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On Brooklyn's waterfront, Red Hook learns to cope without power

By Atossa Araxia Abrahamian

BROOKLYN, New York (Reuters) - At the 99 Cent Dreams store in Red Hook, a working-class neighborhood on New York Harbor, Ramon Rodriguez spent part of his Sunday hunting for fresh supplies as the disruptions from superstorm Sandy continued for a second week.

The 70-year-old is one of hundreds in the neighborhood's public housing apartments without heat and power after Sandy's floodwaters swamped the area.

"I feel like I've spent my whole Social Security check on batteries and candles," Rodriguez said. "The power's been out all week."

After Rodriguez paid for supplies, he set out to find ice to keep his freezer cold, but most of the shops nearby were closed.

"The ones that are open are running on generators," Rodriguez said. "At least it's cold enough to leave food outside the windowsill."

Rodriguez lives in a low-rise, public housing building that has been without power since early last week. So far, he has praise for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. government agency that helps storm victims.

"When this is all over, I'm gonna write them a letter saying how great they've been," Rodriguez said. "They gave us fruit, canned food, water."

Out of habit, he punched in a security code at the entrance of his building, only to remember that the intercom was powered by electricity. He pushed the unlocked door and walked in.

Inside, the halls were dark, with tall red candles lighting the corners. Garbage bags piled up by the full garbage chutes.

Rodriguez and his son have kept warm by cooking rice and beans and boiling water on the stove for heat and warm sponge baths.

Many of the neighbors, Rodriguez said, left Red Hook to go to shelters or to stay with relatives, but he decided to stay.

"When I was 6 or 7 years old in Puerto Rico, my grandparents taught me how to live. They got floods and power outages all the time. I know how to take care of myself, but the younger people here, they don't know."

In the same building, George Hernandez, 35, and his girlfriend Dora Gonzales, 29, sat bundled in sweaters and blankets with their dog Oreo.

Hernandez considered staying with relatives in the Bronx, but decided against it when the subways were shut down.

"From here, I can easily get to my job at the Brooklyn Balloon Factory in Sunset Park," he said. "But if I'm way uptown and they call me in, what do I do?"

In some ways, the neighborhood has banded together. Basketball courts and empty lots near the public housing apartments have been filled with food, clothing and water donations.

"We've been lucky," Gonzales said. "People in this building watch out for each other. There's some knuckleheads across the street who act up ... Here we feel safe."

(Editing by Claudia Parsons and Stacey Joyce)

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