This is the second in a series of profiles of New York area residents whose worlds were upended by Superstorm Sandy.
Sandy's wrath turned the Staten Island street where Carlos Cruz lives into a river. Carlos (above) watched in disbelief as cars bobbed like toys on the wind-whipped waves. Stranded in a second-story rental apartment, with food rotting in the fridge and freezing temperatures threatening his fragile health, he and his son lived on Spam and Vienna sausages. Rescue boats had come by, so Carlos' wife had gotten out and gone to stay with their daughter and her family in a New York suburb. But Carlos was afraid to leave the apartment empty because of a fear of looting.
See also: AARP Foundation Relief Fund
Day by day, the stash of canned goods dwindled. Worse yet, so did Carlos' supply of insulin. By Friday, he was down to one dose but he didn't have enough money to renew his prescription. Medicare had sent him a letter saying he had reached his limit of payments so the copayment was raised to $95.
"I only had $25 left in my bank account," says Carlos, a 65-year-old Filipino immigrant. "I use a debit card and I don't have any credit cards. I never could get a steady job so I worked in marketing for various places. I don't have savings."
Carlos' Social Security wasn't due to come until the following Wednesday and his wife's would come a week after that. His son didn't have any cash flow, either. He works as a DJ in Lower Manhattan and only gets paid if he has gigs.
Carlos tried calling his doctor's office and got the answering machine. Then he called the Red Cross but he couldn't get through. "That's when my son said we had to go to Starbucks and search the Internet," Carlos said. "Our one saving grace was that I did have my car and some gas. I had left the car in Queens when I drove to a prayer meeting before the storm. A friend brought it to me after the water went down enough that the roads were passable."
Carlos says he had never been to a WiFi hot spot before and his son helped him. "We found a number for the Beacon Christian Community Health Center," he said. "The medical director herself answered the phone! I couldn't believe it. Dr. Janet Kim is her name, and she is the nicest person. After I told her my situation, I went in so she could check my sugar. She said I could get my insulin at Walgreen's through a sliding scale program for only $2. Then she loaded my car with free cleaning materials. I called my other daughter in New Jersey and asked her to get some donations for gas so I can drive around and hand out supplies to my neighbors."
His daughter came through. She called back to report that she had raised $20 to send to him. "I'm the only one around here who still has a car," Carlos says. "This must be God's way of letting me give back."
See other parts of the Surviving Sandy series:
- 'I Thought My Mother Was Going to Die'
- '10 Years of Hard Work and Sacrifice ... Gone'
- 'We Thought We Were Safe This Time'
- 'I Raised My Hand'
Photo: Anna Solo