For all the efforts of federal, state and local officials to help people after Hurricane Sandy, unacceptable pockets of suffering remain. Ten days after the hurricane struck, thousands of people in New York City’s public housing are still without heat, water, electricity or food. Many people needed assistance after the storm, but the most vulnerable of the city’s inhabitants seem to be among the last in line to get it.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration estimated that Sandy had initially left more than 800,000 city customers without power, including many people in public housing. Many have since had their power and heat restored. Yet Steven Banks of the Legal Aid Society estimated on Thursday that more than 15,000 units of public housing closest to the city’s shoreline — mostly in the Rockaways, Coney Island and Red Hook — were still without heat and hot water or electricity.
“We’re into the second week of this,” he said, “and there is no real urgency to get it fixed. … No can-do New York attitude here.”
More than 400 buildings run by the New York City Housing Authority were affected by the storm. Bloomberg said Thursday that 70 percent of these buildings now have heat and hot water and 82 percent have electricity. But that leaves 120 buildings and the people who live in them without heat or hot water and 72 buildings and their residents without electricity.
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Whatever the precise numbers, by any accounting, life for these people is grim. On Wednesday afternoon, in the Far Rockaways, hundreds lined up for as much as three hours in the cold to get hot food promised by a makeshift delegation of volunteers. The multiple government agencies promising help were nowhere to be seen.
In a public housing building in Red Hook, residents received official notices warning that “Since Hurricane Sandy, the electricity and water will be out indefinitely.” Meanwhile, Bloomberg has been urging older residents and other vulnerable citizens to “go someplace warm,” like shelters.
On Thursday, Bloomberg expressed the hope that private contractors would be able to restore electricity by the weekend and heat “sometime early next week” to affected buildings. This is hardly comforting news to people huddled in blankets as temperatures drop. There seems to be no clear answer for why it has taken so long to send out temporary generators and boilers to help these residents.
City Hall leaders argue that restoring power is a process that is more complicated than simply bringing in generators, especially in buildings where electrical systems have been badly compromised. They promise to dispatch additional workers to public housing and a phased-in schedule to bring more power and heat each day to devastated areas like the Rockaways. To us, that sounds late and insufficient. Bloomberg needs to redouble his efforts to help those most in need.