Hurricane Sandy’s Custodian Turned Shelter Savior

A woman arrives at an evacuation center for Hurricane Sandy at Seward Park High School on October 28, 2012 in New York City. Andrew Burton / Getty Images

When residents of Manhattan’s Lower East Side fled their homes, Richard Gorgoglione took them in.

For more than four high-adrenaline days, the 51-year-old custodian for the Department of Education served the city, keeping his hand at the helm of one of its 76 hurricane shelters. The work started at 6:45 p.m. on Friday afternoon, unloading supplies. At the height of the storm on Monday evening, a capacity crowd of 1,100 people, as well as some eights dogs, a cat, and a rabbit were in Gorgoglione’s care, spread over five floors in Seward Park High School on Grand Street in Lower Manhattan.

The work was “a little hectic,” the laconic evacuation-center manager said on Monday, about six hours before the storm made landfall. Gorgoglione shared his burden with an equally tireless crew of about 30 city employees and ten civilian volunteers.

When the facility’s lights went dark, the Office of Emergency Management installed a portable generator outside the building. Inside, on green cots stamped in gold with the seal of the City of New York, mothers, husbands, and children slept soundly under blue fleece blankets, because Gorgoglione and his fellow workers did not.

“They had nowhere to go,” Gorgoglione said of the people who left their homes in Evacuation Zone A.

The lifelong New Yorker’s own wife and three adult children rode out the storm safe on higher ground on Staten Island—a consolation for Gorgoglione, for whom the work was nonstop. Three meals a day had to be served, countless questions answered. The only person Gorgoglione didn’t have time for was himself. On Wednesday morning, with about 120 shelterees remaining and volunteers shutting down the shelter’s top floors, there he was, wearing a scraggly three-day beard, still on his feet.