WASHED AWAY IN MANHATTAN
Just last year I chronicled my brother Phil’s encounter with a predicted weather Armageddon in downtown Manhattan.
He lives with wife Sylvia and their six year-old twin girls between the World Trade Centre site and Wall Street in an apartment, five steps above street level.
In August 2011 he was mightily relieved that the Category 5 tropical storm Irene turned out to be a fizzer. Like many New Yorkers, he joked about it.
“If this Hurricane Irene doesn’t happen a lot of people in Manhattan are going to be really bummed. The first thing they’re going to do is go back to the stores and ask for refunds on all the shit they’ve bought: ‘Hey buddy, these gumboots have never even been worn’,” he said.
Well, just a year later after Hurricane Sandy, the gumboots are being worn, the candles burned, the plastic garbage bags all used up and Phil finds himself, like so many, homeless in Manhattan.
My brother Phil Brown with the ruined contents of his apartment.
No power in his apartment. His daughters have been staying with friends. He visits his place – still stinking from salt water and the stench of the Hudson River – to throw out rubbish and cart filthy bedding and clothes down the street to one of the few laundromats in his part of town.
“Now I know how the homeless people feel wheeling a trolley through the streets with all their worldly possessions,” he tells me.
“People give you odd looks – many turn away and give you extra room to pass so you don’t accidentally touch them – it’s kind of humbling and surreal, all at the same time.”
The giant boiler for his apartment building is “toast”; the plumbing ruined; every wire needs replacing. The downstairs apartments need new plaster, treatment for mould and re-painting.
“It’s probably only 2-3 weeks work end-to-end, but the problem is getting any kind of crew to even start on it so we could be months and months away from resolution,” says Phil.
“My company is putting us up at a hotel for a week, and then Sylvia’s company has offered another week, but after that we’re on our own. I think our only option is to try to get a new apartment (along with another 20,000 families with the same problem).”
Of course my brother is lucky to have his loved ones all safe and well and to have combined family resources on standby, but, as anyone who has endured a natural disaster knows – be it in outback Australia or on the streets of New York – the cost is always incalculable.
For years to come, his hand will reach for a family keepsake and he will mourn the loss of it.
On the night Hurricane Sandy hit, the family stayed with friends on the fourth floor in Tribeca, a way uptown.
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