Chinese residents in Manhattan’s Lower East Side are still suffering from cold and isolation more than two weeks after Sandy pounded through the tri-state area Oct. 29. Eight of the 12 buildings in Knickerbocker Village at 36 Monroe St. remained without heat, electricity, or hot water on Nov. 12.
“We are desperate,” said Xiaoqin Yang, 75, in Chinese. She has lived in Knickerbocker Village for the last 30 years. She said she has trouble sleeping in her freezing apartment.
The collection of federal and local assistance groups in the area offer basics that are often too difficult for senior citizens to access. Hamilton-Madison House, a voluntary, non-profit settlement house in the Two Bridges/Chinatown area, is donating food and bottled water to local residents. Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, a community service center, distributes food, water, toilet paper and other daily essentials. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has extra blankets to give out.
But residents must travel through dark hallways and down several flights of stairs in order to collect the donations. Yang lives on the 10th floor on No. 12 building in Knickerbocker Village, a private complex for low-income residents. She had to climb up and down 265 stairs with a flashlight every day to collect the meals from Chinatown senior center.
“I count the stairs to give myself a little hope,” said Yang. “But at least I’m able to get out. My husband can’t. He can’t come down without elevator.”
Another Knickerbocker Village resident said she had trouble eating some of the donated food, because it was unfamiliar to her.
“It’s western style and tastes weird to me,” said Xiaoqin Chung, 66, in Chinese, about instant food such as pasta and cereal. Still, she said, “It’s better than nothing.”
There are 1,600 families in the privately owned Knickerbocker, 80 percent of whom are low-income Chinese immigrants. Linda He, a member of Cherry Green Management that runs the buildings, said more than 60 percent are over 65 years old.
“It’s really hard for them,” He said. “Some of them can’t walk. A few of them need the electricity to go through medical procedures every day, but now it’s impossible.”
A small generator explosion in the basement caused the extended power outage on Monday evening after Con Edison provided power back to Lower East Side. He said the outage happened when a maintenance person tried to turn on the switch while the basement was still flooded.
“We were lucky we didn’t die,” said He.
Twenty feet of seawater flooded the basement in the aftermath of Sandy, where generators and boilers are located. By Friday, workers were halfway through pumping out water. The generator is expected to be fixed first. However, by Monday, it was still not clear when the power and heat will be back, according to Stephen E. Stanley, assistant manager of the building.