Interview with resident of Coney Island
Interviewee: Female resident of Coney Island
Interviewer: Julia Neale
Q: Okay you live in a private building, Coney Island would you mind just telling me?
Q: Last week you were describing the scene from your back window of what it looked like, would you just tell me a little bit more about when the storm came?
A: Okay when the storm came I was in denial that it was going to be a storm because the night before I had been drinking and I was like — because before they had told us there was going to be a storm before and I spent a lot of money.
Q: Are you referring to Irene?
A: Yeah, I spent a lot of money buying a pet carrier, $50 for a pet carrier, I went to Manhattan to my aunt’s house, we left home, we were told to evacuate. So we left, we came back, nothing happened. So I’m like huh, I don’t believe this, this is going to be some more of the same stuff. So I made no preparations. My husband on the other hand who went chicken little the sky is falling he went out and he bought candles, he bought flashlights, he bought this, he bought that. Meanwhile I’m like nothing’s happening so I’m running around acting crazy and I’m going out in the rain, it was drizzling and he started, it’s going to be bad, so I’d go outside I’m acting crazy, oh it’s a tidal wave just teasing him.
Q: So you’re just joking around.
A: Yeah I made a joke of it. So I’m sitting there and it’s still nothing happening then he says to me look out the window, all of a sudden I don’t know where this water came from. I looked out the window and the water, people everybody started coming out of their apartments. I think when it first happened that was probably when the lights out, all of a sudden the lights went out.
Q: Okay so you lost power?
A: We lost power.
Q: Around what time was this?
A: I don’t remember because I was not in my right mind. So I don’t know what time it was but the lights went out. So I started hearing a noise in the hallway and — I live on the second floor, the first floor is completely demolished.
A: The second floor people from the first floor was coming up to the second floor sleeping, they slept in the hallway on the second floor. So I started trying to gather food in my house since we lost power, I’m like maybe I could help somebody who’s hungry, whatever. So I go out in the hallway I hear this noise people are looking out the window. By the time I get out in the hallway the water is over the tops of the cars and I’m like I don’t believe this but I’m still — because I’m not really myself I’m still making like oh wow this is cool, you know not realizing this is a dangerous situation, this is not cool, this is not pretty. But I’m thinking with a different head at the time. But I opened the window, I looked outside, I looked out my back window and I’m seeing water. It looks like the ocean in my backyard and I thought it looked nice until I went to sleep and woke up. And so I thought the water would still be there the next day, the water was gone completely.
Q: So it receded almost immediately?
A: Yeah, well I don’t know when it did but when I woke up everything was gone. But I noticed that trees were down, there was still no power, the apartment was cold, the food that we had in the refrigerator was gone bad, no lights, no sort of lights, no TV, no kind of power. Now it’s getting serious and I’m like okay. So we have cell phones because we have no phone so cell phones are losing power because there’s no way to recharge them and I’m like okay what are we going to do here. And then I’m feeling sorry for the people on the first floor so I’m talking to them, they’re like my apartment is completely gone. I said what do you mean completely gone they’re telling me that the water it came up covered the bed, everything, they lost everything in their apartment.
Q: So pretty much would you say that a good portion of your building actually did not heed the warnings to evacuate and decided to just stick the storm out?
A: Yeah, I would say that because the last time a lot of people stayed and I felt like an idiot for leaving when nothing happened. This time we stayed but then a lot of people have nowhere to go, they have nowhere to go except home. So all they did was move up one floor and stayed in the hallway.
Q: Does the city offer, during the evacuation procedures, any form of shelter for you to go to that was outside of the immediate danger?
A: What happened was my husband and I because we had money so we weren’t in the position that a lot of people were in even though we lost our food we had plenty of money. So we just found a way to get off of Coney Island and the buses were free so when the bus came through we got on the bus and we would make our way to downtown. Downtown Brooklyn everything was normal.
Q: About how many days was it before you actually were able to get one of these city buses that were free?
A: I believe it was like — I think if I recall correctly it was the next day.
Q: The very next day?
A: Yeah as I remember I think it was the next day and the buses were coming down, I mean not a lot but buses were coming down and it was free. It was free for several days because of the storm. We would go downtown everyday, we spent like maybe $50 a day, we would go downtown we would eat breakfast; we would just stay down there all day because we didn’t want to come back and live in that apartment even though nothing happened to our apartment. But it’s weird not to have internet, phone, no refrigeration so we just kind of like hung out downtown in different places to kind of act like things were normal and we would just come back home at night and then go to bed, cold.
Q: About how long were you without power and heat?
A: I’d say maybe ten days.
Q: And how would you characterize the city’s response to the storm?
A: I think that overall the way I look at it I think they did very well. I mean in my opinion because I noticed that they had the National Guard out there, they were giving food everywhere.
Q: About how long was it before you actually started seeing these services?
A: Two days, maybe two days after the storm they had people out there with generators so that we were able to go out and plug our cell phones in so we can be able to communicate. Then FEMA had came down in NCU Park, they had established a base down there where you could get power for your phones and they were giving out food. So it was good but I wasn’t taking any of the things because like I said I had money and there were long lines everywhere. There were lines, they were giving out clothing, food, things like that and I was like — not that I’m above it but I’m like if I don’t have to stand in that long line because I’m not really in need I’m not going to do it. If I really needed it I would’ve.
Q: What were in your opinion some of the general responses that individuals had in response to not only the storm but also some of the services that were delivered?
A: I think overall people were happy with the response, with the help that they were receiving from people because when you look at the storm that happened in Louisiana.
A: Yeah Katrina people were stranded for days, it seemed like they were never going to get any help. I think that we got help pretty quickly.
Q: For your building [—] I’m assuming that’s a large complex of buildings?
Q: And I’m assuming it’s privately run by a managerial company?
A: Uh-huh (yes).
Q: Did they give you any type of indication of why it took so long for the power to come back on or was that specifically a Con-Ed issue?
A: No I think that it had nothing to do with them and nobody was really — I don’t think that anyone really pressed them about it because we understood that this was a really devastating storm and that it was out of their control. So I don’t think — I personally don’t think that anyone blamed them. I have a neighbor who lives across from me, she’s 85 years old, she stayed across town with — she’s friends with one of the maintenance men’s mother who passed away but he still looks out for her. He took her to Bedford [inaudible 9:06] and he kept her there until we were able to get power back. But we did have, which I didn’t realize at the time, the stoves were working but you have to light it because the stove works on electricity and gas. So we just had to strike a match to get it started and then we started getting heat like that so that’s how we had heat but we had no hot water. So we told her it was best for her to stay over there until everything got straightened out. But we didn’t blame the management for not having the elevator or for having electricity because as we were traveling, as we would get on the bus right down Ocean Avenue, Ocean Parkway, we saw cars that were — I mean we saw what happened. We saw trees down everywhere, you can’t blame anybody for what happened, this was an act of God, this was a natural disaster. So it’s kind of hard to deal with things in a natural disaster so I don’t think that people were blamed.
Q: It’s interesting that you bring up the idea of a natural disaster versus what sociologists sometimes call a man-made disaster. So do you think there’s anything?
A: You know what it could be, it could be a man-made disaster because people — my husband kept talking about global warming and a lot of people blame the things that happen now like when things happen or when things are out of sync with how nature says they should go because man has done so many things to alter nature and alter the outcome. I don’t know because I know before global warming occurred or before man sort of had the power to manipulate nature and do different things happened then. So I don’t look to place the blame anywhere. All I look at is what’s in front of me. This is what we’re dealing with. I didn’t care about whose fault it was or whatever; my biggest concern was what are we going to do from here.
Q: Okay. I’m just curious how long have you lived in New York?
A: All my life, I was born here.
Q: So do you remember back in the 80’s when you had the hurricanes that hit or any other tornadoes?
A: Not really I remember a snowstorm, a very heavy snowstorm where it stopped traffic and cars couldn’t get in and out, trucks couldn’t get in to deliver groceries.
Q: I’m assuming you’re not talking about the December [inaudible 11:48] blizzard?
A: It was in the 80’s sometime, it was either in the 80’s or the 90’s, I think it was in the 90’s. I don’t remember exactly when it was, I don’t keep track of those. Yeah I remember that. Now as far as I have never seen a storm like Sandy, I’ve never seen it even though I had been told out there because we’re right there by the water that there was a time I think it was in the 90’s that it happened and they said that the only way that you could get around was by boat. I heard about it, I didn’t necessarily believe it, they were like oh people had boats coming up Surf Avenue, I didn’t believe it because I live on Surf and for the water to come from the beach across the sand, across the boardwalk, down the street then into my backyard it was kind of hard to believe. I believe it and then I hear now that they’re talking about another storm that may occur in the future that’s supposed to be worse than this. How much worse I don’t know, I can’t imagine.
Q: But you’re referring to the so called 100 year storms that are now occurring every five or ten years?
A: I don’t know, this one lady was telling me about it we were standing outside and she was telling me about it. But I don’t know when it’s supposed to happen, she didn’t know either. My uncle was telling me I should consider moving from that neighborhood, I should go to — because the other side of town they had power, it was like nothing happened, just a few leaves blown around and that was it. But because we’re right near the water it was a completely different situation.
Q: Would you even consider moving from Coney Island?
Q: How long have you lived there?
A: I’ve lived there for like 12 years and I just don’t see that it’s going to happen every year, every five years. I didn’t think this was going to happen but because I live on the second floor I’m not worried because I don’t see the water coming all the way to the second floor. Now right now they’re currently in the process of fixing all the apartments because anybody who lived on the first floor totally lost everything and they completely gutted out everything and they rebuilt every apartment which looks beautiful but I would never take an — because I know what happened I wouldn’t take an apartment back on the first floor. And I know people who lived on the first floor who said they’re not interested in living in the first floor again because Coney Island does flood, there’s a lot of flooding not because of Sandy but when it rains it’s like there are big puddles everywhere.
Q: Are there any measures in place to protect your building against flooding or have there ever been?
A: I don’t know.
Q: The city service cleanup how would you characterize that after the storm, I mean removal of cars, debris?
A: I think they did pretty well because they were — FEMA had allocated funds for people to clean up after the storm and a lot of people are still walking back and forth, the uniforms on. They were asking for people to sign up to come and work and deal with mold removal. I saw piles of sand even now there’s still piles of sand as tall as this room in certain areas where they gathered all the sand and put it in one spot. Everyone hasn’t completely come back yet because most of the stores I would say over 85% of the stores will come back. There are still some stores that haven’t reopened. It seems like Citibank for some reason still hasn’t reopened but most of the stores came back better. Then I joke because at first I was walking around crying and everything. When I saw the devastation I was like this is not a joke, stores were wiped out, people lost their lives, there were older people who couldn’t get out who just sat there and drowned.
Q: That was actually going to be my next question about how close-knit is your building, is it a building where people actually look out for their neighbors; do you look out for the older population?
A: Well I’m not particularly close to anyone in my building even though I’ve been here 12 years there’s one woman who lives across from me who I consider like a mother. I look out for her but when the storm happened we started looking out for each other. We were like what do you need, you need water, you need this, whatever we had somebody could have. I was giving people money, I saw people who lived on the first floor, if I had an extra $5 or $10 I’d give it to them, they needed something to eat I would give it to them because I had money so I didn’t mind.
Q: So the people that were sleeping in the hallway.
A: I wouldn’t ask because these are people I don’t really know and I don’t associate with them, I don’t deal with and some of them looked like a few unsavory characters. I wasn’t going to let them come in my apartment and sleep but I did offer them food, I went out are you alright, is there anything I can do for you, oh I could use some water, got a bottle of water took it to them. But I didn’t allow anyone to come into my apartment and stay.
Q: So in a way would you say that the storm actually brought your building together to help these people look after each other?
Q: Do you think that type of camaraderie would continue into the future in the absence of a storm?
A: I think that when things like that happen it’s only momentary because for the fact that when we lost the World Trade Center when we lost the World Trade buildings everyone was going down to the post office praying, everybody wanted to pray, we wanted to have vigils, holding hands, swinging back and forth. Well that died down. In the time of adversity people come together but then after things start to get better again they go back to being themselves. That’s the way I look at it.
Q: Okay that’s an interesting perspective, a temporary community forming within a community.
A: I think it’s just temporary because even with the World Trade Center people who don’t normally speak to each other, different race groups, different ethnicities, everybody was talking because it’s like then you’re all Americans everybody’s waving the flag. But I’m pretty cool with people on my floor, I speak to them, I don’t even know their name but I speak good morning, especially if they have a pet. If you have a pet I’ll say hi to the pet, I know the pet’s name I don’t know your name but I know the pet’s name is Ralphie or Doggie or this or that. Because a lot of them are Russian and they don’t speak English well but they can tell me their name and tell me the animal’s name and I will speak to the animal but I don’t mean any harm. But I’ll say hi to the animal and I’ll say hi to them and will ask them how their pet is doing. But they know me and they say hi but we don’t hang out with each other. I mean if they needed my help I would help them. I’m sure if I needed their help they would probably help me as much as they could.
Q: Okay. Just one question for perspective, couple questions for perspective. How far are you outside of the vicinity of NYCHA development?
A: Right across the way there’s a — I don’t even know the name of it, it’s called — well you lived there what’s the name of that — they call it the pink building?
Q: I was five years old.
A: I don’t know the name of it, everything out there is called Sea something or I don’t even know the name of it. I’ve been in there like three times, it’s right down the street it’s on the same block down the street. And then there’s one across from us called Coney Island Houses.
Q: Did you have any interaction with any of the NYCHA residents?
A: No because if I had — maybe if I had stood in line in those lines when they were giving out food and this and that maybe I would’ve had to interact with them. But because I wasn’t in any of those lines because my husband and I were just like — he and I together on the bus getting the hell out of Coney Island for the day and coming back at night. And then I also noticed that during this time one thing is I don’t do laundry myself, I take my laundry I have it done for me, wash, clean, folded and I bring it back. I was really upset because the laundromat was destroyed so I had to go to Sheepshead Bay to get my laundry done. So when I went to Sheepshead Bay I noticed girls with shopping carts which they didn’t have the type of damage we had here with shopping carts coming over to NCU park just to — people were coming off the trains or when the trains started working again just with their shopping carts to get stuff which they didn’t suffer the type of loss that we did.
Q: And what exactly did you think about people in less affected areas actually coming in to the more ravished areas trying to utilize supplies?
A: I’m like you know what they could’ve just normally needed it because maybe their lives aren’t going that well; they could’ve just been greedy. I saw a lot of greed, I saw people trying to get over. But then you can’t say who doesn’t need what, I don’t know because I don’t live in their home. But I did see a lot of people coming from outside the Coney Island area coming to get stuff. But as for me I was like you know but what I did do I did put an application for FEMA, I did receive monetary assistance from them.
Q: And what was the FEMA?
A: And I was shocked when I got it too, it was a nice sized check.
Q: What was the FEMA assistance for since your apartment didn’t sustain no damage?
A: Well it was because of the fact that I had lost — even though they said that it was not for lost food but had I not lost the food I did spend a lot of money. If [inaudible 22:15] I would’ve went on about my life, I wouldn’t have been leaving my home everyday, sometimes I was tired, we had taken cabs $20 or $30 for a cab. So I spent a lot of money and then a lot of people had to leave from where they were because we had no heat and go live somewhere else because you have to compensate other people for staying at their homes. So they make allowances for that. So that’s probably why they gave because they ask you did you have to stay anywhere else during the storm. So I just told them yes because even though I came back every night but yeah I did, I mean I stayed out in the street, I stayed across town all day and came back at night. And another thing that happened how it affected me as far as school, I got assistance from the school too because I applied for what’s called the a Petri grant which gave me money for books that I could’ve lost, it gave me some money for food and clothing which I used. They gave you not really money but they gave me a voucher for Target which came in handy. Because of how I felt during the time I dropped my classes so that’s why I’m starting over this semester because I started last semester in the master’s program. But I was told that — so whatever I’m like I can’t — I’m a bath person I like to get in the tub and soak and there was no hot water. I’m like I can’t go to school like this so I just — when I was faced to do so without I withdrew without penalty and I said I’ll just start over again this semester and that’s what I did.
Q: Okay you said that they’re doing work on your building because the entire first floor was basically inhabitable. About how long did it take management to start doing the repairs?
A: They just started doing it two months ago.
Q: Are you worried about mold or anything or any other problems?
A: No because when you’re on the first floor and it smelled horrible, it smelled like the sea. But when you first walk in the hallway it smelt like the ocean, it smelled horrible. But now they’ve taken down — they’ve stripped the walls completely, they took everything out.
Q: So they’re doing an entire gut renovation?
Q: So you’re not worried about mold or anything coming up to you?
A: No I’m not. And once you get back on the second floor everything’s fine you see no evidence, everything looks fine. It was only the first floor that was completely destroyed.
Q: Okay. Let me see if I can surmise this really quickly. Private tenants in a residential building in Coney Island that was badly affected by the storm; you felt as though the city did a sufficient job in managing resources and providing resources. FEMA did an adequate job as well. There were resources available, supplies, food. Do you think there’s anything that the city could have or should have done or should do in the future to help prevent disasters such as this from having such a devastating affect?
A: I don’t really think they can, I don’t think there’s anything that they could’ve done differently.
Q: How do you feel about mandatory evacuations where they force you to actually leave your house?
A: It’s okay, they have to provide a place for you to go, a safe place for you to go.
Q: What would you classify as a safe place?
A: Well a hotel. No because who wants to stay — like for example, you would rather take your chances being in your own apartment than you would being in an open school gym with a bunch of people you don’t know and only the few belongings that you could manage to take with you because you were afraid that something would happen. You wouldn’t feel safe, you would rather just be in your home, maybe water was up to your ankles whatever, I would. I wouldn’t want to be around a bunch — I wouldn’t feel safe.
Q: Well how do you feel about those people that live — I mean I understand Coney Island is considered a flood prone area since it is so close to the water. But how do you feel about those people that actually do live in high flood areas and always flooding every time it rains who just decide they want to stick out the storm?
A: I think they’re idiots. If you know the storm is coming all the time, it’s like when you live — okay you know when you live in [inaudible 27:20] Islands right, you know the hurricane season right, I would consider moving but being that Coney Island, okay a little flooding is one thing. But when you’re going to be wiped out and you got to rebuild your home like five times over a lifetime that’s a bit much.
Q: Last question, Governor Cuomo is trying to introduce something where the state is going to try to buy land in high flood prone areas and build up marsh land and not allow housing to be developed on it, how do you feel about that proposal?
A: That doesn’t affect me because as long as I’m — I’m good where I am.
Q: What if he were to offer you and other tenants in your building?
A: I think the tenants who live on the first floor who got flooded out might want to take advantage of that but me who lives on the second floor and I don’t see any danger of me getting flooded out I would stay where I am because I love Coney Island.
Q: Thank you so very much.
A: You’re welcome.
[End of interview]
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