An Upper East Side Building Becomes an Oasis for Its Next-Door Neighbor

At 8 p.m. on Monday, October 29, Scott Falk superintendent of 200 East End Avenue, was worried. He had made all necessary preparations for Hurricane Sandy as his building was designated a Zone A evacuation site. But it wasn't high tide as yet and already the storm surge had caused the FDR to flood. Water was running into the building's garage, located at 90 Street and East End Avenue, filling it with 15 feet of water. The weight of the water collapsed the cinder block wall to the boiler room and the sea water gushed in.

"In a few minutes we had about a million gallons of water in there," said Falk. "The sea water came in like an avalanche, flooding the whole basement. And then we had a series of small explosions going on down there."

After turning off the power, Falk at 8:30 p.m., contacted the NYPD who asked him to evacuate the building citing concerns of an explosion. With the help of building employees he began moving people out. The elderly who lived on higher floors were carried down and soon people were on the street in one of the worst, blusterous nights on record with nowhere to go.

"We called the police but they told us we were on our own at that point because there was a catastrophe going on downtown and they were consumed," said Falk.

So Falk approached his next-door neighbor, 180 East End Avenue, located between 88 and 89 Street and on higher ground, to see if they could accommodate some of his building tenants. Sometimes it takes a disaster to bond people and to his surprise the building welcomed everyone.

"After I heard that the restraining wall that protected the boiler had broken down, I knew they were not getting back into their place," said Daniel Feigin, 180 East End Avenue resident and board member. "So I went out and told them all to come into 180. We also started to call shareholders to see who could take in people for the night."

By 9 p.m. Faigin said the lobby was filled with about 150 people and their pets. Everyone was very anxious but he was touched to see the amount of support shown by shareholders.

"Everybody bought chairs down," said Feigin. "Some people bought down dog food, coffee, water and we had energy bars. Someone started manning the phones and literally over the next hour people were adopting families along with their dogs and cats. By 11 p.m. nearly everyone had a place for the night."

The remaining dozen or so were outfitted in the community room and gym where blow-up beds and mattresses were arranged along with pillows, sheets and blankets. Faigin and his wife took in an elderly couple who he said were really nice.

"Everybody was incredibly appreciative and very surprised," said Feigin. "They didn't know how to handle the good-will. People were grabbing me by the arm and saying 'thank you so much.'"

There are currently trucks in front of 200 East End Avenue pumping out the garage water. The lobby had a strong oil stench and one could see oil floating on the East River the following day. Falk says it will take his building about 7 to 14 business days to power up temporarily. Most of the equipment in the building including phone and electrical systems will have to be replaced.

"Everything has to come out," said Falk. "We are ground zero right now. But we will survive, we are New Yorkers."

Falk thinks it will take about a year to straighten out everything in his boiler room and to plan and rebuild the basement to minimize such an occurrence in the future. For now his tenants are living with friends and in hotels. Since there is no gas leak, some tenants are braving it out and staying in the building, even though there is no plumbing or electricity.

Feigin said he and his shareholders thank their stars that their building escaped the surge. It minutely did as the water was just 80 feet from the building. But he feels a sense of gratitude for living in the building.

"Sometimes I wonder if people on the Upper East Side are looking out for others," said Feigin. "After yesterday, you could tell from people's eyes that we have built bonds that will last. These people are all going to do something kind for someone else in return."