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BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER | In Sandy’s wake, after the carnage and terror of the night before, by Tuesday morning, Oct. 29, there was relative calm and silence in Manhattan. By then, most Battery Park City residents had heeded Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s mandatory evacuation order and had fled to other parts of the city or even to other states. They would have heard that on Monday evening, under a full moon that spurred tides on the Hudson River to greater heights than usual, the river had crested at a record of almost 14 feet and had surged over the sea wall. Beyond that, they were hungry for information.
By the next day, those who had power and email turned to the Internet to communicate with their neighbors. “It is my understanding that people are staying safe where they are at this point and not returning. Has anyone heard about schools being open?” Gateway Plaza resident Tom Goodkind asked. “I’ve seen people coming back to Gateway Plaza. Parking spaces are being taken on the street but the garage isn’t open,” Pat Gray replied.
The dispersed Battery Park City residents wanted to know which buildings had power, how much food there was in the stores, which stores were open, how difficult it was to navigate the roads, whether the buildings were flooded, whether there was telephone and Internet service. In addition to emails, they communicated on Facebook. Honey Berk, a technology specialist at the CUNY Building Performance Lab, started disseminating information via the Battery Park City Block Party website at http://www.bpcblockparty.com and via her Twitter account.
Goodkind was the first to point out that although most of the complex’s six buildings and 1,710 apartments had power, the 400 building did not. The basement had been flooded, shutting off the electricity. Gateway Plaza management had indicated that it would take three to five days to restore power in that building.
Rosalie Joseph, who also lives in Gateway Plaza, responded that she had just heard that, too. She said she was, “Getting out word to CERT [the Community Emergency Response Team], B.P.C. CARES, and Gateway Tenants to organize. If anyone on this email list is able to help, let me know.”
Six people heeded Joseph’s S.O.S. and met at noon on Wednesday, Oct. 31, to try to help their stranded neighbors. They went to the dark lobby of 400 Gateway Plaza, where they talked to residents. How many people had stayed behind, they inquired. How many were elderly? How many needed help for other reasons? Among other things, they learned that someone who had just had major surgery was on the 20th floor of the 35-story building.
They also discovered that tenants from the 400 building were sitting in the lobby of one of Gateway’s other towers to charge their laptop computers and their cellphones.
In response to concern from tenants about the conditions in the 400 building, management opened three vacant apartments in the 500 and 100 buildings so that tenants in the building without power could use toilets and take showers.
On Wednesday afternoon, Rosalie Joseph and Robin Forst drove to Costco on 117th Street to buy food, bottled water and batteries. That evening, assisted by other Gateway Plaza residents, they set out a spread of lasagna, chips, salsa, cheese and crudités and invited the residents of the 400 building to a hot meal. They also had Halloween candy for the kids.
Some neighbors brought additional food — pasta, sandwiches, wine and even a bottle of whiskey.
Around 30 people came for dinner that night. The next morning, when the rescue group put out a breakfast of coffee, muffins and croissants, around 50 people showed up.
The group said it would serve dinner again that evening and another round of breakfast the next day.
The funds to pay for this came from the Gateway Plaza Tenants Association, B.P.C. Cares, the Battery Park City Dog Association, the B.P.C. Community Network and B.P.C. CERT.
Elsewhere in Battery Park City, businesses tried to help their neighbors. The Conrad hotel at 102 North End Ave. evacuated its guests on Oct. 27 but never lost power. It allowed residents to come in to recharge their computers and their cellphones and dispensed bottled water. The hotel reopened on Oct. 31 with limited food, beverage and phone service until further notice.
The Vince Smith Hair Experience at 300 Rector Place was undamaged by Sandy. With power, hot water and WiFi intact, owner Vince Smith invited his neighbors to stop by to charge their mobile devices and to use the WiFi. He also said he would shampoo their hair if they lacked hot water at home.
Many thought the Battery Park City Authority was notable for its absence. Authority spokesperson Matthew Monahan issued a statement a few days after the storm: “The pre-emptive shutdown of B.P.C.A.’s server saved it, enabling it to operate again. The ball fields are closed until further notice. B.P.C.A. and its Parks Conservancy are engaged in property assessment from Pier A to Chambers Street and will immediately implement plans to remediate likely impacts.”
On Friday Monahan said officials have been surveying the damage and speaking to residents along the way in addition to sending regular updates to building managers.
But in contrast, some Battery Park City residents recalled how helpful the Battery Park City Authority had been in other emergencies such as the Sept. 11, 2001 attack and the 2011 evacuation of Battery Park City during tropical storm Irene.
“This is unprecedented silence,” said Community Board 1 member and B.P.C. resident Tammy Meltzer. Many of her neighbors agreed.
Sandy turned the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel into a torrent that resembled a raging stream in springtime and the Battery Park City underpass was completely flooded and remains so.
The Ritz-Carlton hotel lost power. So did Merchants River House on the Battery Park City esplanade, which was flooded. Owner Abraham Merchant, who lives in Battery Park City, said that he didn’t know when power would be restored. Because of power loss, he also had to close his two other Downtown restaurants — Merchants NY Café and Pound and Pence. Construction at his fourth restaurant, SouthWest NY at South End Avenue and Albany Street, will be slightly delayed, he said.
But most of Battery Park City was spared the storm’s worst ministrations. Some buildings never lost power. “HOME HOME HOME!” Carolyn Louise Newhouse exulted on Facebook after she returned to Battery Park City. “Such irony, my building directly on the river went unharmed in any way. Power on throughout, Internet, phone and TV on, Teardrop Park as I left it, leaves still on trees, beautiful river! I’m a Happy, Grateful woman wishing hot showers for everyone.”