Hundreds of Downtowners still displaced

BY ALINE REYNOLDS | A host of Downtown businesses and residents will be displaced for weeks if not months due to the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy.

This and a slew of other storm-related issues were talking points at Community Board 1’s Executive Committee meeting held at Trinity Church on Sun., Nov. 4, where board members were joined by elected officials and local residents and business owners who spoke to the ongoing problems. The board is crafting a resolution asking Congress to include Lower Manhattan in addressing the needs of small businesses, residents and other groups.

Among the entrepreneurs was Tazz Latifi — the owner of Petropolis at 91 Washington St., a pet supply shop near the World Trade Center  — who is desperately seeking financial backing to bring her business back. However, even with all the necessary support, Latifi wouldn’t be able to reopen her store in the near future.

“There was a mandatory evacuation,” she explained. “One store was covered with oil coming from the 88 Greenwich St. basement that got into all the businesses on the street level. We don’t know when we’re going to be able to get back in.”

Raymond Western, a resident of 88 Greenwich St., was told he wouldn’t be able to move back into his apartment for four to six weeks. In the meantime, he and his two dogs are staying at a bed-and-breakfast in the area. “It’s expensive and really uncomfortable,” he said. “I take a lot of comfort in my home. I feel a great deal of disappointment.”

Despite the adversities, Western said he feels grateful not to have been injured or permanently lose his home as have other New Yorkers. “Other people in Staten Island and the Rockaways lost much more than I did,” he said. “We’ll all come out of this stronger and better — that’s what we’re called to do.”

At the C.B. 1 meeting, City Council Member Margaret Chin stressed the need to continue working together in Sandy’s aftermath and commended the efforts of the volunteers for helping local residents during the storm. She spent most of last week visiting area residences and shelters to ensure that people were safe and had food and other resources while the power was out in Lower Manhattan.

“There were neighbors helping neighbors,” she said, adding that the relief effort “showed the tremendous love people have for the city and for their neighbors and friends.”

Mary Cooley, the Manhattan district director for State Senator Daniel Squadron, emphasized the importance of strong communication between the elected officials and the locals during the recovery period. Last week, Squadron began a blog titled “Sandy’s Aftermath Resource Page” to update the community on available resources and other recovery matters.

“Please continue to tell us what’s happening — we can’t help you if we don’t know what’s happening and where the greatest needs are,” Cooley told the meeting attendees.

Jeff Galloway, chairperson of C.B. 1’s Planning Committee, claimed that Downtown was unprepared for such a natural disaster, which didn’t hit the city by surprise. The board, he noted, passed a resolution last January urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expeditiously study storm surge barriers for the Lower Manhattan waterfront.

A Category 3 hurricane in the tri-state area would generate a 30-foot storm surge, he said.  Sandy was only a Category 1 and had been downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it hit New York. “This is just a taste of what’s to come. Imagine a 30-foot storm surge,” he said. “It could happen, and we need to be prepared.

“If we do nothing,” Galloway added, “New York City will not be a city for our grandchildren or our great-grandchildren.”

Galloway also voiced concern about lost power, weak cell phone signals and other communication gaps that occurred during the storm. “It’s astounding that half the city is dependent on a single substation,” he said, referring to Consolidated Edison’s large power plant on East 14th Street.

On Mon., Nov. 5, about 4,000 Manhattan buildings — including Knickerbocker Village on the Lower East Side and several others in the Financial District and along the East River — were still without power. Con Edison is hoping to beat the date of Nov. 11 to restore steam, which supplies hot water and heat to the apartments, to the 500 or so customers that are currently deprived of it.

Though Tribeca was largely spared by Sandy, there was one fatality and there were many hardships for residents living in high-rise buildings, according to board member Jeff Ehrlich. Upper floor residents faced the hazardous situation of walking down several flights of stairs with candles.

All electrical systems should have back-up generators in the event that they get flooded during future storms, he asserted. “It’s certainly going to happen again before we get a 30-foot seawall or anything else to protect us,” he said.

As previously reported, the Manhattan Youth Downtown Community Center, at 120 Warren St.,was hit hard. Bob Townley, the center’s executive director and the chair of C.B. 1’s Waterfront Committee, found the building submerged in about 20 feet of water around dawn last Tuesday.

The fixes, which aren’t covered by flood insurance, will amount to several million dollars, Townley noted. Rather than fork over $350,000 to a company for water pumps, the center’s staff members pumped out the water themselves for four days straight. “We’re planning to open the community center expeditiously with the help of the community,” he said, adding, “I thank God we’re alive.”

Capsouto Freres, at 451 Washington St., was submerged in five feet of water from the storm. Distraught owner Jacques Capsouto said he hasn’t been able to assess the damages due to a lack of electricity. “It’s worse than 9/11 — I was helping others then,” he said. “Now, I need the help. If we don’t find the money, I’m not going to be able to make it.”

Lower Manhattan needs a better contingency plan for the next storm, according to Tribeca resident Tricia Joyce, who chairs C.B. 1’s Youth and Education Committee. “I do feel that we’re still too vulnerable,” she said.

Specifically, the storm proved that Downtown is lacking the necessary child care that was also missing after 9/11. Many parents were required to be at work last week, while their children were out of school and at home. As a result, Joyce and other neighborhood families had to take turns watching the children for few-hour increments. “There was no way for anybody to communicate with their workplaces — that’s very stressful when you have children,” she said.

The South Street Seaport, meanwhile, was heavily battered by the storm. In the wake of Sandy, C.B. 1 needs to talk to the Howard Hughes Corporation, the area’s developer, about renovations to the entire historic district, according to the board’s Seaport-Civic Center chair John Fratta. “The businesses were hit hard. You could see the water levels way over my head,” he said. “I really think we have to expand Zone A — the damage went past Pearl Street.”

To assist in the recovery effort, the city Department of Small Business Services has launched a $10 million business grant program for companies with 100 employees or fewer. The grants are meant for businesses requiring capital and other storefront repairs to renew or continue their operations, according to S.B.S. spokesperson Meredith Weber. C.B. 1 is also setting up a Hurricane Relief Small Business Task Force, which will be chaired by Financial District resident Ro Sheffe and whose first meeting will take place on Thurs., Nov. 8 at 5 p.m. in the C.B. 1 offices at 49-51 Chambers St.

The government must also come to the aid of local residents, according to C.B. 1 Housing Committee chair Tom Goodkind. “In many cases,” he said, “their insurance will not provide them to go to a hotel. What we’d like to do is help those without power to find shelter.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo reportedly announced the makings of a $100 million residents assistance program late last week, according to Assembly Member Deborah Glick. “That sounds like a lot of money,” she said, “but when you consider there are 30,000 people impacted, it won’t go as far as people might think.”