It was a picture of community and industriousness generally reserved for post-disaster cleanups. A swarm of good-spirited volunteers hit Lower Manhattan’s East River Market District on Tuesday to assist the stores in getting back to business.
Restaurants were being gutted one by one as volunteers assisted in deconstructing and removing interiors, and piling contents and wreckage on the sidewalk. Dump trucks cleared the trash and street cleaners sprayed them clean.
A week after water submerged a large portion of the area, business owners were delighted to receive the help.
“It’s incredible, the people who are out here. … Some of my customers are down here to volunteer, the community has rallied together, kids, teachers, and the principal from Spruce Street School,” said Jacqueline Goewey, owner of the Made Fresh Daily restaurant.
A little overwhelmed by the preceding days’ events, she gestured to the damage inside her premises. The interior barely resembled a restaurant, with walls stripped and contents stacked in the middle of the rooms. They had worked quickly though; six feet of dry wall had already been replaced where the walls had been submerged.
Neighbors Jack’s Coffee Shop and Jeremy’s Ale House fared no better. The area is known for a number of small restaurants that provide some of the best cuisine in the district. Unfortunately, much of the area lies below the sea wall level.
Front Street property owner Kit White said the street exists 3 feet below the sea wall.
“As soon as it broke we knew we were going under,” White said. The wall broke at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 29, and the rising tide saw water levels peak at 8:50 p.m. For Front Street properties, this meant a 7-foot rise from street level, submerging basements and reaching half way up the wall of street-level shops.
White was luckier than most: his property does not have a basement. He predicted his restaurant tenant should have their doors open for business within two weeks. Less fortunate ones may take as long as two months.
“It wasn’t just stationary water, it was a current” said White. “The shop fronts broke open one after another.”
James, a Front Street resident, said he saw a boat floating up the street. “The boat flipped over about there,” he said, pointing to the middle of the street. Front Street is the second street up from the shoreline.
On Tuesday, however, the water had mostly receded. The remnants in the basements was being bailed out by hand with containers of all shapes and sizes.
The New Amsterdam Market, which usually holds a Sunday market in the parking lot by the Fulton Fish Market, prompted Tuesday’s community volunteer effort. The energy and resources that usually goes into the market was poured into the cleanup.
“We had a little to do, but not as much as others, so we decided to help” said market founder, Robert LaValva. They sent out emails and plastered posters in the area, and quickly 100 people responded to the call for help. More than 200 volunteers from all over Manhattan turned up on the day. Children and adults alike were all lending a hand.
“Everyone really came together over the week, ” said Matt Heffernan, director of operations at the New Amsterdam Market.
Volunteer Kristen Lepri from Murray Hill works in finance and was helping clear out one of the shops. “I’ve been sleeping on friends’ couches all week, but I can’t complain. People lost so much more than me, so I just wanted to help.”