City Confronts Uncommon Cold

East Harlem Wagner House residents line up for bottled water after pipes burst
By Genevieve Belmaker, Epoch Times
January 7, 2014 Updated: January 8, 2014

NEW YORK—It’s tough to make New Yorkers flinch—even under the most trying of circumstances—but Tuesday’s below zero wind chill temperatures handily delivered a stinging backslap.

Those of the city’s 8.3 million who ventured out could be seen scurrying down streets seeking a warm destination, as well as sparring with subway doors to keep them open rather than miss the trains departing uncommonly chilly stations.

The historic low temperatures, unmatched since the 1800s, also proved to be another weather-related test in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 7-day-old administration. He has already dealt with the aftermath of an overnight snowstorm Jan. 2 that dumped up to 9 inches of snow in parts of the city and shut down schools.

More than 35 agencies convened with the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Monday to form a strategic response. The main outcomes were to alert the public, protect the homeless, and mitigate responses to calls for help over issues such as having no heat.

However, the city did not provide warm places for those who might find themselves without heat or with insufficient heat. Last summer cooling centers were set up throughout the five boroughs during the extreme heat wave.

“We are not opening warming centers, but we are taking other measures,” said OEM spokesman Christopher Miller.

Water Pipes Burst

At the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Wagner Houses at 122nd Street in East Harlem, 9 of the 22 buildings were without running water. A total of 986 apartments are affected.

According to a representative for NYCHA, the development’s main water pipes might have broken “due to the rapid change in temperatures overnight.”

About 30 residents of 2390 Second Ave. clamored in a tiny lobby around 4 p.m., picking up a case of 24 water bottles each distributed by the NYCHA. The most vulnerable were having water delivered to their apartments, the NYCHA said.

The water had stopped working the night before at about 9:30 p.m., according to numerous residents. Although the heat was functioning, one of the building’s two small elevators was inoperable. It was about a 30-minute wait to go up, while the residents braced against the cold as the lobby doors opened repeatedly.

Emergency service trucks and teams of NYCHA workers and contractors were at the scene Tuesday afternoon.

“I haven’t heard anything,” said Sarah Poughg, a 30-year resident and the building’s co-captain, who had come downstairs to get water. “I called (the emergency hotline) at about 9 o’clock last night, and they didn’t know anything.”

It was a frustrating turn of events for residents who were already dealing with the impact of the freezing weather.

Without water to cook, shower, or flush the toilet, they were faced with the prospect of venturing out in the subzero temperatures to buy more water if they ran out.

“People work and have children,” said Poughg about the situation on top of the weather. “People are sick and have handicapped children—and need water.”