My Hurricane Sandy Diaries: Part 1

FRANKENSTORM

Monday, October 29, 2012:

Spent this past weekend preparing for the storm. Fridge stocked with food and bottled water – check. Flashlights, batteries, crank radio – check. Tape up the windows, cover the A/C units with blankets, place buckets under the leaky ceiling spots – check. Now, we wait.

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You can feel the energy of something ominous approaching. The question is: how bad will it be? Is this simply another hyped up storm like Hurricane Irene, or the dreaded “Frankenstorm” of the century all the weathermen are predicting?!

irene vs. sandy

8 pm: The NYFD just pulled up, red lights flashing, beaming their headlights down the block. People are gathered in the middle of the street, snapping group photos on their cell phones. I’m annoyed, yet again, by the party-like atmosphere I’m witnessing down below. It seems juvenile and irresponsible when there’s a severe storm making landfall. But I feel like this pretty much every day, living in the East Village, in Alphabet City, the place where everyone comes to get drunk, woohoo at the top of their lungs, make a huge ass of themselves, and throw up on the sidewalk before going home.

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8:30 pm: Curiosity gets the better of me and I go outside. I get a few feet beyond my doorstep when suddenly I understand what all the commotion is about. The East River is coming down the block! WHAT?! Avenue C is completely submerged. I’m just about to snap my own photo of this unbelievable sight when the power goes out. Everyone runs in different directions, screaming. It’s pitch black. I instantly hightail it back inside my building. Thanks to the glow of my iPhone flashlight app, I don’t have to climb the five flights of stairs back to my apartment in total darkness.

My phone starts blowing up with texts and calls from friends. “Are you alright?” Apparently, the news of what’s going on in my neighborhood looks scary. I learn there’s been an explosion at the ConEd plant on 14th St, just a few blocks away. My friend, Kristen, is concerned and wants me to come Uptown. They still have power. She offers to jump in a cab and come get me. I’m torn, but I think I want to stay home. I can ride out the night. I continue to talk and text, feeling like I want to stay connected to people, but then sense it might also be wise to conserve battery power. Who knows how long the electricity will be out? I keep pacing back and forth, peering out the windows, monitoring the situation down below and debating whether to stay or go, as I watch the river water creep up to and then past my doorsteps towards Avenue B. Too late now. How high will the water rise? I’m on the top floor, so there’s no way it can reach me. Right?

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Sure enough, the water eventually begins to recede. My friend texts me, “The worst is over. Everything will be back to normal soon.” If only he knew…

Tuesday, October 30, 2012:

I wake up to the discovery that my phone is now useless. Apparently, all the cell towers are down and searching for a signal all night has completely drained the battery. I can’t communicate with anyone. No power = no phone, no internet, no heat, no hot water. I have a strong feeling I should get out of this neighborhood.

I decide maybe it’s wise to take Kristen up on her offer after all and go stay at her place. The cats will be fine. I’ll leave them plenty of food and water. I pack a bag of clothes and as much food as I can carry, knowing it will all spoil if left here. I begin walking uptown along 1st Avenue.

There are no buses or subways running. No power anywhere for blocks. Tons of people are out, some merely strolling for a bit of fresh air, others clearly frantic to get the hell out of dodge ASAP. I walk for a good 20 minutes trying to hail a cab, but no one stops. Around 16th Street, I resign myself to walk all the way to 40th Street if necessary and just take my time. What choice do I have? I stick my arm in the air once more, when suddenly a cab pulls over with 3 women already in the back seat. He asks me where I’m going, then nods yes. I climb in the passenger seat.

Cabs are priceless, as they are now the only source of transportation. People line the streets everywhere, arms in the air, trying to flag one down. I feel so grateful to be in a car, as we pass by dozens of people with desperate looks on their faces. The cabbie says he came to work today from Brooklyn, even though it’s his day off, knowing that people would need help. He stops to let 2 women out of the back seat, but doesn’t ask for payment. We all pay what we can. Thank you, cabbie angel. You’re a lifesaver.

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I show up on Kristen’s doorstep unannounced, but she’s relieved to see me. We spend the day watching NY1, then a Louis CK comedy special, in an attempt to lighten the mood. Soon, we crash for a nap; mentally, emotionally, exhausted. Matthew comes over in the evening and we cook a big meal from all the food I brought. We drink a great bottle of wine and have an enjoyable evening, all things considered. Also, priceless today –  my amazing friends.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012:

Kristen and I head out into the streets of Midtown East to walk the dog and discover tons of people sitting on the sidewalks, plugging their cell phones and laptops into the power outlets underneath every lamp post and tree. Craving coffee, I pray Starbucks on 42nd Street is open. They’re in fact serving hot drinks and food to the masses, though mostly, the place is packed with disheveled New Yorkers, hovering over the power outlets. What did we do before all this technology? Digital communication is clearly a critical priority.

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I should get some cash while I’m up here. Without electricity, there’ll be no banks open, no ATM functioning south of here. Chase Bank has graciously plugged in several surge protectors around their branch lobbies. More circles of people sit, huddled on the floor, around the power.

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Rested, caffeinated, and fed, I head back down into what people are now referring to as “The Dark Zone”. Thankfully, the buses are running again, and for free, for the next several days. I squeeze myself in, and count my lucky stars that I’m able to get home without a cab or a 36-block walk.

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The East Village is a ghost town. It’s shocking to witness this desolate New York. Most businesses are shuttered, save a few who are serving hot coffee and a bit of food if they’re fortunate enough to have gas or propane. A couple of churches are open. Tompkins Square Park and all of the community gardens are closed, huge tree limbs strewn about. The big, old, beautiful willow trees of the LES Ecology Garden and La Plaza Cultural have been uprooted and now lay on their sides.

A few parents walk around trick or treating with their kids. They look weary, but it’s sweet to see them making an effort to preserve Halloween. Residents gather on stoops, trading information, waiting for developments, looking like zombies. Many haven’t been able to sleep. If the power comes back on and their basements are still flooded, fires could start. They have to be ready to kick those pumps on at a minute’s notice. Everywhere, people are clean up mode – bailing water out of their cars with cups, stacking up garbage, laying soaked belongings out to dry.

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All along Avenue C, friends and family, employees and owners alike, pitch in to help. Looks like everyone associated with Zum Schneider, the German beer garden on the corner of 7th, is there lending a hand. Luckily, they and a few other establishments have generators to pump the water out – another priceless item. The constant hum and smell of gasoline fills the air for blocks. I see one fireman chatting with the guys who run The Wayland, one of my favorite neighborhood bars on the corner of C & 9th. Other than that, there are no city or government agencies anywhere in sight. I do spy a large group from Occupy Wall Street conducting a volunteer meeting as I walk by and I can’t help but acknowledge who’s really out here, walking their talk, being of service to this community.

I’m floored by the magnitude of it all. It’s a totally different world down here. The difference between Uptown and Downtown – day and night.

***

Coming up next: Part 2 of My Hurricane Sandy Diaries – The Aftermath Continues.

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