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My family lived next to the NYC garage collapse — we were completely displaced and had to rebuild from the ground up

Just back from a family vacation in England, Suzanne Cohen was still unpacking — when she heard an earth-shattering boom.

Then came screaming sirens. She raced downstairs. “It looked like every cop and fire truck in New York was there,” swarming in the narrow Financial District street, she told The Post.

Her family of five lived next door to the Ann Street garage, which collapsed just over a year ago.

Their lives were upended, as they were forced from their home indefinitely. The saving grace was that their possessions — except for their car — were undestroyed.

“I can’t even explain the feeling, thinking you could have had a building fall down on top of you,” Suzanne, a freelance photographer who also blogs at Gotham Love, said.

‘Tough New York City folks’

When the family moved to Fidi a dozen years ago, the neighborhood was primarily a business district. Taxis were few, as were weekend trains. With three growing kids, their Pathfinder — parked next door — made it easy to visit relatives in the suburbs.

The family had just returned from a family vacation in England when the parking garage collapsed in Lower Manhattan. Emmy Park for N.Y.Post
The Cohens’ apartment, in the rear of their building, was adjacent to the L-shaped collapsed garage, but not to the part that collapsed. Joe Marino/NY Post
The Cohens’ possessions — except for their car — were undestroyed. Gabriella Bass

The family divided their 1,400-square-foot, one-bathroom loft space with temporary walls. The girls shared a room with bunk beds, and their teenage son had “the equivalent of a closet in the ‘burbs,” Adam said. “It was cozy to say the least, but we were tough New York City folks.” Their monthly rent ended up at $5,200.

In the collapse, five people were injured. The garage manager, 59-year-old Willis Moore, whose NYPD cop daughter was pregnant at the time of the collapse, was killed.

“This is a guy I knew,” Adam, a pioneering dad blogger known as Dada Rocks who works in marketing for a nonprofit, said with dismay. “We would joke; we talked about our kids.”

The Cohens’ 12-unit building was issued an immediate vacate order, leaving Suzanne and Adam, both in their 40s, and their tween children displaced.

Many cars were crushed. “They had to get them out with a claw thing,” Suzanne Cohen said. William Farrington
In the collapse, five people were injured. The garage manager, 59-year-old Willis Moore, whose NYPD cop daughter was pregnant at the time of the collapse, was killed. William Farrington
“I can’t even explain the feeling, thinking you could have had a building fall down on top of you,” Suzanne said. Courtesy of the Cohen Family

The Red Cross, which helps people right after a disaster, offered two nights in a faraway hotel. “That wasn’t helping me get the kids to school the next day,” Adam said. (Red Cross assistance depends on individual circumstances, needs and resources, a spokesman told The Post.)

After that, the family could go to a city shelter.

Instead, they opted for a few days at a hotel downtown and then crammed in with a Westchester relative.

They left for school at 6 a.m. Adam would drop Marc, now 15, at high school, and then drive Harper, 11, and Harlow, 8, to their school downtown. “If we left 5 minutes late, we hit traffic and missed morning bell,” he said.

‘Innuendo and rumor’

The Cohens’ 12-unit building was issued an immediate vacate order. REUTERS
The Cohen family had mixed feelings on their last day as city dwellers, before departing for the New Jersey suburbs. Courtesy of the Cohen Family

When the school year ended, the kids went to camp and the Cohens returned to the downtown hotel. Word was, always, that they could return home in two more weeks.

“Nobody with any authority said: Here is the actual timeline and plan,” Adam said. “It was all innuendo and rumor.”

The most frustrating part, he said, was that their neighbors in the front apartments, just across the hall, were allowed back after two weeks.

The garage, now fully razed, was an L-shaped building — and the rear apartments were “directly adjacent to the collapsed building,” said Andrew Rudansky, a Department of Buildings spokesman. He later added that the cause of the collapse remains under active investigation by the DOB, along with its partners in law enforcement.

“We had takeout every night, we had hotel bills, we were living like tourists,” Adam said. Emmy Park for N.Y.Post
The ordeal was tough on the children, who had to begin their commutes to school at the crack of dawn. Emmy Park for N.Y.Post

The vacate order was finally lifted last November, seven months later, after the DOB received a structural stability engineering report for the rear of the building.

Meanwhile, unmoored, the Cohens struggled. “We had takeout every night, we had hotel bills, we were living like tourists,” Adam said. They had limited access to their possessions. One sad summer day, he needed to retrieve a suit for his mother’s funeral.

“Cops were manning the door and we had to ask them to get in,” he said. “Some said ‘OK,’ some said ‘not my job,’ some said ‘get someone from the fire department.’”

The family didn’t have renter’s insurance, but it wouldn’t have helped. Typically, imminent collapse and vacate orders are not covered perils, said Celia Santana, CEO of Personal Risk Management Solutions.

The family didn’t have renter’s insurance, but it wouldn’t have helped. Courtesy of the Cohen Family
The family lived in a rental home in Westfield, NJ for a while. Courtesy of the Cohen Family

“Most renter’s policies cover direct physical damage,” she said, such as from fire or theft, and not additional living expenses from loss of use due to an excluded peril.

The family car, however, was quickly replaced by insurance.

A new start

As the school year approached, the Cohens knew they could wait no more. “I had to pull the ripcord out,” Adam said. City rentals were pricey and small. They prepared to decamp to the suburbs, as some friends had done during COVID.

They focused on Westfield, NJ, a walkable town with good schools, commutable to the city. Finding little inventory and stiff competition, they took a one-year house rental for $4,900 a month and began the hunt for a permanent home.

Eventually, they found their new home, seen here. Emmy Park for N.Y.Post
The house was built in 1902 and has a wraparound porch. Emmy Park for N.Y.Post

At last they found it — a 1902 charmer with a wraparound porch and a Japanese maple. Inside, its 2,100 square feet included four bedrooms, an attic and two bathrooms. The seller’s family had owned it for 50 years. The Cohens offered $975,000 on an asking price of $950,000.

The price fell to $945,000 after the inspection, which identified problems, but not the extent of them. The ancient roof, the rusted sewer pipe, the knob-and-tube electrical wiring — they all needed replacing. The Cohens closed in mid-April, almost exactly a year from the collapse.

They are planning to occupy their new house during renovations, after their rental lease expires.

“I have a vision of what this house will look like when we’re done with it,” Adam said. “I am just missing $100,000. I could write a book of the things I didn’t know a year ago.”

The Cohens offered $975,000 on an asking price of $950,000. Emmy Park for N.Y.Post
The kids love having their own rooms and a yard. Emmy Park for N.Y.Post

Meanwhile, they are reshaping their lives as suburbanites.

The kids love having their own rooms and a yard. Still, “the kids’ favorite part is the big kitchen where they can come down and hang out,” Suzanne said.

The family formerly ordered household staples online. Now they drive to Target. They bought a barbecue grill. They raked leaves. They acquired Halloween decorations, now obligatory.

For Adam, the hour-plus commute to his office near Columbus Circle five days a week is a strain. New Jersey Transit is far less reliable than he expected. One miserable day, the trip home took 3 hours.

The girls love their new school, Adam said. Courtesy of the Cohen Family
“For the most part,” Adam said, “it’s about keeping smiles on my kids’ faces.” Emmy Park for N.Y.Post

The ongoing uncertainty was grueling, and no good solution exists for a middle-class family of five suddenly thrust from their home, he said.

“There was no safety net. My wife saw the cracks in my New York armor. I wonder: How did the last few years of my life get so far off the rails? There’s a lot of emotion to unpack.”

Meanwhile, the girls love their new school. Their son will soon get his learner’s permit. They all agree that having more than one bathroom is life-changing.

“For the most part,” Adam said, “it’s about keeping smiles on my kids’ faces.”

Written by New York Post