Stories

Brooklyn West Indians shrug at storm’s fury

Dollar vans roll through Flatbush past open stores, carrying passengers who've 'seen a lot of hurricanes"

Raymond Henry on Monday at his open Flatbush bakery, which had plans to keep open through the evening. Photo: Maura R. O’Connor

In Haiti there is a proverb: Ayisyen swiv kouran, meaning “Haitians follow the flow.”

As Hurricane Sandy gained strength and power Monday afternoon and city residents bunkered down with flashlights and bottled water, residents of Brooklyn’s West Indian enclaves seemed to take the saying to heart and were demonstrating a decidedly relaxed attitude towards the storm.

“My father’s in Haiti and he told me the public hospital flooded,” said Medgine Emile, 30, who emigrated to New York five years ago from the Caribbean country where Hurricane Sandy took the lives of 49 people last week.

Flatbush bustled Monday even as other parts of the city shut down. Photo: Maura R. O’Connor

 

Emile, a resident of Flatbush and a patient care technician at a senior care center nearby, seemed unimpressed by the hurricane, buying groceries as usual even as 60 mph winds whipped down the street. “I’ve seen a lot of hurricanes,” she explained.

On Monday, West Indian fish markets, bakeries, video stores and wig shops were open for business. And to get her food, Emile rode in one of Brooklyn’s ubiquitous “dollar vans,” the borough’s black market transit system.

The vans, estimated to transport around 120,000 passengers on a normal day, appeared to have a smaller number of riders than usual on Monday but were staying open for business even as the city’s mass transit systems — including subways, buses, ferries and regional trains — had shut down.

“We’re not going to stop,” said Alister Cyrus, 58, as he drove his green Ford van down Flatbush Avenue and towards Grand Army Plaza. “All I see right now are some trees falling and this and that. If  I feel I’m not making money, then I’ll leave.”

Cyrus has been driving passengers around Brooklyn for nearly 20 years, ever since he moved from his birthplace, Grenada. In his view — informed by experience of “hundreds” of hurricanes — the storm just provides a good scrubbing for the city.

With buses and subways out, Alister Cyrus and other dollar-van drivers had a mass-transit monopoly Monday. Photo: Maura R. O’Connor

“It cleans the streets,” he said. “God knows what he’s doing.”

Meanwhile, the Jamaican Pride Bakery on Clarkson Avenue was doing brisk business in beef patties and potato pudding. Owner Raymond Henry, 54, planned on staying open through the evening before driving home to Canarsie.

“This is something I’ve been through before,” he said. ‘We’ll play it by the wind.”