NEW YORK — Maria Gonzalez, 17, and her family have lived in Brooklyn since emigrating from Mexico when she was only four. Her younger brothers, Jerry, 10, and Junior, five, were born here. For years, they have rented a windowless basement apartment in a rundown house near the Gowanus Canal, one of the most hazardous polluted sites in the United States.
When the hurricane blew through Monday, it flooded the family's apartment a meter deep, with water from the overflowing canal. The family had piled its beds and couch on top of tables and chairs, but it wasn't high enough. The water filled the apartment. Even the refrigerator had fallen over and was floating in the living room. Junior started crying when he saw his book bag was ruined.
"We knew the water would come in, because even in casual rains, it comes in here. But we didn't think it would be so bad to ruin everything we had," Maria said.
"We took outside yesterday, all the mattresses, because everything got ruined. You can come into my room to see how bad it is. The TV got ruined. Everything's wet."
She points at a cupboard on the wall. "I had this filled with books, and it fell apart. I had to throw all my schoolbooks and all my textbooks in the garbage because they were all soaked. They're all like this. You can't even open it, turn the pages or anything."
But the fish tank, filled with pristine water for the family's tropical fish, made it through. They're a note of incongruous color in the devastated apartment, like the cheerful paintings and photographs on the walls.
"We were so worried about them, because we didn't know how high the water was, and we didn't know if they were swimming alone in the water or were still in the tank," Maria said. "The electricity was out for a while, so they had no oxygen."
Maria and her parents, Rodrigo and Carmen, spent the first day pumping out their home. The boys helped.
"I was very scared when the storm came because I didn't know what was going to happen," Jerry said. As the apartment began to flood, he said, the family left to sleep at a relative's second-floor apartment a few doors away. The family is still sleeping there, on blankets on the floor.
"The water was up to half the door and we had to get buckets and take out all the water," Jerry said of their return home the next day. "Until we opened the door and we saw the refrigerator floating on the water."
Now the Gonzalezes are trying to get it clean enough to live in again. The kitchen sink broke, so they have only the sink in the bathroom. Their landlord stopped by Tuesday, Maria said, and told them the family was responsible for making the repairs.
"He's actually been raising the rent and he's starting to charge us more and saying he wants to kick us out and he wants to take us out of here," Maria said.
Carmen is now out of work because her workplace in a small factory also flooded. Rodrigo's job as a waiter in a bar doesn't bring in enough to cover all the family's expenses.
Maria knows there is no way she can afford the $500 needed for her senior graduation trip and formal dance. It was due the day of the hurricane. But now her family needs to buy new mattresses, at a minimum.
"I mean like we have to replace everything before we can even [think about how to] pay that. And then you have college applications and you have to pay for all of that, and then you have to start saving up for college," Maria said, beginning to tear up. "But I'm like, that's the least of our worries right now, we just have to get our house back together and try to do the best we can."
The Gonzalezes hope to be able to live again in the home at least for a while. Carmen Gonzalez thinks it will be hard to find anything else they can afford. But she says that they can't really afford their current rent, either.