Stories From Sandy: Notes From the East River Co-op

A charging station in the community room at the Seward Park Co-op, much like the one in the East River Co-op. Photo by

Editor’s Note: This story is from writer and filmmaker Laurie Gwen Shapiro, who lives in the East River Housing Co-op on FDR Drive.  If you have a story about how you got through Hurricane Sandy on the LES, share it with us at:

The name goes clunkily off the tongue: “East River Housing M Section Community Room.”  And until last week, not only was the name un-beautiful, it was a misnomer — because it was mostly unused by residents. Then came Sandy.

At first, I didn’t believe the rumor of a generator-lit room on Grand Street.

My family lives in the apartment building I grew up in, the East River Housing Co-op building closest to the Williamsburg Bridge. I have never made it past the flying monkeys part of The Wizard of Oz, let alone taken the stairwell down 21 flights, solo, even in the light.

A little Facebook indulgence allowed me to read of the possible promised land. “I hear you can even charge your phone!” posted a stranded neighbor in Hillman Housing two blocks away. “And read a book! Can someone check it out and post if true? ”

With the cell reception weak, even five minutes of virtual contact meant one bar of power left. My husband was not available to be my stair escort because he was sound asleep with battery-operated radio headphones on his ears. I took pity on him as I shut the radio off to conserve the precious batteries for news updates. A nap is an excellent way to pass time in a blackout.

Around eight in the evening, my disabled father heard from one of his concerned sisters. After a long reassuring talk with her that all would be okay, he called out that his phone was now dead too. A charged phone was needed, especially with my daughter sleeping uptown at a friend’s. I had promised my child that when I shipped her off to the electrified Upper East Side, I would call every night at 9:30 until the crisis was over. She understood we could not leave and desert Grandpa, but the phone call was imperative to her.