canvassed the buildings, walking up 23 flights of stairs and surveying the apartments to determine what supplies residents needed. They brought with them water, food, medical attention and, hopefully, comfort.
However, towards the late-afternoon, 2770 was running low on water supplies. Eventually, the volunteers began to peter out.
Residents also told us of incomprehensible messages from police heard earlier in the day. Turns out, they had asked these largely Russian-speaking people to turn their circuit breakers off… in English. Then, fliers were left at the doors by the management stating that Con Edison had no idea when the power would come back for Building 3. Again, they were typed out in English.
Residents said they hope for better communication from property managers, or even suggest appointing building “mayors.” A familiar face that checks up on home-bound seniors in a time of a crisis would be so much better than what they say today. This may just wishful thinking.
Many of the building’s healthier residents have evacuated – some through volunteer vehicles that responded and helped families out. Some seniors capable of getting down the stairs have also been evacuated. But many, if not most, of the building’s most vulnerable residents – the frail and disabled – remain trapped in their own homes, now turned dark, cold caves.
For the many without it in Warbasse, power, heat and running water is not expected for another five to seven days.
When I told Esther that I had to move on, but that I would find out about her brother, she stood there watching me and yelling after me to “be careful.” Certainly, she was grateful for the water, but I think that just having someone show her that she wasn’t alone was helpful.
The rest of the residents were grateful too. We tried to figure out whether or not the Coney Island Housing Projects were receiving assistance, but didn’t have enough time to dedicate to asking more people on the street about it. Later, I found out that Bloomberg and Marty Markowitz were there with FEMA, just blocks away at MCU Park.
To donate or volunteer, go to 2770 West 5th Street at 10:30 a.m. Don’t just stick to Warbasse, ask about heading out to Luna Park and to the buildings along Surf Avenue. Bring a flashlight with you.
What people need most urgently:
- Canned goods