Superstorm Sandy: Home Is Still a Hotel Room on 1st Anniversary

PHOTO: Cherell Manuel and her fiancé pose in their hotel room. Right, their daughter, Najh’ja, 7, relaxes in her play corner at the hotel.PlayCourtesy Cherell Manuel
WATCH Superstorm Sandy by the Numbers

Until a year ago today, when Superstorm Sandy unleashed its fury on the East Coast, home for Cherell Manuel and her family was a two-story house in the Far Rockaway neighborhood of New York City.

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But after Manuel, 46, watched the family home fill with raging waters, home is now a transient concept.

Manuel and her family -- fiancé Lester and daughters Tajiri, 23, Diamond, 22, and Najh'ja, 7 -- have since lived in a shelter and bounced around various hotels in Manhattan, piling their belongings into standard-sized rooms that measure a few hundred square feet.

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Najh’ja poses on her 7th birthday in the hallway of the Manhattan hotel where she has been living with her family.Courtesy Cherell Manuel
Najh’ja poses on her 7th birthday in the hallway of the Manhattan hotel where she has been living with her family.

After city officials said last month they would stop paying for the rooms, the Red Cross and other donors stepped in to foot the bill.

"We're living day by day because we don't know what day they're going to tell us to leave the hotel," Manuel told "It's been a stressful journey."

MORE: Full Coverage From WABC on Hurricane Sandy

Manuel's household is one of an estimated 150, out of several thousand initially, that are still displaced in city hotels one year after the storm, according to Adriene Holder, attorney in charge for the Legal Aid Society in New York.

PHOTO: A photo of Manuel’s bathroom in Far Rockaway, Queens, which was destroyed by flood waters during Hurricane Sandy.Courtesy Cherell Manuel
A photo of Manuel’s bathroom in Far Rockaway, Queens, which was destroyed by flood waters during Hurricane Sandy.

Many of them are waiting to find out if they'll be approved for two-year housing vouchers from the city to help them pay the rent and get back on their feet, Holder said.

"We really want to see all of them get re-established because there is no need for people to have to go into the shelter system," Holder said. "We believe there are resources out there to get them properly placed."

Those Still Displaced Face Tough Reality

Going back to the what they had before the storm may be a dream for many displaced families, according to Peter Gudaitis, a nonprofit New York Disaster Interfaith Services administrator, but it's not a reality.

"Many were renters. And many want to stay in neighborhood where their jobs and families or support systems are located," he said. "The reality is they won't be able to."

He said a smaller housing stock in affected areas has driven up rent prices, making it difficult for people to return to their pre-Sandy neighborhoods and recapture the lives they had before the storm.

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Frustrated with case workers, Manuel said she has taken a proactive approach to finding a place for her family to live. The unemployed mom said she's close to signing on a place in Far Rockaway, the Queens neighborhood she called home before Sandy smashed the peninsula as a downgraded superstorm after initially reaching hurricane strength.

"It would be a sigh of relief," she said. "Because through this whole ordeal, it's been nothing but stress."

Hotel Holidays

It has been a year of "making it work" for Manuel and her family.

After spending four weeks in a shelter, Manuel and her family moved into a Midtown Manhattan hotel for four and a half months.

Without a kitchen in their hotel room, Manuel said she took her family to Thanksgiving dinner at Red Lobster. At Christmas, there were presents, but they were placed under a much-smaller tree nestled in the corner of the room.

"We tried to make it happen, mainly for my daughter," she said. "I wanted to make sure my baby enjoyed the holiday no matter where we were."

Around March, Manuel said, the city moved them a few blocks to their current hotel in Times Square.

"We are living out of bags, because we get tired of unpacking and packing every time they keep moving us," she said.

While Manuel's fiancé works as an aviation industry contractor, she said she has tried to keep the family afloat, looking for places to live and helping to shuttle Najh'ja to her second-grade class each day in Far Rockaway.

After the long commute home, Manuel said her little girl likes to relax in a corner of their hotel room where she keeps all her toys. She hopes Najh'ja will soon have a room of her home.

"I buy her stuff and make sure she has little toys and cartoons and we try to take her out to the movies to keep her entertained and happy," Manuel said.

"But at the end of the day, she wants her own room. She always talks about it."