Life in a Storm Shelter in Brooklyn

By early evening on Saturday, an evacuation center set up in a middle school in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, was nearly full of people seeking shelter from the storm. Some of them had arrived on Friday — leaving areas of the city that officials had warned were likely to see heavy rain and flooding.

Some of those seeking shelter at the school, Charles O. Dewey, on Fourth Avenue, were leery about what they would find at the center. But several people said it was not as bad as they had expected, even if the tuna fish sandwiches and the chicken nuggets were all that was available to eat.

For much of Saturday afternoon, a group of about 20 children played in one room and watched a movie while their parents napped or read. In one hallway, four girls played a game as two little boys raced each other down another hallway. Teenagers played on laptops and worked on a dance routine. After dinner, they watched a movie in one classroom.

Larger families were given their own spaces in classrooms on different floors, while those in the school’s gym carved out their own spaces. The main area was divided into two, each with about six rows of 12 cots.

Jennifer Gonzalez’s family claimed 13 of those. Among her two sisters, two brothers-in-law and herself, there were eight children. Three of them were hers, ages 10, 9 and 3.

“When you hear the word ‘evacuation center,’ you have little flashes of bad things from movies,” said Ms. Gonzalez, who lives in Coney Island, one of the low-lying areas in that were under the city’s mandatory evacuation order. “But it’s better than I thought.”

Ms. Gonzalez had packed three days’ worth of clothes for her family and one big suitcase full of food: peanut butter and jelly, oatmeal, hamburgers from Burger King and Chinese food, among other things.

“We could stay here for a whole week, girl!” she said. Her children were like lion cubs; come evening, the boys were wrestling shirtless on a cot. One slipped and got a bloody nose.

To pass the time, Azadeh Lassman, who lives in Coney Island, made a deck of cards for herself out of scraps of paper, and she taught a man on the cot across from her a simple trick, though she spoke English and he only spoke Spanish.

Families arrived well into the night; a group of six walked in at 9:37 p.m. Around 10 p.m., a police officer walked into the gym, which was emptying as families moved upstairs to sleeping quarters. He asked: “Does anyone need families checked on? Or neighbors looked in on?”

No one took him up on the offer — most of them were from Coney Island — but people talk about how nice the volunteers were.

Many are teachers and have the kind manner of a grandmother. When I walked in, they handed me a bag of free toiletries — baby powder, Kleenex, toothbrush, shampoo and other items — and a blue blanket bearing the official New York City seal. They also warned me about cockroaches, which everyone here had seen and were huge.

By midnight, just about everyone in the gym were sleeping, and the lights were off. People started moving again by 6:30 a.m., woken by the light but not the rain, which did not sound fierce here. The fans placed around the gym were louder than anything else.

By noon on Sunday, the center was starting to empty as people found ways to get home, even if the city’s public transit system was still shut down.

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