As told to Habitat by Carl Tait in Board Operations on January 3, 2013
I went back and checked and there was no evacuation under way. A theme began emerging: Despite the best efforts by the New York City Fire Department, Police Department, Office of Emergency Management and Department of Buildings, they did a very bad job of coordinating with each other and getting accurate information out.
Threat of Collapse
Back at the building, there were no officials telling us to leave. In fact, the official word at that point was found only by Googling. The upper floors on West 57th Street had apparently been evacuated, which was reasonable. If the crane should fall and start smashing things, I learned that it would be like having a seven-story building collapsing on top of us. That's a frightening thought.
I went door-to-door, to all of our unit-owners, telling people that the crane had broken and was swinging in the wind, and that we might or might not be evacuated. I have 5 1/2-year old twin daughters, plus a dog, and my family were getting ready with what we had to take if we had to leave for a day or two. Other people were doing the same thing.
For a couple of years at least, we have maintained an e-mail list of at least every resident-shareholder and even some residents who are not shareholders. I sent out an e-mail to them saying the building was being evacuated. Since people don't necessarily check their e-mail constantly like I do, I wanted to make sure that everyone knew everything at that moment — so I also started knocking on doors. I did the right thing.
I talked to the super and he was already prepared to stay. None of us really knew for sure the laws on this — if he would be allowed to stay to make sure that, among other things, the pipes didn't freeze. As it turned out, he was required to leave when the evacuation took place.
I talked to our managing agent, but we didn't have anybody on site, and with transportation shut down across the city, the management firm had no way of getting here. Frankly, that's why there's not much that anyone could have done. Then the fire department came by and said, "Okay, sorry, this whole block is being evacuated; you have to leave."
By 6:30 p.m., when we finally left, I had one of my girls on each hand clutching me. We walked across Sixth Avenue and were practically blown over by the wind. We got into a place where we were waiting for a bus, and some of those Jersey barriers — made out of plastic instead of cement — were just blowing down the street. That was the scariest moment of the whole thing, when you're holding two little kids and you see this barrier, bigger than they are, come blowing toward you.
We were out of the building for six days. We stayed connected to our community via e-mail. I was sending updates and people were responding and telling me about their situations, telling me where they were (if they had a place to stay), and also that they were okay.
The expenses broke down mainly into halves. One was for the hotel expenses, and Extell either had already paid or has agreed to pay. Regarding the other, Lend Lease has set up a number for people to call and file a claim for reimbursement of non-hotel expenses. It's not clear what they will actually cover.
The police department finally allowed people to come back into the building on an emergency basis to get things that were critical to them. We got back in permanently almost a week later.
A lesson from all this for co-op and condo boards: Have a way to contact people by e-mail. We had one in place. It really did work.
Crane photo by Lev Radin, Shutterstock.
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