By Vladimir Brezina and Johna Till Johnson
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is what she looked like at her dock, where we often paddled past…
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.
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?)
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.
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.
Back in Manhattan. What are those people looking at?
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!