Looking out for New Yorkers trapped in high-rises

(CBS News) NEW YORK - The blackout from superstorm Sandy left an untold number of elderly and disabled folks stranded in high-rise apartments.

New Yorkers are stepping up to help them.

In the dark and narrow staircase of the Seward Park apartment complex in lower Manhattan, it was easy to hear the echo of Nick Caswell's foot steps.

To make his way through the darkness, the 62-year-old counts every step.

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Seward lost power Monday night, plunging 4,000 residents into darkness. Since then, Caswell has been the only lifeline to the outside world for at least seven families. On Thursday, he was headed to the 20th floor.

"I've got a message to try and help these people, whoever they are," Caswell said.

First he stopped to visit 92-year-old Lilly Lifflander. She lives on the 16th floor.

Lifflander said if people were not helping her she'd "feel stranded."

Back up the stairs, Caswell finally got to apartment 20-06.

"I was recruited by the building to see what you need," Caswell said.

Elaine Brody and Mark Hans were the couple behind the door.

"We were out of communication. We really felt isolated," Brody said, adding that seeing Caswell made them feel grateful "even if he just came to say 'Hello, How are you?'"

The couple has not been outside since the elevators stopped running Monday night.

"Coming up is really a hardship for us," Brody said.

"That's why we stayed up here," Hans said.

"We knew it would be a commitment to going down because we wouldn't be coming back up," Brody said.

Three days without a working fridge, and their cupboard is almost bare. So Caswell heads back to the stairwell, and out the front door to the food distribution center two buildings over.

Caswell said he doesn't want much in return.

"That's all I need is a thank you. I like 'thank you's, 'please and thank you,' that's all I want in life," Caswell said.

So it's back up the stairs to the people who depend on him.

  • Michelle Miller

    Michelle Miller is an award-winning CBS News correspondent based in New York, reporting for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. Her work regularly appears on the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley", "CBS This Morning" and "CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood". She joined CBS News in 2004.