Sandy Saga, Part 4

By Vladimir Brezina and Johna Till Johnson

<— Part 3

Even rats drowned

Sandy’s gone.  She’s now somewhere to the northwest of us, passing into Canada, still producing wind, rain, and snow. If last year’s storms Irene and Lee are any guide, the heavy rain and flash flooding will be devastating, particularly in hilly areas.

But here in New York City, Sandy is over. Her consequences, however, are another matter. First, the good news: Not all that much rain fell in the city (though exact statistics are hard to come by at present with many of the relevant internet sites down). The extreme wind—when we had to cower in the bedroom—only lasted from about 6 to 8 p.m. on Monday as Sandy came ashore, a little to the south of us, near Atlantic City, NJ. Then the winds diminished steadily through the night. Yesterday there were still some sharp gusts, but this morning there is little wind, the clouds are breaking up, and it’s becoming sunny. The rain and wind were over much sooner than anticipated.

Cars float in a flooded below-street-level parking area in New York’s Financial District on Tuesday (photo by Getty Images)

The bad news, of course, is that the storm surge followed the worst predictions. Coinciding unfortunately with the time of high tide, “water levels in Battery Park on the tip of Lower Manhattan rose to 13.88 feet at 9:24 p.m Monday, smashing the record high of 10.02 feet set in 1960 during Hurricane Donna,” the National Weather Service reported. As we’d feared, last year’s Irene was just a mild preview.

As a result, New York City is crippled.

Dark Manhattan (photo by the New York Times)

Power outage in Manhattan on Monday (photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

Since many of the seawalls around the city are just a few feet high, the storm surge flooded many low-lying areas—notably Lower Manhattan. The water knocked out electrical power and flooded tunnels and the subway, many parts of which remain flooded. Especially as the salt water has probably ruined a lot of equipment, recovery will take days if not weeks.

Lower Manhattan will probably remain without power at least through the weekend. Cell phone service is spotty. Many subway lines are out indefinitely, though on a positive note, some lines—including our lifeline, the number 6—are to resume service along sections of track that were not flooded tomorrow. Buses are running, but slowly and erratically, since many streets are gridlocked with traffic.

The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel is flooded with about 12 feet of water Tuesday after a tidal surge caused by Hurricane Sandy (photo by Getty Images)

This evening’s Halloween Parade has been canceled. The New York Marathon, scheduled for Sunday, is still on, although skeptics fear that the difficulties of transporting so many people through the city will prove insuperable.

But it could have been much worse—and in many places outside the city, especially in coastal New Jersey where Sandy came ashore, it was.

Especially poignant, for us, is this photo of the vintage (1941) tanker John B. Caddell driven by Sandy ashore on Staten Island about a mile away from her dock.

John B. Caddell ashore after Hurricane Sandy (photo by Michelle Charlesworth / gothamist)

John B. Caddell in happier times (June 2010)

This is what she looked like at her dock, where we often paddled past…




Midtown Manhattan (left) bright, downtown (right) dark (photo by the New York Times)

As after 9/11, there is a surreal discontinuity between Lower Manhattan and the rest of the island. To the north, life is proceeding reasonably normally given the circumstances (on the Upper East Side, we never lost power, and have seen no obvious degradation in cell-phone or internet service). It is in Lower Manhattan where the interesting things (as in the purported Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times”) always happen. From The New York Times:

On Tuesday, as New Yorkers coped with their first post-Hurricane Sandy night without power, the dividing line between north and south in the city was 25th Street.

South of 25th, the streetlights on the West Side were not working, and the buildings were completely dark. There seemed to be no stores there, no Starbucks, no places to charge a phone and no idea when the lights would go back on. South of 25th, the effects of the storm were deeply felt. Not so uptown.

“I just biked down from Hell’s Kitchen, and it is like a Friday night up there,” said Chris Degner, who lives in TriBeCa. “And then you get down here and it is like entering a zombie movie.”

He had been at a bar in Midtown called Valhalla. He struggled to describe what it was like to go from a “pub that is packed elbow to elbow” to streets where people are scrambling to find a way to find spare candles and were worried about locating a bag of ice.

Yesterday afternoon, after two days of looking out of the window at dark, wet, empty streets animated only by the flashing lights of police cars and ambulance sirens, we went for a brief walk around our neighborhood to see the damage. Everyone else appeared to be doing the same thing. With the wind and rain gone, there was almost a weekend atmosphere.

There was surprisingly little visible damage—mostly scattered small twigs and fallen leaves. Everyone crowded to take photos of the one large tree that was down on Fifth Avenue.

The one fallen tree on Fifth Avenue

Water-borne trash along the FDR Drive

Presumably many more trees fell in Central Park—but the park was still closed, with all entrances zealously guarded by the police. (You would think they would have something better to do at a time like this?)

The water must have come up to here

Toward the East River, the streets slope down to a low-lying area along the river that was reportedly flooded. Indeed, there were masses of water-borne trash along the still-closed FDR Drive.

Fallen trees on Ward’s Island

Strandline of debris separating the grass scoured clean by the floodwaters (left) from the untouched carpet of fallen leaves (right)

We crossed the pedestrian footbridge 0ver to Ward’s Island, where we were able to trace how high the water had come—about 10 feet above the current water level—by the strandline of debris that the floodwater had deposited, like on a beach, presumably at its highest point.





Everything to the right of the strandline was flooded last night

Back in Manhattan. What are those people looking at?


Tableau of death

Swept up in the fallen leaves

Drowned rat family

Sad—but apparently quite a common sight in the city now.

Clearly, the effects of Sandy will be with us for a while. Interesting times are still ahead!

120 responses to “Sandy Saga, Part 4

  1. Pingback: Sandy Saga, Part 3 | Wind Against Current

  2. Pingback: Stormy Aftermath 2 « tugster: a waterblog

  3. What a mess! It will take a while to get back to normal – but you will.

    Glad you are safe.

  4. I’ve been watching it on the news over here in the UK. Not good :-(

    • Johna Till Johnson

      The only real upside is that we now know what to expect—the folks in charge are already thinking of ways to make dealing with crises easier. And I think they’ll be a lot of work done on the subways and electrical infrastructure….

  5. Wow – the rats really tell a story, don’t they?

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Yeah. We felt so sorry for them–especially the family at the end. I can only imagine what it must have felt like to be paddling desperately in the cold and dark…

  6. Thanks for the update, it is good to know you are both safe and well. Do keep us updated on the progress around the island.

    • Johna Till Johnson

      We will do so, Georgia! Tonight it seems like the recovery will be a long time coming–many friends are stil missing water, power, or their own apartments; LaGuardia is out for a while; and the subways won’t be fully back at least until Monday. Maybe longer. Each of those will be a milestone when it returns…

  7. Another terrific report. And wow, the drowned rats are quite a sight! Where did you see those? I’m rather hobbled by recent foot surgery and can’t go out prowling after the storm, as I normally would, so I appreciate your posts even more than usual.

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Heal quickly! The rats were at roughly 96th and 1st–the only part of the upper east side (to my knowledge) that actually flooded. Apparently the water came all the way to 2nd Avenue.

    • Hi, Melissa,

      It was a bit further north—on the 102nd FDR Drive on-ramp. There was a whole cluster of them there, and nowhere else.

      But according to this item in The New York Times, dead rats have been surfacing elsewhere in the city, including on the West Side in Riverside Park and elsewhere. So you might be able to spot some in your neighborhood… :-)

      (I see it’s hard to make the link jump directly to the relevant entry. If it doesn’t, Scroll down to the 2:36 p.m. entry, “The Impact on the Rat Population, for Better and Worse”…)

      • Amazing cluster, indeed. I saw the NY Times piece earlier today, but your photos are AMAZING. I mean, was that rat family laid out by the Rattus Rattus Funeral Parlor or were they really just lying there like that? I’ve seen dead rats in my day, but … wow wow wow.

  8. Nice post, especially the DEAD RATS! I Love DEAD RATS! ;)

  9. Glad your family is ok.
    Praying for everyone there and for a speedy clean up

  10. Funny how so many people comment on the rats – they are so sad and I do feel for them as they are my chinese horoscope sign. On a more human note, VPR today was taking stock of the damage and like usual trying to get some answers about just what was going on; big topics of concern were the underground infrastructure and the plight of homeless people. Glad to hear you are out and about keeping the rest of us informed.

  11. Can the fact that all those rats were drowned be considered a good thing? They are very graphic shots- so different than your usual work. The others make me happy it missed our town for the most part. The good thing is that your family is safe and the storm has passed–still those rat pictures ….how many there must be.

  12. The pictures of the rats are poignant as there were many victims of the storm…it gives a perspective that we don’t often consider. So glad to hear that you are safe.

  13. Glad to hear you made it through the storm okay, thanks for the post-Sandy report. We go through hurricane season down here in SW Florida every year, so I can relate; but it is never easy.
    Regarding the rats… maybe they will be less of them lurking under the seats at the subway stations now. I used to be terrified of them, lol!

  14. So glad you guys are safe. It’s terrible without electric power for days…. Thank you for your post!

  15. I feel so sad and sorry for the US residents, I hope things are fine now.

  16. I really appreciate you sharing your Hurricane story. The personal, micro-story helps to give meaning to the larger macro-story. I have been away from TV & news for most of this since we have been hosting a conference up here in NH that started on Monday evening (we ate our opening meal and did most of our opening actvities by candlelight and a couple emergency exit lights since Sandy knocked out the power which was gratefully was back on for Tuesday.) I have been checking your blog every night as a small window into the Sandy impacts in NY. The rat piece is fascinating – kind of like the canary in the coal mine . . .

  17. Great post! Thanks so much for putting all this together. That beautiful old tanker photo is shocking in the extreme. I am horrified by the news of the tragic deaths being reported on CNN. :(

    • Johna Till Johnson

      These kinds of deaths are always tragic… but the happy surprise is that (relatively speaking) there were so very few. Considering the magnitude of the storm, the population density, and the infrastructure impact… we are doing very well, relatively speaking!

  18. fascinating, thanks for posting

  19. This afternoon, I biked some of the same areas you photoed and have some of the same pics. Pretty funny! We waterborne types think of the same ideas! I’ll make a post soon on my bike tour, as well as our late night tour of the incoming floodwaters during Sandy’s sojourn.

  20. Glad to here you are OK and the winds and rain have left. I have seen such damage in the City on the news, but it seems more real hearing it from your experiences. We got very little of the storm, nothing like they predicted.

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Thanks, Donna! It’ll be a long-haul cleanup, but at least we escaped with relatively little damage (if you call 20,000-40,000 homeless people “relatively little”… which, in context, it is!)

  21. The infrastructure clean up is mind boggling – I just can’t imagine how they’re going to empty all those flooded tunnels and flush out the salt … aiyo, interesting times indeed Vlad and Johna.

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Thanks Wanderlust! Kind of amazing that they’ve gotten the subways back functional and power on, in Manhattan at least… Staten Island, Long Beach, and New Jersey are another story.

      We’ll be feeling the long-term effects for a while, though!

      • It is amazing – but as it had to be. I hope Katrina gave enough lessons of what to avoid for New Jersey, Staten Island, etc.

        • Well, yes and no. People will know better what to expect and will—ok, may—be personally better prepared next time. But with a big storm there will always be widespread damage that will take days or weeks to recover from, unless the infrastructure is upgraded in a very radical manner, and nobody will want to undertake that…

        • I was thinking about governments, rather than individuals, Vlad. The administrative systems, or protocols to effective damage control, restoration and relief – because as you said, in many cases people are going to be in dire straights for weeks, even months or longer.

        • Unfortunately, the dysfunction of the political system here leaves considerable doubt about whether anything will improve along those lines any time soon…

        • ‘Dysfunction’ indeed – it has been sad to watch it from afar.

  22. Thank you Johna for the report. Nature can be so harsh. It spares no one as we all know.

  23. Wow. I’m glad you guys are safe.

  24. Just got home 40 mins ago folks , im a Firefighter with the FDNY and spent most of the day looking for these children :// not far from my old neighborhood . My brothers house along with many others homes are completely destroyed . We have been working with little sleep for the last few days . If you have any spare time try to volunteer and help where ever you can . Thx . Stephen

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Stephen, I am SO SO sorry! I read about this and can’t imagine what it must feel like…. Vlad and I donated funds to HarborLAB and the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance, for the folks still without power over the weekend.

      Speaking of the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance:

      If anyone wants to donate and is looking for a non-profit that’s more local than the Red Cross (which is doing a fantastic job, by the way), you can here:

      They are a GREAT group and were “on the ground” right after the storm, working together with the Fire Department to make things happen.

  25. Glad to hear you guys are good!

  26. I send you the best wishes from Berlin.

  27. thank you for ‘showing’ us around. That stranded John B. Caddell is a more evocative shot for me now after seeing her at moorings with you two kayaking past. As for the rather sad images of the little drowned rats – it surprised me as they are good swimmers. Better them than people lying there. Here’s a link to the take on rats

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Oh Laura…. the sad thing is that just ast the article says, it’s often the little ones that can’t make it. We saw a lot of what appeared to be half-grown juveniles :-(.

  28. Thank you for the walk-through. It is sad to see how much mess Sandy has caused. I am not fond of rats, but even I felt sad seeing them lying there motionless. Glad to know you’re safe.

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Yes, Vlad has the ability to capture sadness in a photograph… even of a rat!

      Speaking of capturing emotion in photos, I really liked your “water carving” photo from Nov 2… that’s a picture I’ve always carried in my mind, but the photo captures it perfectly!

  29. What a mess… Glad to hear you are safe.

  30. Great update! Thanks for sharing it….

  31. It’s good to see that both of you are safe.

  32. So glad you’re both OK. I’ve returned to this a few times since yesterday. The rat photos are pretty compelling, I must agree with my fellow commenters. How fares Staten Island? I heard that got it pretty bad, too.

  33. Never mind filling me in about Staten Island. I just found some articles. Oh, my.

  34. Glad you both are safe in Manhattan. Since you live in Manhattan, getting to work is not a nightmare I guess. I was intrigued by the ‘one tree’ that fell on 5th avenue – up here, we have so many trees blocking streets now and live electric wires all over the place. I saw reports of the chaos in the city with the bridges open to traffic now. Stay safe!

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Shaanthz–yes, work hasn’t been a problem for us (apart from the one client on-site in New Jersey for me that had to be rescheduled… the client lost her home out in Long Beach!)

    • No doubt there were many more fallen trees in the park. But the park was off limits, so everybody out to see the damage was inspecting the single fallen tree that they had access to…

  35. Sad about the rats. Curled feet, wet fur, eyes open

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Yes. It’s hard to imagine what they were thinking and feeling in the last few moments of their lives….

  36. How do you visit my little blog with a major storm like that going on? Thanks, and let’s hope the cleanup goes smoothly.

  37. I heard that waster level ashore was raised 4 feet in 10 minutes. That’s insurmountable.

    • Johna Till Johnson

      I hadn’t heard that…. scary! The two little boys that Stephen was searching for (above) were literally pulled from their mothers’ arms….Scary! (They both drowned…)

  38. OMG! I’m so glad you are alright. Poor rats.

  39. Wow! Those are some amazing photos! So glad that you made it through the storm safely. It all seems so surreal. Hopefully people will recover from this very quickly – it seems a little overwhelming right now. Stay safe!

    • Johna Till Johnson

      You’re right… just about now is when it starts to be overwhelming. Right afterwards there was the elation of having made it through. Then there was the energy of stepping in to help. Now it’s the dawning realization that things won’t be back to “normal” for a very long time…..

      On a happier note, LOVED your Kale chip experiment! I bought kale to try to do this a few weeks back, but lost the nerve and the kale went bad. You’ve inspired me to try again (though I may use coconut oil–higher smoke point–rather than olive oil). And I will probably repeat your “mistake” with the salt… salty is good….

  40. You sound like a pretty positive person, and looking up always makes things look better!

    Have fun with the kale chips! I just about chickened out on it too. The coconut oil is a great suggestion! I think I’ll give that a try!
    I’m excited to hear how it goes for you and if you like it!

    Thanks for visiting!

  41. Vlad – Thanks for posting this very detailed look at Sandy’s aftermath.

  42. Hope things get back to normal soon!

    • Thanks! Up here on the Upper East Side they are, and were throughout Sandy, surprisingly normal—but of course not so elsewhere in New York City, and beyond. No wonder many have commented on the “two cities”: the City of Darkness and the City of Light…

  43. Thanks for sharing the pictures of Sandy’s wake. I hope the ravaged areas recover soon. It[‘s nice to know that both of you were safe.

  44. U am fortunate that my long ago family chose a place to live that does not experience a lot of weather.geological type disasters. We have had a few, your photos remind me that none of us are really safe. Nice work. beebee

    • You are indeed lucky. But every part of the US seems to have its characteristic disaster type—hurricanes on the East Coast, earthquakes on the West Coast, and I certainly don’t fancy those tornadoes in the middle…

  45. I’m a native New Yorker (Brooklyn) transplanted to New England (Massachusetts) in 1970. My middle Brother still lives in our old family house in Lakeview, Long Island. He didn’t get power back til this past Thursday. Ten days in dark and cold. Other family members and friends on Long Island, in NYC and NJ didn’t get their power back until yesterday, Friday. I’m still hearing complaints about the various power and utility companies in the areas hardest hit by Sandy.

  46. Pingback: Despite Sandy, It’s Still Fall | Wind Against Current

  47. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Thankful | Wind Against Current

  48. With the water levels rising so high this time around, is all of that being associated with storm surge or is any of it believed related to global warming and the confirmed melting of the polar icecaps?

    • Almost all of it storm surge. It’s the storm surge that contributes many feet of floodwater—more than 13 feet this time round—with the potential to increase that by many feet more next time if we are unlucky… And where the storm surge comes in the tidal cycle has an impact also of the order of feet. In contrast, sea level rise will have contributed just a few inches (the exact number depending on what year you take as your historical baseline)—although that contribution will presumably increase somewhat in the coming decades…

  49. wow! I was out of the country for much of the problems and media coverage. That is insane!

  50. Thanks for letting us see your world through your eyes. I appreciate your visit to my blog.

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