On the night Hurricane Sandy hit, the storm's massive surge rose almost to the hood of Antonio Tavares' truck parked in front of his family’s home on Van Brunt Street in Red Hook.
“It was a miracle that it started,” Tavares, 27, said. “I just piled everyone in and we got the hell out of there.”
Tavares is glad about one thing, at least.
In the weeks since, Tavares’ truck has been transformed from a means of escape to a refuge of last resort for him, his father, grandmother and cousin, who since the storm have not been able to return to a building their family has called home for five decades.
“We’ve got no other place to go,” he said.
Tavares and members of his extended family now spend their days in their flood-damaged home and their nights in the truck to keep warm.
According to Tavares, the family registered with FEMA — which last week opened a field office at the Red Hook IKEA — over the phone. The last Tavares heard the application still hadn’t been approved.
“They told us to call back tomorrow,” he said.
Tavares said he hoped that FEMA would be able to provide a hotel room for the family, which had decided against going to a city-run shelter due to his grandmother’s concerns about safety.
For now, the family is living under the radar of multiple city agencies.
Tavares said their building’s foundation had a hole six-feet tall and seven-feet wide that prompted the city Department of Buildings to “red-tag” the property. That means that the building is unsafe to be entered or occupied due to damage from the storm.
According to Tavares, a contractor told the family that the building could be saved once they got the money to do the repairs.
A FEMA representative said a family in the Tavares’ situation should go to a Disaster Recovery Center to check on their application.
According to the FEMA rep, applications can take 2 to 4 days to process — or longer if vital information is missing.
On Thursday, Tavares stood outside his family’s ruined building talking with neighbors about the storm.
“Basements flood here all the time,” he said. “But this storm — the water just kept rising. It was crazy."