First Overwhelmed by the Hurricane, Now Struggling to Fight Off the Cold
It was too cold for Daniel Choi to stay in his storm-gutted home in Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn, so he left his two pet turtles, Michelangelo and Leonardo, behind to move in temporarily with friends. But on Wednesday, when he stopped by his home to feed them, he made an upsetting discovery. Plummeting temperatures in the still-heatless house had left the two turtles frozen under a sheet of ice.
As the region suffers through a brutal cold snap this week, with temperatures so punishing that uncovered slivers of flesh feel like paper cuts and the slightest wind can send a chill through the teeth like a Popsicle, the best solution seems not to leave home. But for many people whose boilers were flooded by seawater during Hurricane Sandy and still languish, awaiting repair, home is as frigid as the outdoors.
“I’ve been through a lot,” said Mr. Choi, 27, who resuscitated the turtles, but not before discovering that his pipes had burst, leaving miniature ice rinks in the middle of his floor. “It just feels like another problem after another problem.”
Residents who have made do with cold homes under extra blankets and triple socks since the storm hit in October face new challenges as the thermometer continues to dip. Temperatures this week have been about 10 to 15 degrees lower than midwinter averages, according to the National Weather Service, and are expected to slide into the teens over the next few nights, and could even fall into the single digits in parts of the region.
As of Tuesday, New York City’s Rapid Repairs construction teams had restored heat, hot water or power to 12,247 residences in 7,112 buildings, according to Peter Spencer, the spokesman for the Mayor’s Office of Housing Recovery. But work is continuing in an additional 1,893 buildings, a substantial portion of which, Mr. Spencer estimated, remain without heat.
Devon Lawrence’s home in Far Rockaway, Queens, was washed through with ocean water that damaged his boiler and heating system beyond repair. At night, he tucks his 75-year-old mother, who has dementia and suffers from diabetes, under two blankets — she never takes off the four pairs of pants, three jackets and hat she wears indoors to hold off the seeping cold. Though the boiler was replaced by contractors from the Rapid Repairs program, the repairs have not been completed, he said. For now, Mr. Lawrence, 48, is heating his home with a kerosene heater and has spent $450 on kerosene in the past few weeks, dipping into money he was given by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that should be going to repairing his house, he said.
“I’m worried about everything,” Mr. Lawrence said. “When you wake up in the morning, you will breathe fog. If we are not properly covered we could suffer from hypothermia.”
Joseph McKellar, the executive director of Queens Congregations United for Action, a coalition of 40 faith-based organizations, called for the city to spend more money helping people get heat in their homes, saying the low temperatures had put people’s lives at risk. Last week a homeless day laborer was found dead inside an abandoned storm-damaged home on Staten Island, according to the Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group. Other scenes of hardship were playing out throughout the region. At a public school in the Belle Harbor section of the Rockaways, students were evacuated on Wednesday to a school across the street after a boiler malfunctioned and temperatures in the school dropped.
In Sea Bright, N.J., Mayor Dina Long said that though only a quarter of the residents had returned to the borough, those with heating issues had been taken care of. But at Borough Hall itself, the boiler that had replaced the one the hurricane destroyed was not working. Business was conducted on Wednesday in jackets and sweaters, according to Kathy Morris, a staff member.
There are no more space heaters to give away at the Martin Luther King Center in Long Beach, on Long Island, said James Hodge, the site coordinator. He added that the center ran out on Tuesday. Mr. Hodge, 36, does not have heat at his home, which he shares with two of his brothers. “We’ve thought about everyone else and then at night we’re cold,” he said
Some people have taken matters into their own hands. Doreen Greenwood, a real estate agent and the chief of the volunteer Gerritsen Beach Fire Department, has gone out each night with an ambulance full of space heaters, knocking on doors, and offering them to anyone who is icy.
And in the Arverne section of the Rockaways, Hazel Beckett, 73, a retired nurse, said she was toasty, even though her heating system was still a work in progress. She has been roasting red bricks on the stove. “That’s been throwing beautiful heat,” she said.