Last Thursday night at around 8pm I got in my car, which was parked outside my apartment on 66th Street and 3rd Avenue, to head down to a friend’s place to watch football on 35th and Madison. I chose Park Avenue southbound as my route of choice due to the gridlock which has been 2nd Avenue ever since the power outage to southern Manhattan. After going through and around the Met Life Building and Grand Central Station I popped out on Park Avenue looking southbound at about 40th Street and I could not believe what I was seeing…pure darkness as far as the eye could see. South Manhattan had officially receded into the dark ages.
No, this was not a scene from the film I AM LEGEND, or a clip from some other post-apocalyptic zombie thriller (despite this past Wednesday being Halloween), this was New York City, the mightiest town in all the land, and Sandy had just turned out all the lights.
I need to disclose at the outset of this Blog entry that both my wife and I were amongst the lucky ones who did not lose power or heat. That is the main reason why I wanted to write this blog as sort of an outsider looking in, because there are so many people, including my friends, family and colleagues in New York City, Long Island, Brooklyn, Staten Island and New Jersey that are right now at this very moment going through indescribably difficult times and I wanted this blog to serve as an outlet for those most impacted by this storm to voice their own personal Sandy experiences.
Hurricane Sandy, which meteorologists have referred to as the “perfect storm” (a term I thought only existed in the appropriately titled George Clooney flick), was the most devastating natural disaster to hit the tri-state area and New Jersey in modern times. Massive flooding, power outages, fires from downed power lines and fallen trees have paralyzed New York City, Staten Island, Long Island and many parts of New Jersey in ways never seen or perhaps even conceived of before.
Throughout the course of our lives we bear witness to catastrophes such as “Super Storm” Sandy all the time; however usually when Mother Nature turns her back on us with such vengeance we usually watch from afar as mere spectators. There have been countless times in recent memory that I’ve seen on the news or read in the paper the massive devastation resulting from earthquakes, tsunamis, forest fires and of course hurricanes, but rarely, if ever, are we New Yorkers ever directly impacted by such natural disasters. In my lifetime growing up in Long Island, and for the past five years as a resident of New York City, I have never directly encountered such frightening conditions such as those present right now in New York and New Jersey.
My only experience dealing first hand with the aftermath of a hurricane of this magnitude was when I was in law school about six years ago and volunteered in New Orleans as part of the relief effort after Hurricane Katrina. This morning on the news I saw a piece covering the most heavily hit portions of Staten Island and it instantly brought me back to the devastation I had seen in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. In Staten Island there are entire communities where people’s homes have been completely destroyed, which is truly a sight I never thought I would see here in New York.
I have to admit that before Sandy hit I really didn’t take it as serious as perhaps I should have, which is probably due to the fact that the previous storm to come to New York, Hurricane Irene, did not live up to the hype that news people and weathermen were giving it, as it did not even come close to inflicting the devastation that we see here today. As low as my expectations were for this storm I could never have conceived the power that Hurricane Sandy emitted through the forces of wind and water.
As Hurricane Sandy made its way towards the tri-state area and the New Jersey coastline it brought a massive influx of tidal waters and wind that raised sea levels to unimaginable heights. If you look on a map you can see how the convergence of land masses, specifically Staten Island, Jersey City and Hoboken, and the southern tip of Manhattan and Brooklyn, which surround the Upper and Lower Bays south of the City, trapped the ocean water that traveled with the storm causing a massive swell of the rivers surrounding the city as well as enormous surges of coastal water, which contributed to the unprecedented flooding seen most prevalently in the Lower East Side and Southern portions of Manhattan, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Hoboken, Jersey City, the Rockaways, Long Beach, Fire Island, and many south shore towns on Long Island. And if you were wondering, yes I do occasionally moonlight as a meteorologist in my spare time.
Through the use of social media and massive news coverage we all were privy to the astounding images of devastation and flooding, which I personally have not seen since Hurricane Katrina. For instance, the FDR Drive was a veritable lake, swallowed up by the surging East River. The Midtown Tunnel and Brooklyn Battery tunnel were actually completely under water, as was much of Alphabet City in the Lower East Side. There were images of entire subway stations filled with water. Hoboken was and still is in many parts under four feet of water. Staten Island, which may have seen the worst devastation of any borough in New York City, has had massive flooding leaving many without homes, food and running water.
For the past week if you were north of 39th Street you saw just like I did the mass exodus of people walking up from downtown Manhattan, many of which carrying personal belongings and wheeling luggage. Restaurants, bars and even gyms were packed with people due to the electricity shortage. I have to admit that during this time I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt because of how relatively unaffected I have been living on the Upper East Side.
Now I know many of us who live in the City have either grown up, vacationed or have close friends and family that live in Long Island and the Jersey Shore. Both of the towns I lived in growing up on Long Island, Merrick and Lloyd Harbor, which is where my parents and younger brothers still live, were crushed by the storm. In Merrick a friend of mine texted pictures of my old street, which had such massive flooding that boats docked on the adjacent canals were actually relocated to the front lawn of the houses along my old street. In Lloyd Harbor massive trees took out power lines all over the town and my parents literally had to chain saw their way out of our driveway and street to get out. Still many Long Island residents are without power, which is estimated to return in some parts within 7-10 days.
I also received images from friends of our favorite places in the Jersey Shore, Margate and Ventnor, which is just outside of Atlantic City. Photos of these areas showed massive flooding that had taken out entire blocks of restaurants, and of course ripped the boardwalks from the earth. Those images are much of the same along the entire Jersey Shore where entire piers, boardwalks and even a carousel were engulfed by the storm.
Today we are dealing with massive gas shortages which have caused up to three hour wait lines at the pump. On East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx where our office is located there are lines of cars that go on for several blocks with people just waiting to get gas. This gas shortage has come at perhaps the worst possible time as temperatures have dropped leaving people without heat, the ability to fill their generators and of course driving their cars.
While many of us by now have returned to some form of normalcy post-Sandy there are still many people and families out there whose struggles are just beginning. It’s times like these, when disaster strikes so close to home, that we all should take a good look around and thank god for all the small things in life that we take for granted every day; and I’m talking about simple things like flipping on a light switch, taking a shower, using the telephone or filling up your car without having to wait five hours in line. So if you read this don’t hesitate to lend a helping hand, make a donation or open your doors to someone without power, because you never know when something like this can happen to you.