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Carroll Gardens Neighbors Rally Around Fallen Tree

On 4th Place between Court and Clinton Streets, a story of inspiration and friendship emerges after the storm that wrecked New York City


It was late at night when Gina Vutera's dog woke her up in the middle of Hurricane Sandy. Wondering what her terrier was barking at, she looked out the window just in time to watch a large maple tree in front of her Carroll Gardens brownstone hit the sidewalk with an ominous boom.

And it brought a power line with it.

"Immediately we were very concerned because we had water, snapped lines and the possibility of an electrical fire," Vutera recalled, her eyes growing wide. 

The next morning, as she and neighbors surveyed the situation from their stoops, Vutera's dog Gino hopped down to her patio and was zapped by the fence running around 90 4th Place—it had become electrified.

"That's when things became really scary," she said.

What happened next is evidence of how the system of agencies in New York City can become clogged during emergency situations like a hurricane. But it is also a testament to the power of neighborliness in trying times.

The local fire department was called to the scene at 4th Place. But upon arriving, responders said their hands were tied: The FDNY isn't permitted to touch Con Edison's lines.

"I slept with a fire extinguisher," said Vutera. "We had live wires: Anybody at any time could have been hurt. This had the potential of being a really serious situation."

On Wednesday morning Con Edison showed up and the service crew cut the cable. But Vutera was told the energy provider couldn't run a new line to her 3-unit brownstone until a pipe ripped out by the storm was fixed by a contractor and until the downed maple tree was removed.

The NYC Parks Department was overwhelmed with fallen trees all over Brooklyn and the Sanitation Department will only remove branches if they are torn from the main trunk. So the tree remained in the street and the power remained off.

"They basically told us to take a number," said Yigal Rechtman, who lives across the street from Vutera. 

Four days after the storm, as most of Carroll Gardens began to resume a sense of normalcy, the residents of 90 4th Place were still living without utilities.

But instead of complaining, Vutera preferred to focus on how her neighbors came to her aid over the last week.

"I had people coming to my house 10 p.m. at night asking me if I was ok, if I needed anything," she said. "Someone asked, 'Do you need food for the dog?' 'Do you need soup? ...Or to take a shower?'"

Another who was out of town had a tenant walk over with keys, in case Vutera wanted to stay down the block. Rechtman unlocked his wi-fi for neighbors without Internet service to access his network.

"We were all in it together," she said. "That is how it always used to be and that is what we have tried to preserve on this block. These events really bring the best out of people."

A cup of tea, a conversation, a helping hand—all of these things made it easier to weather the storm, Vutera told Patch. As of Friday aternoon, part of the tree appeared to have been removed. But power had not yet been restored to the affected homes on 4th Place.

With a Nor'easter anticipated to hit New York City this week, Vutera did not expect that particular challenge to be resolved any time soon. But she continued to find inspiration in knowing she is never alone.

"I encourage people to get to know who their neighbors are," she said. "It's easy to get caught up online and disconnected from those actually around you. But we were all here for one another because we know each other outside of the Internet."

Any residents with photographs of the damaged tree are asked to send them to gvutera@yahoo.com for documentation.

Carole G. November 06, 2012 at 02:05 AM
SHOULD the residents of: Carroll Gardens/Gowanus/Boerum Hill/Red Hook remove the Superfunded Gowanus Canal gunk/floodwaters/flood debris left by Hurricane Sandy themselves? HOW??http://carrollgardenspetition.blogspot.com/2012/11/how-should-residents-clean-up-after.html

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