On the Lower East Side, A Woman Emerges From a Dark High Rise for First Time

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It's been more than three days since power went out across large swaths of the city and beyond. And some New Yorkers haven’t ventured out of their apartments since the power went out. In multi-story public housing complexes like La Guardia Houses on the Lower East Side, getting in and out of the building can be daunting.

The stairwells in the 16 story buildings are pitch black and there are no emergency lights. Some residents have flashlights, but other don’t and batteries are running out in lights and cellphones. Some people were lighting their way through the darkened halls by the flame of a cigarette lighter.

Candy Silva and her son who moved from a homeless shelter in the Bronx to La Guardia Houses a week ago. As they felt their way out of the complex and into the sunlight Wednesday, they were desperate for news, and more importantly where they could go that had power and lights.  

“We have to get a cab,” the stressed out Silva said. "It's really bad," her voice beginning to quake, "And we just moved here a week ago.”

Silva said she wished she’d stayed longer in the homeless shelter in the Bronx.

Other people were also looking to get out. A family of Chinese immigrants, who have a car, were heading to Brooklyn just to shower at a friend’s house.  Another family was heading upstate to stay with a relative. They said they were going to take the M15 bus to the top of its route, in Northern Manhattan, where a relative was going to pick them up and rescue them.

Other residents were irate that there are no trucks or officials stationed around the neighborhood making sure people have flashlights, food and water. People filled jars and water bottles at fire hydrants, either to drink or flush their toilets because water doesn’t flow in tall buildings without power.

While some stores are open, people said they’re only taking cash — and many people in public housing use food stamps in the form of a credit card.  A partially open Rite Aid nearby only let in three people at a time. And transactions were cash only.

But there was some help.  Some residents said the Housing Authority management offices were running generators and letting people charge phones.

The Henry Street Settlement is among organizations that offer a lot of services in that neighborhood, such as senior centers where many get meals. On Wednesday, they were across the street giving out meal boxes, and at their headquarters they had gas burners going to cook hamburgers and hot dogs that would have gone bad otherwise.  They were also delivering meals to people who are unable to come outside on a regular basis, including elderly people who can’t do that now because of all the stairs.

One 87-year-old woman hadn’t left her apartment since the power went out. Margaret Maynard says no one had knocked on her door to check on her, and she hadn’t talked to any family or friends because her phone was out.

She was dressed in many layers of robes and house dresses and had a scarf wrapped around her grey hair to keep warm. She said she’d been eating crackers and juice. She had bread, various canned and boxed foods, and several bottles of water in her freezer. "I'm ok!," she insisted.

Maynard used this reporter’s phone to reach her best friend, Doris George, but resisted the woman's advice to leave the building. Later in the day, though, George telephoned Maynard's sister, who brought her nephew into the conversation. And by nightfall, Maynard was safely in Queens, staying at her nephew's home. Like it or not.