Compared to other Sandy-hit outer borough enclaves, one month after landfall, Gerritsen Beach—a tiny old-school neighborhood in southeast Brooklyn—is looking pretty good. The streets are clear of debris. Last week, residents finally got their power turned back on. But step inside one of the nabe’s one-level bungalows, or into the basements of one of its small split-level jobs, and a scarier picture emerges. Wherever there was water, and in most cases, homes here were flooded up to five feet, its owners are busy stripping their ceilings and walls to fight a common enemy that seems to have taken hold everywhere: mold.
Yesterday, retired firefighter Charles Rojas and his son spent hours in surgical masks reducing his one-level house to beams–ripping up the last of the floorboards (leaving a completely gutted, unlivable domicile) so the mold could be killed with chemicals. “You shouldn’t even be in here,” he warned me, pointing at greenish-white build up caked around the floor. “This stuff is dangerous.”
Because Gerritsen Beach lies in what was designated “Zone B” many homeowners here did not have flood insurance, and they have yet to receive checks for the property they were indemnified for. Some have received FEMA payments though to offset costs. With the exception of some valuable help from Rapid Repair—a free city run program—for an evacuated elderly neighbor, everyone I spoke to was doing their own renovation and repairs.
“I can’t wait to figure out what’s going on [with insurance and FEMA],” said Rojas’ neighbor, Matthew Walker, who was taking a break from another day stripping down what was formerly a fully finished pinewood basement. Such Do-it-yourself jobs could potentially be dangerous when it comes to mold, he says: “People think bleach kills the mold, but it doesn’t.” And: “A lot of people are going to wind up sick.” Walker himself uses a preparation of vinegar, peroxide and chloride acid that he learned about “off the internet.” In a bid to clean out the mold that had sprouted throughout his basement, he had already gutted it and replaced every underlying 2×4, with the exception of a few load-bearing beams.
Despite all his efforts however, Walker is still able to point to patches of mold in his basement. Some of his neighbors are already suffering from “nosebleeds and memory loss,” which he attributes to side effects from breathing in the stuff. “And black mold can kill,” he adds worriedly. “We’re kind of fucked.”
(Video: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)