Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

Home Almost One Year Later, Lower Manhattan Woman Still Displaced From Home
Jill Scott, NY1, September 4, 2002

    After the attack on the World Trade Center, thousands of New Yorkers were displaced from their homes. And while most have now returned, that's not quite the case for tenants of one building. Last year NY1 introduced you to Elena Del Rivero, an artist who lived less than 200 feet from the World Trade Center. At the time, she was displaced, only returning to her apartment to collect whatever could be salvaged. Now, one year later, she's still not home.
    “We have been dismantled completely,” Del Rivero said. “We are displaced. We are still dealing with the Red Cross, with FEMA, and with all these agencies that people have gone beyond.”
    With the upcoming anniversary, many people are focusing on remembrance and rebuilding. But for Del Rivero, recovery is still a part of her everyday life. At her new studio several blocks away, she works every day to clean and restore her artwork and the few personal items that were saved. “The boxes are some personal belongings that I found in the debris that I wanted to salvage but I had no time to sort it out there,” she said. “Everything was with bunks and chunks of stones and fiberglass.”
    In a sealed room in her new home, she works to decontaminate her belongings, but the task seems never-ending. Her old apartment on Cedar Street was so close to the towers the impact of the plane blew out all her windows. Then, the collapse filled her home with debris. The dust penetrated everything: the inside of her cassettes, the gears of her husbands cameras, even the paper her artwork was printed on.
    And now, even though her old apartment is vacant, some debris remains. When she visits for long periods of time, she still needs to wear a mask. Her husband, who has developed severe asthma, cannot go back at all. “The air quality is very bad,” she said. “They don’t know if it’s level mercury or lead. You have to wear a mask.”
    Starting in mid-September, the EPA is expected to seal the building so it can be cleaned and then tested. Then the landlord will first have to begin renovations, which means Del Rivero may not be able to return to her apartment for months. But even then, she said she may never be able to work here again. “I am going to go back and live there, but I am afraid I will not be able to work there because it’s too powerful, what is outside,” she said. “Wherever I look I have that cemetery there all the time.”
    And even if she goes back to live, there are still concerns. The Deutch Bank building right next door could be torn down. And if it is, she fears her apartment will be re-contaminated. Del Rivero said while she lost so much, she is grateful to be alive. And no matter how long it takes, she said, eventually, she will overcome this challenge. But for now, armed with a small vacuum and a strong will, she is determined to restore the elements of her life – one piece at a time.


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