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Rotting Mangoes Find Home in Garbage as New York City Cleans Up

Rotting Mangoes Find Home in Garbage as New York City Cleans Up
Employees dispose of spoiled food from a Trader Joe's grocery store on Sixth Avenue in New York. Photograph: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Dozens of green shopping carts filled with ruined food -- bananas, mangoes, lettuce -- were unloaded into garbage trucks in the parking lot of Fairway Market, a grocery near the water’s edge in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn.

The scene yesterday in one of the areas hardest hit by superstorm Sandy is playing out across the five boroughs, as the most populous U.S. city cleans up from the damage inflicted by hurricane-force winds and storm surge that reached a record 14 feet. The majority of Red Hook’s waterfront warehouses and port facilities are in the city’s high-risk flood zone.

“Today was more about trying to get the community back on its feet, rather than business,” said Matt Lewis, co-owner of Baked, a bakery on the neighborhood’s main street. In an area still mostly blacked out, it was one of the few businesses with power and able to open. The tables were filled with customers using laptops and recharging phones from power strips.

New York, a city of 8 million, is reeling after the storm inundated transit tunnels and underground utilities Oct. 29. Sandy, the largest tropical system measured in the Atlantic, killed at least 90 people in the U.S., including at least 38 New Yorkers, and knocked out power to as many as 8.5 million homes and businesses along the East Coast.

Throughout Red Hook, residents and business owners spoke of the community spirit that was bringing people out to ask how they could help clean up. Generators noisily powered pumps emptying water out of basements along Van Brunt Street, the main shopping area.

‘Typical’ NY

“Typical New York City stuff -- everybody’s helping each other out,” said Ralph Gorham, owner of the Red Hook Lobster Pound. By flashlight, he showed the damage to the store’s food truck, parked in the company’s commissary across the street. There was still seawater in a box that held metal pots.

Closer to the water’s edge, workers at Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies had just arrived to assess the damage. Work stations, equipment and frozen desserts were scattered through the kitchen.

Steve Tarpin, the owner, said the shock of the storm devastated him and his neighbors. The first thing they did was drink heavily, he said, along with “most of the neighborhood.”

“You can quote me on that,” he said, standing amid the ruin of his shop. “Then we sobered up” and began to rebuild.

Tarpin’s food losses were limited -- a fortunate aspect of making fresh pies, he said. As he spoke, a worker tossed graham cracker crusts into the garbage. At the same time, new equipment was ruined, including a machine delivered only a few weeks ago, he said.

Back on Van Brunt Street, city sanitation workers collected debris and garbage. About a dozen people stood outside an art gallery, awaiting a community meeting to plan the next steps in the neighborhood recovery.

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