Red Hook Houses residents resist evacuation orders, some with regret

Like everyone living in the lowest-lying areas of New York City, the more than 6,100 residents of the Red Hook Houses — Brooklyn’s largest public housing development — were under orders from City Hall to evacuate the zone by Sunday evening.

The New York City Housing Authority gave those who lived in public housing an extra push to get out: residents received advance word from staff and then police that elevators, heat and hot water would be shut off as Hurricane Sandy approached.

Many residents of Red Hook Houses ignored evacuation orders and now say they regret it. Photo: Gianna Palmer

Instead, the complex’s 25 buildings provided a front-row vantage point for the many residents who remained to ride out the storm’s fury.

Alfredo Crespo, a fourth-floor resident of a Red Hook Houses apartment building, described the intense flooding that filled the streets outside his windows.

“Last night, everything was full of water,” he said, pointing to the intersection of Lorraine and Henry streets, near where he sat smoking a cigarette. This spot is three blocks in from Gowanus Bay, off New York Harbor. He pointed to his waist. “Line to here.”

Crespo, 61, said that when Tropical Storm Irene hit, he’d evacuated. “But nothing happened,” he recalled. “So this year I stayed.”

Many residents said Tuesday that they’d expected Sandy wasn’t going to be nearly as severe as it had in fact turned out to be. Others said they had feared their empty apartments would be robbed if they left. No one mentioned the city’s 76 evacuation shelters.

Hope Robbins, 44, a Red Hook Houses East resident who had waited out the storm with her son and young grandson, regretted her decision not to evacuate.

“Last time we stayed,” she said of Irene, “but it was worse this time. We should have left.”

Besides the flooding in the streets, residents said they heard explosions nearby. Inside, though the apartments stayed dry, the buildings grew less and less comfortable as the night went on.

During the worst of the storm, Robbins said, the electricity in her apartment went off, too. For light, she burned through candles her daughter had given her for Mother’s Day. Despite the lack of amenities, Robbins said she was far from alone in her decision to stay in her sixth-floor apartment.

“Nobody in my building left at all,” she said, as she watched her grandson pedal a tiny bike around a plaza outside the Red Hook Pool on Bay Street.

Nearby, Robbins’ fiancé, Danny Frederick, 55, was attempting to dry out the contents of his tan Cadillac. Like many cars nearby, the flooding had overtaken it during the storm.

“It was submerged up under here,” Frederick said. He pointed out a black SUV two cars ahead of his. Last night, he’d seen it floating. He’d also heard his neighbors screaming when the power went out. “It’s like a nightmare,” he said.

Photo: Gianna Palmer

After living in the Red Hook Houses for 12 years, Frederick said he’d been through a lot of storms there. But he’d never seen flooding as severe as Monday.

Danny Demalo, 45, a 20-year Red Hook Houses resident, agreed. The next time a severe storm hits, he said, “I’m definitely gonna leave.”

In the aftermath of Sandy, it was unclear when the utilities and building services would be restored at the Red Hook Houses. Questions for the Housing Authority from the New York World were not immediately answered.

Indio Delgado, 40, a Park Slope resident with several family members who live in the Red Hook Houses, said his cousin had left earlier in the day with her 3-month-old baby. For her, the lack of electricity was more than simply an inconvenience.

“There’s a lot of infants, there’s a lot of elderly people,” Delgado said of the Red Hook Houses. “They’re going to be affected.”

The NYCHA twitter account was active throughout Tuesday and offered some clues for residents.

In the meantime, Red Hook public housing residents who never left are still awaiting word from NYCHA about what they should do. This morning, NYCHA chairman John Rhea posted a message to residents on the authority’s website: “NYCHA staff is out in the field assessing our buildings – checking boiler, electrical and elevator systems, and working with Con Edison to assess steam and gas lines.

“We are only addressing critical repairs at this time, so we can resume services in Zone A and other affected areas as soon as possible.”

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