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Sandy Aftermath: Help Arrives at Masaryk Towers

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Masaryk’s board vice president Adeline Camacho and helper Marcus Liszkiewicz unload supplies for distribution.

On the 19th floor of Masaryk Towers, a six-buildng affordable-housing co-op on Columbia Street near the East River, one resident has been waiting out the storm’s aftermath alone in the dark and without insulin for her diabetes.

“I’ve never felt so helpless in my life,” said the woman, who gave her name only as Joan and said she has lived in the 1,110-unit complex since 1989. Her neighbors brought her some food, and she had water from the building’s supply for most of the week, but it cut off recently. She was unable to leave her apartment to get more medicine.

This morning, help for Joan and other home-bound residents of Masaryk Towers arrived in the form of a diverse band of volunteers and 120 military-style “meals-ready-to-eat.”

Bianca Moncada, her 76-year-old grandmother Aurea and Bianca’s three children have been riding out the storm and its aftermath in Masaryk Towers.

Masaryk board president Dariusz Liszkiewicz headed up a rescue team of about two dozen helpers from within Masaryk and from New York Cares, including many young people and those who spoke Chinese and Spanish. They gathered food and supplies from Henry Street Settlement’s FEMA provisions and the city’s Office of Emergency Management, formed a human chain up the 19 stories to pass the packages, and started knocking on every door. It was the first organized effort to deliver food at Masaryk since Sandy slammed into Lower Manhattan four days ago.

They found residents who were hungry, thirsty, desperate for provisions and information, beset by unsanitary conditions and unable to communicate with the outside world.

Bianca Moncada and her three children, 2-year-old Victoria and 7-month-old twins Christian and Adrian, have been holed up in their apartment with Moncada’s 76-year-old grandmother, Aurea, who also lives in the building but is staying with them because they live on a lower floor. They underestimated the storm’s impact and didn’t take precautions such as filling their bathtub with water for flushing, Moncada said. The family has been surviving on canned goods from pantry until last night, when they trekked north of 34th Street on foot for a hot meal.

In addition to the food from OEM and FEMA, this morning’s relief effort included platters of homemade sweets, delivered by two moms from the Upper East Side who had baked them with their children. It also included medical support: nurses and paramedics stood by to help as volunteers checked on residents, including a prioritized list of 50 people known to be at risk due to medical issues.

Paul Newell, a community organizer and local district leader, told us that Masaryk folks had alerted local officials about the need for some people to be evacuated last night. This afternoon, as a result of the intervention, nine people were helped out of their apartments to either hospitals or shelters, Newell said; Joan from the 19th floor was among them.

A diverse group of volunteers contributed elbow grease and Chinese and Spanish translating.


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