Enduring in Red Hook


Sadek Abiah pulled up the gate of his Kennedy Fried Chicken at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, determined to serve food to the thousands remaining in a storm-battered Red Hook. But his delivery truck was stuck in traffic, along with every other car today, and wouldn’t get here for hours. Never mind. He put on his white paper hat, used the back of a ladle to spread tomato sauce on pizza dough, and apologized continuously for today’s limited menu—no sweet potato pie, no onion rings. When the wing delivery finally arrived at 2 p.m., Abiah started to fry chicken, and the line outside grew.

Patricia Owens, who stayed in her home at Red Hook West throughout Hurricane Sandy, carried home a handful of hot to-go bags, perfuming the air with the deeply comforting smell of mashed potatoes. With the elevators in her building out of order, she would brave the stairwells in darkness to bring her family some lunch. Among the thousands of residents who didn’t evacuate their homes in Red Hook’s project housing, most were still without electricity, hot water, and phone service, and the food left in their refrigerators had spoiled.

As soon as Hurricane Sandy left this part of Brooklyn, and the flooding receded, people came in from higher ground to take in the devastation around the piers. Disaster tourists, some locals called them, here to see how the storm surge had hit this low-lying community and the dark, brackish water had rushed down the streets, rising quickly and lifting up cars. The Instagram-ready puddles remained in Red Hook’s cobbled streets, along with smelly, rainbow slicks of oil that dog owners wouldn’t be able to wash off their pets’ paws, no matter how much Dawn they used. “I need to find a Starbucks or something,” said a frowning Easton Devorah as she picked up after her tawny mutt, “because it won’t be so depressing there.”

Others, like Viviana Gordon, came here to volunteer through Red Hook Initiative or AmeriCorps, catching the bus in from other Brooklyn neighborhoods like Crown Heights, Clinton Hill, and Brownsville, and going door to door. They worked to get food and water to residents in wheelchairs who will be stuck inside until the elevators can be powered again. “People need baby formula and diapers,” she said, “and they’re not getting running water up past the first few floors.”

All along Van Brunt Street, the neighborhood’s beloved bars and restaurants were beginning a long, exhausting cleanup, sharing generators to pump the water out of their basements, or dumping out buckets onto the leaf-strewn streets. Homeowners, sorting through their waterlogged things, took coffee breaks in their doorways, leaned against one another, and cried. There were bright spots ahead, though: Later in the afternoon, a bunch of local restaurants were hosting a barbecue at the corner of Van Brunt and Pioneer. People passing one another in the street shouted the details cheerfully, “Bring your own charcoal!”

In the tree-lined streets connecting the Red Hook Houses, there was the sound of music: Patricia Felder pushed a massive stereo in her granny cart, playing Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” as loud as it would go. She wore a blue raincoat and a Nike baseball cap and shared her Newports with a neighbor. Felder works as a receiver at Bellevue Hospital and on Monday, at 7 p.m., she and most of the New York City Housing Authority–run buildings here lost power. Felder has since been climbing up 12 flights to bring food and water to her elderly mother. Felder doesn’t have candles or flashlights, but that isn’t the problem. “Mostly we’re going stir crazy,” she said.