Seaport Report, Nov. 14, 2012

Hello Sandy… People walking around the drizzly, dark South Street Seaport, defying the mandatory evacuation order. I talk with my neighbors, and they all are staying. I hunker in with my computer for the night. Seven o’clock and “poof” — with an electric zap, the lights go off. Darkness surrounds me except for the computer screen, which is on battery power. I fumble around the loft, lighting candles and grabbing a flashlight. Out the window I see water gently lapping along Water Street.

By 8 p.m. there is total blackness, Water Street is under water and the flood is surging up Dover Street. Across the street, neighbors are rushing back and forth filling black plastic bags with sand to shore up their doors, wading in water that is waist-deep.

I run downstairs to my front door in my Wellies. Earlier, I rolled up the hall rug and secured it in front of the door with a can of spackle. Water is now over the second step in the hallway, deeper than my boots are high. I can’t get out the door to help. I feel awful. I finish the half jigger of vodka and go to bed. I can’t sleep. The only book with print that is large enough to read by the tea light balanced precariously on my chest is my friend’s cousin Lew Cuyler’s book, “Ernestine Bayer: Mother of U.S. Women’s Rowing.” I have a good laugh at the absurdity.

In the morning, I hike on my Wellies for a walk around the neighborhood.  At John and Water Streets, a worker offers to charge my phone in his car. We stand around and talk for a while, amazed at the people who are here to see the aftermath of the disaster — the “lookies,” as one friend calls them.

I am overwhelmed — and that word doesn’t seem strong enough convey the feeling — by the devastation around my sweet neighborhood, where I have lived for more than 30 years and which experienced storms and surges before (but nothing like this). I go upstairs and grab a box of plastic gloves, white kitchen garbage bags and bottles of water. Over at Salty Paw, owner Amanda Byron Zink has been sweeping out water. Her husband Rob and I continue the job, bagging up ruined dog sweaters, leashes and wet kibble. Someone stops to tell us that the surge lifted and moved the massive wooden bar inside The Paris Café. The water is still about an inch deep and even deeper outside on Peck Slip. At high tide, the water level reached the noses of the dog-and-fish sign above Salty Paw’s entrance.

I move over to Meade’s Pub, where a team of staffers and friends are picking up cans and bottles of beer, scrubbing down stainless steel kitchen equipment and swabbing the tile floors. While there is an air of desperation and disbelief, there is also energy and the mindset, “We will go on.”

And so will our neighborhood. We brace a few days later for the next assault: snow!

Sayonara Sandy… Saturday morning, 12 days after the surge of Superstorm Sandy washed out most the neighborhood’s basements and ground floors, the South Street Seaport was busy with tourists coming to see the damage and with shop owners, workers and residents who were picking up the pieces.

At Kara and Ann Taylor, workers were loading body-sized bags of destroyed merchandise into delivery trucks. J Crew and Gap, like Brookstone and the Body Shop, had been boarded up. A sign posted onto the door of Red read: “Red is closed due to an unfortunate weather day! We’re sorry to have missed you.” No word of reopening.

Inside the window at Josh Bach, which opened only six months ago at 14 Fulton St., a silver cocktail shaker and silk ties lay strewn alongside a computer printer and cables.

Meanwhile, others have struggled to move on.

At Made Fresh Daily bakery on Front Street, white paint was being applied to the walls where water had risen more than five feet during the storm. Manager Beth Trimble was prepping in the kitchen to open for a few hours on Sunday with a few things such as coffee, croissants and sandwiches. “The [New Amsterdam] Market will be back tomorrow, and we wanted to be here,” she said.

Lee Holin of Meade’s was hanging a paper sign offering a $25 all-you-can-eat-and-drink brunch. They had had a small opening the night before, serving only hamburgers. He planned to add to the menu as the week went on. Water leveled off at around five feet inside the pub, taking out everything from the ground floor but the bar. “People are showing support,” he commented.

Over at Jeremy’s Ale House, Milton Amoroso was behind the bar again.

“Twenty-seven years in this neighborhood and I’ve never seen anything this bad,” he said. “I’ve been here cleaning every day — everything is garbage, nothing works. Right now is my day off, this is easier.”

Water was three feet deep in the pub, which is five feet up from street level. In the kitchen, the industrial refrigerator was on its side; in the basement a 300-pound freezer full of food was turned over. Packages of calamari were swimming around.

Patron Peter Karsten used to live in Brooklyn Heights and was a Jeremy’s regular until he moved to Kansas City, Missouri five years ago. He’s been back a few times since and was happy to see his old haunt was open.

At Barbarini across Front Street, co-owners Stefano Barbagallo and Claudio Marini were cleaning bottles and packing up olive oils and vinegars to sell at the New Amsterdam Market. “We have to make some income,” explained Marini. Barbagallo’s little daughters Sofia and Valentina eagerly showed visitors the new window in the bathroom (the wall was partially blown out by water) and what was barely left (two overhead shelves) of the “really cute” office. The rest of the once-lovely store and restaurant with a Tuscan feel was in shambles.

The watermark ran across the top of the refrigerator doors. “It was over my head,” said Adriana, Stefano’s wife, who was helping with the clean-up. All their equipment and surviving merchandise had to be out of the shop by Monday. The landlord said it would take six to eight months to get the space back in working order. “The insurance company said ‘F you’ — ‘F’ for flood. No flood insurance!” said Stefano.

Still, there were smiles and even a few laughs. “What are we going to do? We are dealing with it,” said Marini. “You have to have faith.”

Back at the Salty Paw, the handwritten message on the plywood over the blown-out door read “Saltier than ever. We will be back.” Notes from staff and neighbors sounded hopeful. Sharon had drawn a dog and wrote: “Tails waggin’ again in no time”.

Soothe and support… After all this, a day that the spa was more than in order. The Setai Club & Spa Wall Street also reopened on Saturday, offering “a place of warmth, comfort and respite following such a stressful time.” Though the end of November, the spa will donate 10 percent of all its proceeds to the American Red Cross disaster relief fund. Patrons will also receive a $15 credit if they donate relief supplies such as batteries, bottled water, blankets or imperishable food.

A lighter note… Happy to report that the Knickerbocker Chamber Orchestra music library was saved, thanks to neighbors who waded into a flooded basement as water rose around them. Still, the orchestra lost a lot, including musicians’ chairs and stands, lights and office equipment. And due to the storm, its fundraising soirée, “The First Great White Way! Broadway from Bowling Green to Union Square,” was postponed two weeks. Join KCO music director Gary S. Fagin and Broadway star Elizabeth DeRosa of “Mary Poppins” at the Tribeca home of Madelyn and Steven Wils on Thurs., Nov. 29, from 6 to 8 pm, for music, hors d’oeuvres from Table Tales and wine donated by Capsouto Freres.  For reservations or to make a donation, call (917) 929-8375.

–  BY JANEL BLADOW

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