After Sandy, lower Manhattan limps back to life

Associated Press Modified: November 26, 2012 at 2:30 am •  Published: November 26, 2012

Fearing the East River might one day try again to meet the Hudson, 120 Wall Street and other buildings are facing an even bigger, more expensive job: Moving critical infrastructure to higher floors or even roofs.

"We're going to need to relocate equipment so history doesn't repeat itself," Moss said.

Farther uptown, NYU Langone Medical Center and Bellevue Hospital Center had put generators on high floors where they could be protected in a flood. But they still suffered failures with Sandy, apparently because other critical components of the backup power system, such as fuel pumps and tanks, remained in basements just a block from the East River.

While 120 Wall Street enjoys a degree of normalcy, other newer and taller glass towers around it remain shut as teams of contractors and workers struggle to restore power, phone and other services. Tractor-trailers providing emergency services such as "microbial remediation" crowd the streets. Cabs are few.

Fire engines became a part of the mix on Friday with the report of a fire in the basement of another vacated office building at 55 Water St. — the address for financial services company Standard & Poor's and the city Department of Transportation — that left two dozen people suffering from smoke inhalation and sent four to a hospital. The cause wasn't immediately clear.

The lower Manhattan disarray has also reached the courtroom. Last week, a resident of a still-evacuated luxury high-rise filed a $35 million lawsuit against his condo board and management company, accusing them of "gross negligence" in the wake of Sandy.

The management company, Cooper Square Realty, fired back in a letter from its chief executive, David Kuperberg, claiming that contractors recruited from as far away as Wisconsin and Michigan have been working nonstop to tear out wet walls, carpeting and wallpaper to prevent mold; installing new generators; rebuilding a water pump; and mopping up residue left by oil-tainted salt water.

"While Cooper Square Reality did not cause the storm, the company is doing everything it can" to get people back in their homes, Kuperberg wrote.

The uncertainty also is evident at South Street Seaport, a cluster of early 19th-century mercantile buildings converted to retail shops and apartments. Usually teeming with tourists, the seaport remained a ghost town late last week, despite postcard-perfect weather.

Inside a shut-down brew pub still without lights, workers wearing masks and white jumpsuits scrubbed down the bar, floor and tables. Many businesses, including Ann Taylor, Body Shop and Guess outlets, were still boarded up with plywood.

Also shuttered was "Bodies ... The Exhibition," the show featuring dissected human cadavers that has been a fixture there since 2005. Its website says that due to "damage to our venue, we are closed until further notice."

Some seaport residents have electricity back but no heat or hot water. Liz McKenna, 54, who was living in a third-floor apartment overlooking the East River when a deluge filled the entire first floor with water, said she expects to be able to move back in a couple of weeks — maybe.

"That's only a guess," she said as she picked up her mail. "Look around. Nobody really knows how bad it is down here. ... We've been ignored."

One of the few businesses to open its doors, Meade's bar and restaurant, had no customers at lunchtime.

"We're open, but who are we open for?" said 28-year-old bartender Nichole Osborne. "All of my regulars are displaced."

An etching on the front window, quoting Dylan Thomas, offered a glimmer of resolve: "Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

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Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.