Hurricane Sandy, the mega storm that hit New York City on October 29, 2012, was one of the costliest storms in U.S. history at the time, just behind Hurricane Katrina. Its 29 foot waves and storm surges caused extensive coastal flooding and $19 billion in damages. Red Hook is one of 10 communities that was hit hardest and in this issue, on Sandy’s five-year-anniversary, we tell some some of the stories of those who survived and remain.
Red Hook Winery
This year, the Red Hook Winery is proud to be celebrating its 10th vintage year on Pier 41. Mark Snyder, owner, says that although he is proud of his winery, he is still recovering from Sandy damages which totaled over two million dollars.
“We lost wine, but the support of the community has helped us recover and rebuild. Many friends and supporters expressly bought wines from previous vintages and this fed into my recovery,” said Snyder.
Snyder received a National Grid grant; a low interest loan from the city with a matching grant; and took out additional loans to help rebuild machinery and pay employee salaries. He countered the disaster by prioritizing needs and compromising solutions. For instance, when his wine press costing $80,000 was destroyed, he made do with renting or borrowing one.
In the event of a future flood, Snyder is prepared, as he now has a contingency plan in place that will reduce his damage. For example, he has made arrangements to forklift barrels on barrel racks to alternate locations and has made plans to move all machinery to the second floor. But he is clear about not moving from Pier 41.
“I love Red Hook, the community, the neighbors and the neighborhood. We started our business in a place that is susceptible to storms, so we need to be smart. But if Sandy comes again and I am destroyed—then I am an idiot.”
Snyder says he is grateful to Sandy as it was an important business and life lesson.
“It bought a lot of attention to the neighborhood—first negative, but then matured into resilience and made us hone our game to survive a catastrophic event.”
Hurricane Sandy hit Pioneer Works, a performance and exhibition space, at a bad time —just after a major renovation of the 1866 building. Gabriel Florenz, Pioneer Work’s director, described Sandy as the “apocalypse coming.”
“The water was coming in so fast, it was hard to navigate. We went upstairs and watched a soup of art mixing in with lettuce and kitchen supplies. Luckily our boilers were built high so they were protected, but all our electricals were destroyed. We had propane heaters to keep us warm,” said Florenz.
Pioneer Works had flood insurance but Florenz said it was a long battle with insurance companies to get paid.
Looking towards the future, Florenz views the space as a design puzzle – to build a space that protects against floods. He never expected five feet of water but says there are ways to design around that like they do in Venice, Italy.
“In 2018, through the program RISE (Roof Integrated Solar Energy) Pioneer will get solar panels on its roof, so we will have back-up battery generators. Next time, hopefully, this will be a space that provides the community with electricity, water and support.”
Beatrice Byrd, 75, is a board member of the Addabbo Health Center on Richards Street, and has been living in the Red Hook houses for over 50 years. She has seen Red Hook transition from a locale of drugs, crime and shanties to a million dollar neighborhood that includes a Van Brunt Street corridor marked with notable restaurants and bars.
“I love Red Hook. People come here because its quaint. The cobblestones, waterfront and quiet evenings are attractive to people,” said Byrd.
Byrd said that Red Hook’s strong community is what defined its resilience.
“People shared heaters, those who had electricity ran extension cords to others who did not. Volunteers came on bicycles to bag up garbage, serve food and distribute blankets. There was even a tanker of gas bought in to help us!” said Byrd.
Addabbo, which offers residents a variety of health and social services, received three feet of water during Sandy, destroying equipment like exam tables, refrigerators, medical lights, and cabinetry. All through the destruction, the staff pulled together to offer medical services, even with minimal light.
Sandy Fogg, Addabbo’s CEO, said the center had flood insurance and did receive some payment from FEMA as well as a resiliency award from DASNY (Dormitory Authority of the State of New York) which make them now eligible for a generator.
Today, Addabbo is back better than before, said Byrd, and procedures to minimize another Sandy have been instituted.
“Its like the Phoenix rising – exam rooms and elevators have been reconfigured to provide more space and safety from water damage; the building has been built to electric code; and now all medical records are electronic.”
Charles Flickinger, originally from the Midwest, has been in the glass bending business for 29 years. His shop, also on Pier 41, received four-and-half feet of water during Sandy and destroyed much of his machinery.
“It was a total disaster. We moved computers up so we saved some machinery, but my damages exceeded a quarter of a million. It was challenging, but we did what needed to be done that day—like sending machinery to be fixed, re-ordering fire bricks, doing payroll on Friday, and making coffee in the morning,” said Flickinger, matter-of-factly.
He received a National Grid grant for $25,000, and he also put up some text and pictures on a GoFundMe cloud sourcing site which raised $62,000 from family and friends. The money helped pay his staff to stay and clean up. A lot of his machinery has been rebuilt and he is better prepared if there is another disaster.
“A lot of our blowers that run the machines are now five-feet in the air and we have a generator and head lamps. I am not worried about another storm as I am prepared and I will not leave Red Hook, as I like it here. Maybe if the rent was higher I would move, but not for a storm!”
St. John Frizell:
Since 2009, Fort Defiance has served bespoke cocktails in a neighborly setting without having to get all dressed-up. This popular hang-out was devastated during Sandy, incurring basement flooding that destroyed machinery and inventory worth $75,000. The damages were so severe that the bar had to be shut for a month, which cost an additional $100,000 in lost revenue.
St. John raised money to fix things by getting a $25,000 loan from the Empire Development Group, and a $25,000 private loan. But a large source of money, namely $30,000, came from friends and customers living within a five-mile radius who bought Fort Defiance gift certificates at twice its face value. Aid also came from the United States Bar Tenders Guild. They replaced not just St. John’s equipment but also equipment of other bars in the neighborhood.
“Now we are back to pre-Sandy inventory levels. It took a year to get business back and I just paid back all my loans. We are now, finally after five years, Sandy debt free!” said St. John, cheerfully.
But looking into the future, St. John says he is unprepared and would suffer similar consequences as his landlord is unwilling to make major fixes.
“I would like to move mechanicals like breaker boards, water heaters and compressors to the first floor and use the basement only for storage. But I don’t have the capital or real estate to do that. What I have is a better pump system to get water out of the basement in the future!”
Despite these issues, St. John will not move his bar to another location as he says Fort Defiance is so much a part of the neighborhood.
“About 10 years ago, bars in New York were speakeasy style, a style that intimidated some as it was too fancy and contrived. Fort Defiance is my attempt to make cocktails less intimidating and serve in a welcoming, low-key and comfortable atmosphere. I opened Fort Defiance as there was no place to take my mom for a glass of Chardonnay.”
St. John has been instrumental in coordinating the Barnacle Parade, an annual parade that’s held on October 29, to commemorate but not solemnize Hurricane Sandy. It’s a fun event where friends and families gather around a theme: the first year’s being a giant generator, followed by a garbage truck and last year’s Noah’s Ark.
The Ice House
Trevor Budd hails from Australia and opened the Ice House in 2008 after spending many years in New York City.
“I chose Red Hook because it’s a decent place, up and coming, off-the-beaten path and not too expensive,” said Budd.
His Sandy damages amounted to $30,000. Like Fort Defiance, his basement was water-logged—destroying all his bottled beers, three to four refrigerators, an ice machine and a freezer. He was able to salvage the furniture but not the machinery. For rebuilding, he received $6,000 from Restore Red Hook and the SBA gave him a low interest loan.
He was able to fully open up their kitchen (known for pulled pork sandwiches) two weeks later, but with the aid of candles and ice they did not skip a beat at serving beers at the bar. Both the Ice House and it’s neighbor, Bait and Tackle, were open the night after Sandy.
He too said that he would suffer the same consequences should Sandy reoccur, but he is grateful for all the help he received from volunteers.
June Clark Smith:
June Smith, 58, has been living in the NYCHA houses for the past 34 years. During Sandy, her neighbors from the first floor came up to her fourth floor apartment as the water kept raising. Smith soon relocated to her mother’s apartment because her building lost heat, water and electricity. But many, who were not as fortunate as Smith, had to remain. Smith is indignant about the lack of post Sandy leadership, which lasted until Occupy Sandy came out .
“Then I met Carlos Menchaca, New York City Council member, who was very helpful in getting food, blankets, heaters and clothing to the community,” said Smith.
Although resources were provided, Smith is still disgruntled about the buildings upkeep.
“Just last Saturday the sixth floor was flooded due to a pipe burst and my dining area got flooded. Money is allocated but the building has deteriorated. There is asbestos in the building and in December the gas was turned off for two months. They are concerned about the outside but not the inside of the building.”
Next time there is a Sandy-like hurricane, Smith says she will move out of Red Hook and not return, even-though she loves Red Hook’s close-knit atmosphere.
“This development is falling apart and people are getting frustrated as they have to wait two years or six months to get anything repaired. I was diligent in bringing Carlos in. But in three to four years I said to Carlos ‘you have failed this community.” Editor’s note—see front page story re Red Hook Houses for an update.
John Gorden Gauld:
John Gorden Gauld, 40, came to Red Hook after being pushed out of pricier neighborhoods like Williamsburg and the Columbia Street Waterfront District. He was attracted to Red Hook by its arts community—namely woodworkers, carpenters, fabricators and metal workers—who all came seeking Red Hook’s industrial space.
Gauld was living in a first floor apartment near Fairway when Sandy hit. He was in the midst of creating dioramas for Bergdorf Goodman’s holiday windows.
“I was working on this deadline when the water started lapping on my door front. Strangely the power was still on, but there were hurricane style winds and it was scary so I shut the circuit breakers and waded into the street. I was waist deep in water,” said Gauld.
He stayed at a friend’s that night and managed to finish his project using a borrowed generator that operated with gas that he siphoned from his car.
His dioramas survived but his art materials and mini-appliances like blender, toaster, electric kettle, refrigerator, and air-conditioner was destroyed, costing him $92,000. His space became unlivable and he had to move out for renovation.
Fortunately, Pioneer Works offered him studio space for four months, but he had no place to live. Gauld says he was essentially homeless for few months, at the mercy of friends and even spent nights outdoors in a sleeping bag in 20 degree weather.
He received Sandy artist residencies in Vermont and the South of France which allayed his living situation for awhile, but after two years of instability, Gauld returned to Red Hook to find new developments and escalating rents.
At that time he contemplated moving to Beacon, NY., but he says living in proximity to New York city is vital for an artist, as it affords access to other artists and enhances visibility. He finally found his current live/work space on Sullivan Street leased to him by the O’Connell Organization.
Since Sandy, Gauld has recouped a small fraction of the money lost. After spending two harrowing weeks filing paperwork and tracking people, he got $10,000 from FEMA, and he received small grants from arts organizations like the New York Foundation of the Arts, Joan Mitchell and the Pollack-Krasner foundation.
“As an artist all your money goes to rent. It took me til a year ago to replace the toaster I lost and I am barely done replacing things. Sandy was one of the hardest times of my life.”
Gauld has now lived in Red Hook for 10 years and hopes to be here forever because it’s removed from the city, and from Williamsburg.
Red Hook Coalition
Following Sandy, Martha Bowers, Executive Director of Dance Theater Etcetera, found herself in the epicenter of a disaster. She is one of the founding members of the Red Hook Coalition and described its formation and achievements.
“We were working closely with Carlos Menchaca as he was designated to Red Hook. Carlos was using our offices as we had power. Since the Brooklyn community had funds to distribute for relief efforts, five non-profits in Red Hook—Dance Theater Etcetera, Falconworks Artists Group, Added Value Farms, Red Hook Initiative, and Red Hook Volunteers – formed the Red Hook Coalition that served as a conduit for foundations to channel in money,” said Bowers.
The coalition fund was used to help Red Hook businesses and to organize a two-day Red Hook Community Summit to identify the needs of the community. The consensus was to create more programming for youth and young adults.
The coalition consequently funded the Digital Boot Camp, a pre-professional film making program where students choose a Red Hook client and create a promotional video. The program, which began in 2013, is a four week summer internship for 30 young adults selected from South Brooklyn Community High School, the Red Hook Initiative Stewards program, and Dance Theater Etcetera.
Another achievement of the Red Hook Coalition was to create a Red Hook local disaster relief plan to aid in case of another Sandy-like hurricane. Since city responders are slow to show up at a disaster site, Bowers says this plan outlines people and sites that have agreed to be mobilized during an emergency.
“We did a trial run through it in 2014 to see which Red Hook sites would provide what in an emergency. Copies of this plan are in my office.
After this was done the the Red Hook Coalition was dissolved.”