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Low-Income New Yorkers Struggle After Sandy


With power still out in large parts of the city, life for New Yorkers with limited resources is getting tougher. From member station WNYC, Marianne McCune has the story of one woman getting by in a public housing complex on the Lower East Side.

MARIANNE MCCUNE, BYLINE: I was already reporting nearby when I got an email from a friend of a friend of a friend looking for someone to check on his aunt, just eight blocks away in a complex called LaGuardia Houses. So I headed there as a journalist and as a neighbor. Her apartment is in among acres of 16-story, red-brick buildings. Without power, there's no elevator here, no phones, no water, and Margaret Maynard lives on the eighth floor.


MCCUNE: Margaret? I explain to Mrs. Maynard that her nephew wants to know if she's OK.

MARGARET MAYNARD: I'm OK so far, only there's no water, no...

MCCUNE: Do you want to call your relatives on my phone? Wearing slippers and layers of house dresses and sweaters, Maynard says she's fine despite the fact that no one has knocked on her door or been able to call until now.

MAYNARD: I'm 87 years old.

MCCUNE: She has a radio with batteries. She's been eating crackers and orange juice and has other canned and boxed foods.

MAYNARD: Let me get a phone book.

MCCUNE: She can't reach her sister, so she gives me the number of Doris George(ph) in Harlem, the maid of honor at her wedding 60 years ago. Oh, it's ringing.




MAYNARD: There's a reporter from the news helping me out here.

GEORGE: So what do you want to do now?

MAYNARD: Well, I can't do nothing.

MCCUNE: The two start to go back and forth, arguing about whether Mrs. Maynard should leave.

MAYNARD: I can't come down the steps because all the lights are out. What am I going to do? You know I can't walk too good.

GEORGE: But you can't stay there like that, Margaret.


GEORGE: Oh, Lord.

MAYNARD: I don't want to go to no shelter.

GEORGE: Listen, stop being hard-headed.

MAYNARD: I ain't hard-headed.

MCCUNE: The only thing she's really worried about is figuring out a way to flush the toilet.

MAYNARD: I go to flush it and I don't want it to flow - overflow now because that would be another mess.


MCCUNE: That would be another mess.

MAYNARD: Another mess.

MCCUNE: The stairwell going down is black. You see nothing if you don't have a light, and the people going down ahead of me don't.

Everything OK?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No, because we don't have no light.

MCCUNE: Here, I have my phone for a flashlight. I can come down with you guys.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: OK, can you come in front of us?

MCCUNE: My phone dies. Then suddenly, another light appears below us. It's Jesse Kent.

JESSE KENT: They are selling $3 flashlights up the block in there.

MCCUNE: All right.


MCCUNE: How are you guys doing?

KENT: Bad, everybody doing bad over here. There should have been an emergency water truck over here. They didn't see if we had any food or anything, you know? The supermarkets don't really want to sell anything. They opened, but if you don't have cash, you're messed up.

MCCUNE: Many residents here rely on food stamp cards, but without electricity, the stores won't accept them.

All right. I'm walking up to a fire hydrant, and people are filling all kinds of bottles with water from the hydrant.

CARMEN CORTEZ: We need to flush those toilets.

MCCUNE: For Carmen Cortez...

CORTEZ: It's about survival.

MCCUNE: By evening, things have changed for Margaret Maynard. That call to her best friend, it started a chain reaction - sister talked to nephew talked to grandkids, and now, she's with family in Queens. For NPR News, I'm Marianne McCune in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Marianne McCune
Marianne McCune is a reporter and producer for Embedded: Buffalo Extreme who has more than two decades of experience making award-winning audio stories. She has produced narrative podcast series for New York Magazine (Cover Story), helped start, produce and edit long-form narrative shows for NPR and public radio affiliates (Rough Translation; United States of Anxiety, Season Four), reported locally and internationally (NPR News, NPR's Planet Money and WNYC News) and produced groundbreaking narrative audio tours (SF MOMA, Detour). She is also the founder of Radio Rookies, a narrative youth radio series, that is still thriving at WNYC.