Rockville Centre tenants: Village mishandled apartment building outage

Official says protocols were followed before and while electricity was restored


Residents of the 84-unit apartment building at 350 Merrick Road say a power outage last month left them in the heat and the dark for hours, and that village officials did not properly keep them updated on the situation, leaving elderly people and those with disabilities in danger.

On Aug. 8, an electrical power outage began in the afternoon after a fire in a nearby manhole, according to Sandra Schaub, 74, a resident of the building. Village Administrator Kathleen Murray confirmed the outage on that day, noting that there was an explosion in a manhole caused by a fire on an electric line that ran from Star Cleaners — adjacent to 350 Merrick Road — under the street.

Barbara Siegl, 68, was in her first-floor apartment when the power went out sometime between 2 and 3 p.m., she recalled. She saw Rockville Centre’s fire department and electric department outside her window responding to the emergecny.

The departments then left, she said, and there was still no power. “Nobody’s come to our door, nobody’s acknowledged us,” she recalled.

Siegl, who said she has heart problems, blood clots and other health issues, began getting nervous and called her doctor, who urged her to get to a place with air conditioning. With no directions to evacuate the building, she decided to stay, noting that Schaub had told her that workers outside estimated power would be restored in about an hour.

“If she hadn’t gone down and checked things out … we wouldn’t have known anything,” Siegl said of Schaub.

But after assessing the damage, Murray said, the village contacted the building’s superintendent, Ken Roseboom, to let him know that it would be “quite some time” before power could be restored.

“There were several conversations between our staff and the superintendent in the apartment building during the outage,” Murray said. “Typically, we would not go to every apartment to notify individual tenants in somebody else’s building.”

Schaub said by 6 p.m. the building was in darkness, including the two main stairwells and the hallways. “The temperature was almost 100 degrees and had a matching humidity,” she wrote to the Herald in a letter. “It was very difficult for the tenants on the second and third floors to breathe.”

The village obtained a portable generator from the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management, Murray said, and hooked it up about 5 or 6 hours after the outage began. Most power was restored at about 8 p.m., according to tenants. The electric lines were fixed and the building returned to the village’s electric grid about 14 hours later, Murray said.

“Thank God for cold water and a lot of washcloths, because I just kept pouring the cold water on me to cool my body temperature down,” Siegl said. “If I ever hear something like this is going to happen again, I’m going to call 911 to get out of here, because I cannot put my body through what we went through.”

Siegl and Schaub said they were disappointed that emergency responders did not seek to notify residents of progress or help evacuate any tenants, specifically Siegl, who has trouble moving.

Murray said that the fire department has a list of people on life support that they check on in situations like this, but that nobody at 350 Merrick Road was on that list. She also noted that the village’s Sandel Senior Center and the John A. Anderson Recreation Center routinely act as cooling centers for those struggling with the summer heat.

“If anybody called us and said I need help getting out, we could have provided help getting out,” she said, “but we don’t proactively go knocking on doors to ask if anybody needs help. We feel that’s the management company’s responsibility.”

Roseboom said he contacted the village when the power went out and that they informed him of the situation. They did not give him an exact timetable of when power could be restored, he said, but he noted the village handled the outage “pretty well.” Murray said the village does not make any promises about when power might be restored until they are certain.

Residents that called Roseboom received an update of what he knew, he said. A fire chief made sure the building was safe, he added, and emergency lighting went on temporarily during the outage.

“I wish I had a generator in the building, because this way I could just turn it on and give everyone their juice. I can’t,” he said. “I do my best. …I want [the tenants] to be happy.”

Schaub said her phone call to Mayor Francis X. Murray’s office to discuss ways to restore communication between the village and the tenants in the future was not returned. She is still waiting for an apology.

“No one at 350 Merrick Road, their family or friends will forget this incident when the next village elections occur,” Schaub wrote to the Herald.

Mayor Murray and Phil Andreas, superintendent of the village’s electric department, were not available to comment for this story.