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In Red Hook Houses, No Power, No Water, and Growing Frustration

Red Hook residents lined up outside a community center where volunteers were distributing food last night.
Red Hook residents lined up outside a community center where volunteers were distributing food last night.

Three days after Hurricane Sandy, residents of the Red Hook Houses are still without electricity and water, and are increasingly angry at the lack of response from city, state, and federal officials.

About 100 residents gathered at the flagpole near the center of the projects yesterday to voice their complaints, telling stories of pitch-black stairways, isolated elderly, and a sense of abandonment.

The project's basements are flooded, and Con Edison has said it can't restore power until they are pumped out.

But that work is nowhere near completion, and residents said they have had no word from the New York City Housing Authority since officials closed the on-site office and left before Monday's evacuation deadline.

Yesterday, NYCHA employees could be seen blowing leaves and clearing debris from the yards, provoking jeers from the crowd. "Tell them to stop blowing leaves!" one man shouted. "Leaves aren't our problem. We need them to go into the basement and get things running!"

At some points, the anger became ugly.

"All the help is going to the Jews, going to Rockaway!" One man shouted. "We should put yarmulkes on our heads, then maybe we'll get some help."

That sentiment wasn't widely shared in the crowd, but the sense of isolation and abandonment was, along with a suspicion that parts of the city more in the media spotlight were getting attention that Red Hook is not.

"Red Hook has always been the tail of the frickin' donkey," said George Rodriguez, at 72 a 55-year resident of Red Hook. We've always been neglected, an afterthought."

Aura Martinez, holding her baby, says she and her partner and two children have been living without water or power since Monday.
Aura Martinez, holding her baby, says she and her partner and two children have been living without water or power since Monday.

Aura Martinez, who works for a bus company and has a one-year-old and an infant, says she has been unable to cook or even flush her toilet for days.

"The city isn't doing enough here," Martinez said yesterday. "This is one of the biggest projects in New York state. We don't even feel like we can go ask for help, because the police are always so snarky."

City Councilmember Sara Gonzalez tried to placate the crowd, assuring them that Red Hook is not alone. "This is a national disaster," Gonzalez said. "Everyone's affected by this."

Residents said the only assistance they've seen so far has come not from the city, but from the Red Hook Initiative, a local community center that has been partnering with volunteers to provide flashlights, food, and water.

Many of the volunteers working with the Red Hook Initiative are affiliated with Occupy Wall Street. Conor Tomas Reed, a student at CUNY, said he hopes residents will respond to absence of government assistance by building networks of mutual aid to help themselves.

Renette Benn, who lives nearby, agreed, saying residents of the Houses need to pull together and take care of themselves.

"This ain't just a place that they threw us into," Benn said. "This is the place where we live. People need to start acting like it."

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