Ronda Kaysen in Building Operations on February 19, 2013
Trucks were there ready to pump out water — which, he learned, was contaminated, and so the top layer had to be skimmed off and hauled separately to a water-treatment plant. Representatives from the Department of Environmental Conservation advised building staff on how to safely do this.
In the days ahead, the staff would face two overwhelming challenges: finding gas to keep the generators and pumps running, and finding available material and contractors. Every night, staff members drove to Pennsylvania in search of gas. Staff members searched for materials as far away as Virginia and Ohio.
Calling All Residents. Or Trying to.
Meanwhile, the co-op board and management desperately tried to keep residents up to date. But with everyone staying in hotels or with friends, communication was difficult. The staff scrambled to create an e-mail list, but many residents felt left out of the loop.
"We were trying to get information out to shareholders, but it was difficult," says board president Elizabeth Guerin, who stayed in the building for several days before ultimately checking into a hotel.
After four days, enough water had been pumped from the building that workers could don waders and respirators and assess the damage. The stench from the mold, oil and sewage was overwhelming. So was the damage. A fire had destroyed the electrical panels. The laundry room was destroyed, as were the storage lockers that housed tenants' belongings. Anything porous — clothes, books, and photographs — would have to be thrown out.
To the dismay of many residents, their subterranean storage was not covered by individual insurance policies. And the building had its own insurance headaches. A few days into the cleanup, Orsid retained a public adjuster to help walk the co-op through the dizzying claim process. Located in Flood Zone B, the building had ony limited flood insurance. Its $3 million in damages will ultimately be covered by a patchwork of claims from the building's flood, hazard, environmental and casualty insurance policies.
"We have the daunting task of having to document every penny spent," says Mellman, whose firm represents 12 other properties that lost power during Sandy.
Once the water was removed, staff began to repair the building. Electricians worked round the clock to install temporary wires that Con Ed was then able to reconnect to some of the feeder cables, providing a temporary fix until new service equipment and new feeder cables could be installed.
An elevator company confirmed that the elevators were spared, although some damage had been sustained. A temporary boiler was brought in to provide heat and hot water. The basement and garage walls were cleaned and repainted, and air samples taken to make sure the air was safe to breathe.
During all this time, building superintendent Scott Falk ordered his workers to vacuum the hallways and keep common areas clean. On November 11, just 12 days after the storm, residents were invited back home.
By mid-January, the co-op was slowly returning to normal. The residents had working elevators, heat, and electricity; gas for cooking; a fully functional boiler; new compactors; new staff uniforms; and a brand new laundry room was nearly complete. The garage reopened in mid-December with a new operator.
The building has retained an engineer to consider ways to protect itself from future damage, including installing a generator or moving the river-facing garage entrance where floodwaters had poured. But the changes may ultimately have to come from city policy, as there was little the building could have done to brace itself for this kind of storm.
Photo courtesy Orsid Realty. Click to enlarge.
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