Towers trap homebound New Yorkers after storm
NEW YORK — For Rosa Reyes, 75, going from her 18th-floor New York apartment to the street is no longer an option after Sandy’s hurricane-force winds cut power, and with it, elevator service, days ago.
“I can’t go down no stairs because I’m disabled,” Reyes said, leaning on a wooden cane and pointing to her knee. Her food is holding up, and neighbors have brought jugs of water. So she’s all right, for now at least.
Reyes isn’t alone. An untold number of the city’s shut-ins, from 39th Street to Manhattan’s southern tip, are trapped in the towers that help define the city’s skyline, after the superstorm knocked out power Oct. 29. Officials say it may take days or weeks to restore the electricity that drives elevators and powers the pumps that bring water up to fill sinks and toilets.
“Even a few flights of stairs for some of these people who rely on canes, walkers and wheelchairs — they’re virtual prisoners in their homes,” said Beth Shapiro, executive director of Citymeals-on-Wheels. The charity organization delivers meals to homebound older residents.
A prolonged blackout could become a matter of “life and limb” for her patients, said Eloise Goldberg, a vice president for acute care services with the Visiting Nurse Service of New York. The independent nonprofit health care provider, the largest in the United States, sees about 140,000 patients a year and has 15,300 employees in the New York area, its website says.
“We need to get those people out of those buildings to a location that’s safer,” Goldberg said. The group’s nurses have been climbing stairs to reach patients and ensure they have the medicines and other supplies.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency will be sending 1 million meals and 1 million gallons of water to help seniors stuck in high-rise buildings, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a briefing late yesterday. Deliveries will start today, he said. “We’re getting scattered reports of senior citizens, some people in public housing, who are running out food and who are in high-rise buildings,” Cuomo said. “In some cases, the elevator is not operational and they’re literally running out food.”
New York’s fire department, which also runs the Emergency Medical Service’s ambulances, has not been ordered to help move homebound senior citizens and other shut-ins out of tall buildings, according to Frank Dwyer, a spokesman. “We respond as emergencies are called in,” Dwyer said.