Brice, 26, took a serrated knife from the kitchen, where the sink was filled with stacks of dirty pots and dishes. He put on his coat and slipped the knife into his pocket. He walked past the bathroom, where a putrid odor wafted from a toilet that hadn’t flushed in four days. He kissed his girlfriend, Dalisha.
“Lock the door,” he told her, walking out.
Four days after the storm, New Yorkers talked of their subways roaring back, of Amtrak restoring service and museums opening, and the sense that life once again was taking on a recognizable rhythm.
But on the Lower East Side, in a housing complex of 19 brick high-rises where about 4,000 poor and working-class New Yorkers reside, life remained darkened and difficult. The Jacob Riis Houses, built during the Truman administration, were named for a muckraking journalist whose chronicle of 19th-century slum life was titled “How the Other Half Lives.”
At Ninth Street and Avenue D, the other half was alive, but it was not living so well.
All morning, people lined up at open fire hydrants to fill pails and jugs with water. They walked across the street to buy bread from a man who they said had doubled the price, to $2. They went in search of cigarettes, an ATM that worked and their benefits checks.
Each trip began and ended with a walk up and down those darkened stairs.
“Nobody comes to help us,” Brice said, walking down slowly, finding his way with the glow of a cellphone. “The cops don’t come in here. No one’s bringing us flashlights. No one’s bringing water. No one’s doing anything.”
Down he went, the 11th floor turning into the 10th and then the ninth. “There could be dead people inside these apartments,” he said. “We wouldn’t know.”
He was trailed by his brother, Andre, 21, and a friend, Steve, 24, both of whom were visiting the night Sandy raged — when a few blocks away the Con Edison plant went “boom!” as they described it, and the lights went out all over Lower Manhattan. And they hadn’t left since, lighting the gas stove to keep warm, trying to figure out what to do next.
“We defend each other,” Andre said.
As they arrived at the second floor, they passed a Chinese woman and her 12-year-old son, the two lugging a wire cart containing an oversize red pail filled with water. After each step, the woman grunted.
“Don’t let go,” Enuyan Ouyang, 57, warned her son in Cantonese.
“This is crazy,” Bryan Ouyang replied in English. He stayed with her. Water splashed out of the pail. It was 10:20 a.m., and they had 11 more flights to go.
Their apartment is at the top of the building, on the 13th floor.