Tag Archive | "Hunts Point"

After Sandy, Hunts Point’s Low Lying Areas Struggle with Flooding

A disaster relief organization in the low-lying Hunts Point area of the Bronx experienced heavy flooding and a challenge to distribute supplies. (COLEEN JOSE/The Bronx Ink)

Early this morning, when Tim Reeve opened the storehouse of the disaster relief organization World Vision in Hunts Point, he saw devastation up close: water from Sandy had flooded the building.

A delivery truck was submerged in three-feet-deep water. Pink collared-shirts inside plastic bags floated beside cases of pencils and hygiene kits that awaited delivery from the Hunts Point warehouse to hard-hit areas in New York and the region.

As emergency response teams rush to rescue residents from flooding and fires, organizations that are gearing up to join the efforts are facing challenges in the storm’s aftermath. In Hunts Point, a flood-prone area in the Bronx, organizations like World Vision and major food distribution companies are struggling to resume operating.

“At this point, we’re trying to do emergency response, but right now, it appears that we’re in a disaster ourselves,” said Reeve, World Vision’s storehouse manager for New York. Reeve estimates that supplies will be ready for distribution by Thursday and that the warehouse may move to an alternative space.

The extent of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation on millions of residents from the shores of North Carolina to Maine is still being determined, as floods, power outages and snow continue to displace thousands of residents from their communities. Eight million people in 15 states remain without electricity.

The federal government estimates $20 billion in damages from the storm.

Sandy hits the industrial zone in Hunts Point, Bronx from Adam Perez on Vimeo.

Inside World Vision’s office, a fire alarm blared as a project coordinator pointed to a water line three feet above the soaked carpet. A kitchen refrigerator was flipped on its side. Relief supplies were strewn across the warehouse.

Reeve did not expect water from the East River to reach the storehouse, which is located near a boardwalk in Barretto Park. But the park’s benches were already underwater as the storm raged and the sea rose on Monday. There were no sandbags to buffer the area from the surge.

Chad Narine, an MTA track worker, witnessed an electrical transformer exploding underneath the sidewalk outside of the MTA compound on Tiffany Street around 11:30 p.m. on Monday. “I was standing in the transit yard inside,” said Narine, 34, “when I heard a loud boom and saw a white a flash.”

Steam continued to rise from a hole in the sidewalk on Tuesday while an emergency vehicle from ConEdison, which provides electricity, gas and steam, monitored the damaged transformer.

“New York needs to be more careful with powerful storms like these,” said Adama Makouyate, an employee at a food-distribution plant in a flood-prone area of Hunts Point. (COLEEN JOSE/The Bronx Ink)

New York City’s Office of Emergency Management lists the low-lying area in Zone B, meaning it faces a moderate risk of flooding and likelihood of evacuation during storm surges and hurricanes. But the flooding in the area could have a major impact on the entire metropolitan area. Hunts Point is home to the region’s largest-food distribution center.

Everyday, more than 15,000 delivery trucks come in and out of the area’s produce, meat and seafood market, which supplies much of the city and surrounding region’s grocery markets and restaurants.

In the Co-Op Meat Market, warehouse manager Milton Pinto recalled being stranded with 31 fellow workers before the storm neared landfall. Most workers lived in Brooklyn and the Bronx. They didn’t arrive home until 5 p.m the next day.The meat market closed operations on Tuesday for the first time.

Raphael Candelario, a worker at New Fulton Fish Market, was one of two employees in the distribution plant while the waves pummeled the rocky shores. Candelario, 47, arrived to monitor the site at 5 a.m. Monday. “Water came up to the plant between 3 to 4 a.m.,” said Candelario. The river’s waters also reached the top of a staircase in a pier house next to the market.

In a nearby food distribution plant, Sultana Distribution Services Inc., a security guard surveyed damages from the storm. Adama Makouyate, 45, dressed in a red raincoat and black pants, expressed awe at the 22 stone barriers that were blown 10 to 20 feet away from the edge of a lot facing the East River. The barriers, which weigh more than a ton, lined the lot to protect the distribution plant from the surge. Metal fences lay flat on the pavement, indicating the hurricane’s wind power, which exceeded 70 miles per hour.

Hurricane Sandy exposed the city’s lack of storm barriers and infrastructural safeguards. During separate news conferences today, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg discussed plans to armor the city from storm surges and sea level rise. Cuomo proposed the possibility of building levees in Lower Manhattan.

“We have a 100-year flood every two years now,” said Cuomo. “The construction of this city did not anticipate these kinds of situations. We are only a few feet above sea level.”

Additional reporting by Adam Perez and Jan Hendrik Hinzel.

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Sandy Bears Down on the Battered Bronx

Parks and Recreation workers warned residents about the powerful storm before locking entrance gates in Barretto Park and other recreational spots in the Bronx. (COLEEN JOSE/The Bronx Ink)

The Bronx opened evacuation centers Sunday night, as Hurricane Sandy continued its path toward New York City.

About two thirds of the 4-square-mile peninsula is categorized as Zone B by the New York City Office of Emergency Management, meaning that residents can expect a moderate possibility of evacuation.

Click here to find out where the nearest evacuation center is near you.

In Hunts Point, wind gusts, cloudy skies and light rain covered an area where one of the world’s largest food-distribution centers operates in a low-lying location facing the East River.  Hunt Point’s produce, meat and seafood market supplies much of the city and surrounding region’s grocery markets and restaurants.

The National Hurricane Center estimates that the storm system will touch down in New York on Monday evening. The city opened 72 evacuation centers in public schools to accommodate more than 370,000 residents living in flood-prone communities.

City officials suspended service of the entire city’s transit system and issued mandatory evacuations on Sunday as Hurricane Sandy neared landfall. The tropical storm system gains speed and strength as it travels northward to densely populated areas along the East Coast.

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LIMPIALO!

The Bronx Borough President tried for nearly a year to cajole dog owners to clean up after their pets.

He held a joint press conference last October with the city’s sanitation commissioner. He bumped up the number of enforcement agents, and warned “pooper traitors” that fines would be $250.

The Majora Carter Group offers Hunts Points residents free signs that they can post outside their homes. ADAM PEREZ/BronxInk

Still, the New York Daily News reported in March that summonses for failing to clean up were down by 28 percent, while the streets were as filthy as ever.

And Bronx residents have decided to try to take matters into their own hands. “Limpialo!” or “Pick it Up!” a grassroots initiative organized by residents and the Majora Carter Group was launched in February. It aims to use peer pressure where government enforcement has failed.

“Most of the folks around here have a difficult relationship with the police and government telling them what to do,” said James Chase, an advocate at the Majora Carter Group who helped spearhead Limpialo!

Chase’s solution was to take a neighborly approach. He designed a sign and posted it along Hunts Point Avenue and neighboring streets. The bright yellow sign has an image of a dog squatting with simple written message: Pick it up!

“These are your neighbors asking you to do something, obviously they are not going to fine you,” Chase added. “You depend on them and they depend on you.”

Some residents on Faile Street have resorted to make-shift signs warning dog walkers. ADAM PEREZ/BronxInk

 

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Hunts Point Residents March to Raise HIV Awareness

About a Hunts Point residents marched from Southern Boulevard to Riverside Park to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS.

About 100 Hunts Point residents marched from Southern Boulevard to Riverside Park to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. (ADAM PEREZ/The Bronx Ink)

Orlando Torres III looks like the kind of guy who doesn’t back down from a challenge. At 49, he’s six feet tall with broad shoulders and long legs. But his tough appearance is deceptive. Every morning, Torres has to swallow three different medications: Norvir, Truvada and  Viramune to keep his body’s defense mechanism working. He has been HIV positive for more than two decades.

On Saturday morning, he joined a group of Hunts Point residents, activists and people living with HIV/AIDS. They gathered at Southern Boulevard for the first AIDS Walk in the history of the neighborhood. The goal of the march was to raise awareness about the disease. About 2.3 percent of all residents in the Hunts Point and Mott Haven section of the Bronx were living with HIV or AIDS in 2010, according to data from the New York City Health Department. Yet, many people still don’t know much about the virus.

Torres says that by the time he was 21 years old, he had been a sex worker and deeply involved in the drug lifestyle. He had been charged for 68 convictions and three felonies over the course of his criminal career, among them burglary. While in prison, Torres says he discovered he was HIV positive. That was in 1992, but his doctor estimated he probably became infected in 1984.

When Torres left prison after eight years, he went to a probation-mandated 90-day substance abuse program, where he began his HIV education. Now, he wants to tell others about the dangers of unprotected sex or drug abuse. But he also wants to fight the stigma faced by people living with HIV.

“HIV is not who I am,” Torres said.  “Just like HIV doesn’t define me. What defines me is me. If you don’t own yourself, how can you own anything else?”

HIV rates in the Bronx are about 1.7 percent of the overall population, according to 2007 data from the New York Department of Health. In New York City, the prevalence is 1.4 percent.

The 2.3 percent HIV infection rate in Hunts Point is similar to developing countries like Haiti or Ethiopia. In Hunts Point and Mott Haven, 3,131 people were living with HIV or AIDS in 2010. About 61 percent of them were Hispanic like Torres, whose family comes from Puerto Rico. Blacks make up 36 percent, while 2.4 percent of Bronx residents with HIV are white.

There is no updated data available, said Soraya Pares, program manager at the Community Healthcare Network, a group of non-profit community health centers.  But Pares says she doesn’t expect the numbers to change much this year.

Pares thinks the main reason for the high infection rate in the Bronx is a lack of education about how the virus is transmitted. She says many people with HIV in Hunts Point have drug problems and may have been infected with used syringes. The New York Health Department’s statistics show that most people get HIV/AIDS through sexual intercourse.“When people look healthy, their potential partners tend to think there is nothing wrong with them,” Pares said. “Then they don’t use protection. But you can’t see if someone has HIV or not until the AIDS virus breaks out.”

HIV is so common in Hunts Point that almost every member of Community Board 2 knows someone who has been affected. Milli Colon, 59, a board member who organized the AIDS Walk, has lost 17 friends or family members to AIDS. Her brother died from it and her niece is fighting “full blown-AIDS” at the moment, she said.

“I’ve reached my mission with this event,” Colon said.

But there’s still a lot of work to do, she said. People with HIV are stigmatized, even by their own families, she explained, and don’t want to get tested.

During the march, she sat in the truck at the head of the parade. Through loudspeakers, she addressed the crowd of about 180 people walking behind the truck.

“I’m proud of you for coming out today,” she said.  “I’m proud we are fighting the stigma together.”

Torres walked a few feet behind the truck.

“We can’t conserve life by keeping secrets,” he said.

The truck drove on, playing loud salsa music. A man danced in the street between the truck and the crowd. People stopped at the sidewalks and watched while other residents looked down from the windows of apartment buildings.  Some of them waived at the marchers, acknowledging their presence, but they didn’t join the walk or comment. Still, for one day at least, HIV was out in the open in Hunts Point.

Adam Perez contributed reporting.

Walkers were wearing red ribbons to show solidarity with residents infected by HIV.

Participants wore red ribbons to symbolize their solidarity with Hunts Point residents infected by HIV. (ADAM PEREZ/The Bronx Ink)

 

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New Park Opens in Hunts Point

The Hunts Point Landing, a new park in the Hunts Point Peninsula opened today, reports NY1.

The new park offers kayaking, fishing and 1.5 acres of open space on the waterfront.

The park is part of The South Bronx Greenway, a plan that aims to improve waterfront access and provide recreational opportunities to the community.

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In Hunts Points, 52-year-old mother of four still working the streets

For 52-year-old Barbara Terry, working as a prostitute on the streets of Hunts Point in the Bronx is “a business, a regular job.”

“Most women don’t make it to my age out here,” Terry told the NY Times. “I call myself the last of the survivors.”

Terry said working the streets of the South Bronx neighborhood, which is home to the world’s second largest food market, made her tough.

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Tapping into stimulus funds to create green jobs

Trainee Anthony Maleton gets a new free uniform from the program. Attracted by the opportunity to get a more stable job, the 35-year-old former delivery truck driver in the city decided to enroll. He wants to be an asbestos inspector.

In the borough where the unemployment rate hovers around 12.3 percent—the highest in the state–“green-collar” jobs in heating, cooling, and window retrofitting are still experiencing modest growth. That’s due in large part to 2010 federal stimulus money earmarked particularly for the environmentally friendly industries, according to the Hunts Point-based Sustainable South Bronx advocacy group.

“We are at 70 to 75 percent of people getting jobs,” said Annette Williams, training director at Sustainable South Bronx. “Within the last month, we have gotten 13 people hired.”

Williams’ organization advocates environment-friendly solutions to the chronic joblessness endemic to the South Bronx. Eight years ago the group initiated a green jobs program that trains unemployed and low-income residents in building maintenance, urban forestry, landscaping and hazardous waste cleanup. In 2010, the organization received an extra $150,000 windfall from President Barack Obama’s $396 million federal green technology stimulus funds for New York State.

“It’s not saying everybody who needs jobs are going to get one,” Williams said. “But for our program and other organizations that I see and know about, people are being hired for the skills that we’re training them in and that’s good.”

Since 2003, 300 trainees have graduated from the 17-week program. Based on the three-year period of monitoring after graduation, more than a quarter of them are either “enrolled in higher education or employed,” said Rebecca Manski, a spokesperson of the organization.

Earlier this year, 29-year-old Tanesha Koonce graduated from the program and went on to work at APEX Engineering Inc.

Koonce’s success inspired her younger sister Kimberly Jones to sign up as well. Jones is part of the latest batch of 21 trainees who started the program on September 28. Of the 21 people enrolled, eight are women including Jones.

By January 2012, the 21-year-old single mother will be ready to take on the next green roof installation job, asbestos inspection and handling, or building air sealing and insulation.

The slightly-framed Bronx local, with neat hair bun and a shy smile, has been waking up at 6 a.m. every weekday over the past 10 weeks in order to make it to her training sessions. A single mom of a 2-year old, she needed enough time to drop off her child at a babysitter before heading to the classes. When the training was held in Long Island, she had to wake up at 4:30 a.m.

Jones said she does not mind the routine adding that she’s excited to come to school for the training. “I love doing hands-on work,” she said.

Each graduate is certified in each component, from handling hazardous waste to emergency response. They also receive training in storm water management, weatherization of houses and concrete installation.

When she lost her job as a manager of a laundry, Yolanda Regis, of Kingsbridge, decided to enroll as well, saying that at age 42, she needed to be financially independent. She said she is determined to finish the training and start anew.

“I’m very flexible and I am strong,” said Regis, referring to the physical requirement to lift 25 pounds. “If I put my mind to it I can do it.”

Regis said she was wants to learn how to seal and install new energy-efficient appliances.

The $8,010 tuition cost is fully subsidized by private grants. Participants also receive transportation support. To qualify for the training, participants must be 18-years-old or older and have a high school diploma or a GED certificate. They also have to be currently unemployed and considered low-income residents of New York to qualify for the tuition waiver.

They are required to commit five days each week for four months to finish the course. And as Williams said, trainees must have “the hunger and desire” to change their lives.

Most of the green jobs are traditionally for men, but more and more women are taking on the challenging skills.

“Women can do that kind of work,” Williams said. “We don’t have to be planting trees or sitting behind a desk taking notes or answering phones. We are able to get these skills embedded into us and able to do the same job a man can do.”

Attracted by the opportunity to get a more stable job, Anthony Maleton, a 35-year-old former delivery truck driver in the city decided to enroll. In his previous job, he did not receive bonus pay for overtime work. He said the program will not only give him a new set of skills, but also give him more flexibility with his schedule.  He said he wants to be an asbestos inspector.

The state of New York has received a total of $396 million dollars in federal stimulus money for its green jobs program. The money is then distributed to different government agencies and not-for-profit organizations. Two years after its implementation more than 50 percent has been completed and an estimated 1,400 jobs have created, according to recovergy.gov, a U.S. government website which tracks stimulus spending.

The Sustainable South Bronx works with two other jobs training organizations to implement its program.   Hunts Point, where the organization is located,  is part of the South Bronx Congressional District 16, the poorest congressional district in the U.S. About 39 percent, or 269,136 of its residents live in poverty. The children in the community fare even worse with 52 percent under poverty rate, or 105, 153 children.

Some critics argued that President Obama’s green jobs program is not producing enough results to ease the national 8.6 percent unemployment rate, but Williams challenged those who oppose the initiative to visit South Bronx to see what residents go through every day.

“Come live in out shoes for a week, where you watch children have asthma in our community,” she said.

Williams said that at her office, every employment created through her program is a cause for celebration.

“It’s awesome to see that jobs are opening up,” said Williams. “They’re not opening up like they’re hiring thousands of people but they are opening up to people that are skilled in green jobs.”

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Real Azteca serves up the real deal

Fresh corn tortillas are made to order at Real Azteca, an authentic Mexican taqueria in Hunts Point. BIANCA CONSUNJI/The Bronx Ink

It was 3 p.m., that awkward hour between lunch and dinner when most restaurants slow down. Even the Bronx’s best-known pizzerias on Arthur Avenue had emptied out. But halfway across the borough on the same Saturday afternoon, the cramped but cozy Real Azteca was bustling. The counter seating was full, and a steady stream of customers arrived for takeout.

Behind the counter, four cooks prepared a wide variety of traditional Michoacán dishes in full view of the customers. The dishes are nothing like the Tex-Mex burritos that generally pass for “Mexican food” in the U.S. Real Azteca offers huitlacoche quesadillas with a rich, ground mushroom-and-corn filling, soft goat-meat tacos, seafood soup with fresh cilantro, and steak with prickly-pear cactus and homemade guacamole.

And the neighborhood seems to appreciate it. “We’re always busy,” said cook Patricia Valle. “Thank the Lord.”

Real Azteca is family-run. Valle’s brother-in-law Francisco Ortega opened this restaurant 15 years ago, and Valle and her sister Graciela Ortega cook. The family are Tarasco Indians, and pride themselves on serving authentic cuisine from their native Michoacán, a state on the southwest coast of Mexico.

Quesadillas are their signature dish. A young cook scoops a handful of dough from a giant tub and places it in a press brought specially from Mexico.

“You can’t buy a press like this here,” said Francisco Ortega, whose brother has opened a second restaurant near St. Barnabas Hospital. “It’s not hard to make tortillas, but I haven’t seen other restaurants doing it.”

Ortega prides himself on fresh ingredients. The cooks grind jalapeños and other chilies to make their own salsas and press hundreds of tortillas each day.

The extra care makes all the difference, said Valle, who made her living as a cook back home as well. When three other Mexican restaurants opened nearby, all three closed within a year. None of them used fresh ingredients, Valle said, adding with a grimace that she suspects they heated dishes in a microwave.

Seated at a table, Ricardo Garcia from Guatemala is one of the restaurant’s repeat visitors. “The quesadillas are best,” Garcia said. “I come all the time.”

Around 4:30 p.m., there was a short lull. A police officer dropped by to pick up an order for the 41st Precinct. Graciela Ortega and then Valle each took turns sitting down to a quick meal at the counter. A tired Valle smiled and pointed to her bowl. “This is the first chance I’ve had all day to eat something,” she said with a hint of satisfaction. “It’s been so busy.”

Real Azteca, 1013 E. 163rd Street, 718-860-1566

By subway: Hunts Point Avenue on the No. 6 train.  


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