In Sandy's Wake: Perfect Storm Leaves Co-ops, Condos Coping and Helping

Tom Soter in Board Operations

New York City

Nov. 2, 2012 —  It was the "the perfect storm," "the storm of the century," or just Hurricane Sandy. And after the powerful storm struck New York City on Monday, more than 3.75 million people were hit by power failures from the hurricane, which even before it made landfall buffeted the region with savage winds, storm surges and torrential rain.

Cooperatives and condominiums in the most affected areas — Manhattan below 34th Street, large sections of Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island — were coping with the loss of electrical power (and with it, the use of refrigerators, computers, televisions, and other electrical devices) in various ways.

Many are concerned about insurance, for instance, and right now, most brokers and adjusters are, not surprisingly, overwhelmed with cries for help. Barbara Strauss, an executive vice president at York International, an insurance broker, called the storm's effects "devastating," and advised owners to "pray. They should be  concerned about mold from the water. Get in and clean it as quickly as possible." 

But first, take a picture of the damage, then contact your insurance broker. He or she will get an adjuster on the scene to assess the damage — that may take days, considering the demand — and, if you are covered for the specific damage you suffered, you will be reimbursed.

Emergency Advances

Strauss warned that with the great amount of destruction throughout the city, there would be delays. Howver, she added: "If somebody is really devastated and their loss is extremely severe, you can get an advance from your insurance company. Usually you hire a public adjuster to go through the mess. He will go to the insurance company with the insurance company adjuster to see what kind of advance they can get for the building, so the repairs can begin."

Managers, meanwhile, were doing their best to help residents cope. One of the most novel ideas came from Midboro Management. Because local water pressure is too weak to raise water to the upper stories, buildings over six stories use an electric pump to fill their water tanks, after which gravity goes to work.

Wolfe at the Door

"Many of our buildings were without electricity and therefore without water," said Michael Wolfe, president of Midboro. Undaunted, Wolfe's firm hired a flatbed truck, attached a portable generator to it, and spent two hours at each building, using the electrical hook-up to refill the water tanks. The water supply usually lasts for one to two days (depending on use) and then Midboro will come by and refill the tanks. Each visit costs about $1,000.

Midboro is also supplying portable generators to some buildings to provide not only water but also light to the lobbies and hallways. "The problem with those is finding enough gasoline," Wolfe said, citing a shortage. 

Don Levy, a vice president at Brown Harris Stevens, reported: "Buildings below 39th Street are coping with [the help of] a crew of people from our office went around to the downtown buildings on Monday and handed out glow sticks and various other things to help through the blackout period. Building staffs in general have been working to a level of excellence that you don't often see, and in most cases, people on staff were able to get in [to their jobs] and, in other cases, where they couldn't, the [remaining staff] has doubled up and risen to the task and kept their buildings safe."

Although the mammoth Mutual Development Houses cooperative, better-known as Penn South, remained unaffected, it did not remain uninvolved. The 10-building , 2,820-unit complex, located at 321 Eighth Avenue in Chelsea, has a cogeneration system in place, so it retained electricity while its neighbors went dark. But, according to Brendan Keany, the Penn South manager, the co-op saw (and continued to see) a steady stream of people migrating from the southern end of the island.

The Penn is Mightier than the Storm

"There were just droves of people walking north on Eighth Avenue, coming from downtown, hoping to find some place with power so they could charge their cell phones, and then finding some place where they can eat. Some of our restaurants, not on Con Ed, are open." He continued: "We opened up or community rooms to neighbors to charge up their electrical devices, watch the news, or use the bathroom and the facilities. There were people who were diabetic and needed to have their insulin refrigerated."

In the past few days, there have been anywhere from "half-a-dozen to two dozen" non-residents in the two community rooms. Keany said this sort of involvement is a "good thing. If people have nowhere else to go they can hang out here for a few hours. The word spread pretty quickly. Everyone wants to help." 

With that in mind, Keany said the co-op also made a deal with a local supermarket, which had lost electricity, to take food off the store's shelves before it rotted. "We're shipping it over to [the Robert] Fulton Houses, on Ninth Avenue between 18th and 19th Streets. They're just devastated."

Extraordinary actions? Not according to Keany, who said: "These are tough times. We feel that  the folks that are better off should try to do something to help those in need."


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