After days of living in darkness and bitter cold, apartment-dwellers in Red Hook are slowly regaining power.
Ulyses Bermudez just had his first bath in a week and a half. "It was so fantastic, it took me two hours and 22 minutes to warm up that water. But when I went in there, I was at heaven, I was at peace. I mean, I scrubbed myself down, I felt so fresh, I felt like I was born again. It felt so good."
Bermudez lives at 80 Dwight Street, one of the 30 public housing buildings that make up the Red Hook West homes. Hurricane Sandy caused high tides to spread out over the Red Hook neighborhood, which sits right off the ocean in South Brooklyn. It flooded the basement of Bermudez's building, disabling everything but the gas. Bermudez recently got his water back on, but it's cold. He and most of the other 100 or so neighbors who refused to leave the building for storm shelters have not been able to do basic things, like shower, for going on two weeks.
"But when I got up from that water, that water was pitch black. You can imagine, if I'm telling you this, what other people are going through that haven't taken a bath in such a long time."
A handwritten sign on the door of 80 Dwight Street gives the name and phone number of State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, who serves this community. Below her contact information are the words, "We Are Not Animals." Ulyses Bermudez has picked up this rallying cry for his building. "I think the animals are doing better than we are."
Inside Bermudez's apartment a candle flickers in the kitchen. Otherwise the place is completely dark. He walks around with a headlamp to orient himself. Apartment 1D is basically the only home he's ever known. He's 57 years old, and so is his building. He says his mother, who died two years ago, was the third tenant accepted into the building. "Nobody else has ever had this apartment. Nobody."
At around 9 p.m., Bermudez is winding down, getting ready to listen to news on his battery-powered radio. He says he's heard some coverage of Red Hook, and he's hoping the media can help pressure politicians into more action. "They should have been here a few days after the storm. They're coming now, after all this time, come on..."
Up on the 12th floor, 34 year-old Jessica Cruz is boiling water on the stove as a way to create heat in her unit. In the first days after Hurricane Sandy, she and her family huddled around the flames on the stove itself, as gas was the only resource available. Then, as the water came back on, they started boiling it to create some additional warmth. Fifty-seven year-old Jose Cruz, Jessica's father, says he's stopped counting on Mayor Bloomberg's predictions of when his family will get heat back. "The whole week they've been telling us tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. It never happens."
Jose Cruz does not have a lot to distract him from the misery of living in a cold building at the moment. His employer, a local Red Hook restaurant called Fort Defiance, was washed out in the storm as well. He's not sure if and when he'll be back on the job.