Hurricane Sandy Aftermath

Right now, I am considering myself very lucky. I’ve just lived through not only my first ever, but the most intense hurricane in New York’s history. Hurricane Sandy.

Within less than a few miles in 3 directions (North, South, West) homes are destroyed, roads are flooded, power is out. Right where I am (Park Slope) we have a lot of leaves on the ground, a few branches down and some minor damage on buildings. It’s pretty amazing how little impact we’ve directly had. It’s definitely not completely over, but we’ved fared a lot better than folks very nearby. Now we see how long it takes for NYC to get back on its feet and get things running again.

Subways are still all out of commission. 7 tunnels between Brooklyn and Manhattan are flooded. Buses will hopefully start coming online later today. What’s left of Lower Manhattan is a mess. It will be a long time before things are “back to normal” for everyone. Here’s how it looked from my perspective:

Two friends who were visiting for the weekend from San Francisco arrived on Friday morning. At that point, it really hadn’t sunk in that that was going to be a bad idea, and that they were going to be stuck here. I don’t think any of us (me from Australia/SF, Erika and the 2 friends both from California) fully realized how bad it was going to be. The funny part? The friends were named Nelson and Sandy. His name is actually Sandy. Not even kidding. So I guess we invited Sandy into our house, we should have been ready for damage!

At this point, Erika was still away on a week-long camping trip with her students at Outward Bound. She got home on Friday afternoon and we all hung out like friends as if nothing really was going on. I started to pay more attention to the announcements etc going around and looking into this whole hurricane thing. I slowly started getting a feel for how big Sandy was really going to be, and that we needed to actually prepare a bit.

In SF, I trained as part of NERT, the Neighborhood Emergency Response Team. Part of that involved being ready for things like this, which is something I’ve always taken pretty seriously. Since moving to NYC, I basically just hadn’t gotten around to getting us in order, although some of the equipment and things that I had in SF had come with us, so we weren’t completely unprepared.

I figured at the bare minimum we should get some water, and meant to do it on Saturday. I also wanted to pick up some stove fuel for my camp stove on the off chance that we couldn’t cook for some reason (I had to get rid of my stove fuel when we moved, since I couldn’t ship it over here). I got my stove fuel while we were over in Manhattan, but instead of getting water, we got caught up doing fun things instead, like going out drinking in the East Village, which now looks like this:

On Sunday, I woke up thinking we should definitely get some supplies today, but again got caught up visiting Ground Zero, which now looks like this:

During the day, while tracking the announcements and warnings that were now coming thick and fast, we found out the subway would be shut down at 7pm, buses at 9pm. There were mandatory evacuations for people living in Zone A, 3 blocks from our apartment. This thing was serious. It started striking home pretty heavily to us all. All I could think was that we were over in Manhattan, having fun and “being tourists”. In a few hours, if we weren’t back in Brooklyn then we were literally stranded on an island, in the middle of a hurricane. I started getting pretty antsy to get back over to our side of the river. We ducked through Chinatown to pick up some groceries (since we now had 4 adults potentially stuck in our 1 bedroom apartment for a while), and then headed back towards home. As soon as we got here, we headed back out for water and any other supplies. The first grocery store we went to was sold out. Literally completely sold out of water. The second one we tried had some, so we got 12 gallons, which are now sitting by the door. There was no indication that the water system would be compromised, but coming from SF where most preparedness is about earthquakes (likely to rupture pipes etc), this was very high on my list of requirements. I also figured that absolute worst comes to worst, None of us was going to die of starvation from a couple days going hungry. It turns out that we didn’t need the water, but I never want to be a situation where we don’t have it:

Sunday night we stayed in and watched movies/played cards. Nothing too exciting, just lots of wind and rain, and lots of reports telling us that Sandy was getting worse and worse. Sandy (the friend) and Nelson called their airline and after 2 hours on hold they found out that for sure their flight (scheduled for Tuesday afternoon) was canceled. They were rebooked as early as possible, which turned out to be Friday morning. Right now LGA is still completely underwater, but they’re flying out of JFK which will hopefully be re-opened in time.

Almost all of Monday, we stayed indoors and hunkered down. Erika cooked up a storm — 3 pizzas and a bunch of cookies! We ate, and sat around, and checked up on the internet to keep track of what was going on, and very quickly realized that Twitter was by far the best source of information. The regular press conferences coming through on NYC.gov were good, but they largely served as summaries for what we already knew. They did provide some indication on official movements and closures (including school closures, which affect Erika, for Mon-Wed so far). We also got to watch Bloomberg’s amazing ASL aide, Lydia Callis. As the day progressed, things got progressively worse.

At one point we thought we saw some lightning, and then a weird flash, which turned out most likely to have been this:

We were seeing tweets and pictures of things really close to us being completely inundated. While it was scary to read/hear about, it all seemed a bit disconnected. Our internet was still working, albeit with a few hiccups here and there. We never lost power, although we had a few flickers Monday night. Our building wasn’t swaying or creaking or showing any signs of concern, and when I had to step outside to take the dog out it was windy, but not completely unbearable (protection from the buildings I guess). It seemed unreal that literally a few blocks away, a canal was flooding. We heard a lot of sirens, and at one point there was a pretty strong smell of smoke coming in from outside that we never figured out, but inside our apartment it was just the 4 of us, sitting around being generally bored.

After the worst seemed to have passed, I took the dog out again and walked around the block. The streets were mostly empty except for a few Con Edison trucks and an NYPD van. I saw 2 guys on bikes apparently out to check out what was going on. I stopped to pull a gutter/roofing edge off the middle of 5th Avenue. It was eery, but pretty calm.

So eventually we went to bed, and figured we’d find out what the story was in the morning. This morning, after getting up and having some breakfast, I went for a bit of a ride around the neighborhood to see how things looked. To be honest, it didn’t look too bad in most places. There were leaves everywhere, lots of smaller branches down. Near the Gowanus Canal I saw the remnants of a lot of water movement:

and near there (on 9th St), I saw some warehouses that were clearing out damaged boxes/products, a few houses that were pumping out their basements. Clearly not everyone had been as lucky as we had. So today I’m just thankful that all four of us are safe, and everyone I know in the area who I’ve talked to (mostly via Twitter and SMS) is OK. It’s hard to get any work done, but I wanted to post this to make sure I captured it as I immediately remembered things.

This has renewed my feelings towards disaster response, and I think it’s going to be even more important in the coming years given the way the climate is changing. If you don’t believe that at this point, you’re just an ignorant fool, living in denial. I’m really glad that it seems like the folks in charge here in New York are very no-bullshit.

During the whole thing, Bloomberg’s attitude was awesome. When he got ridiculous, sensationalist questions he shut people down immediately:

And made the point repeatedly that his primary concern was the safety of our first responders. While he didn’t want people getting hurt when they made stupid decisions (like going to check out the coast, or staying in a mandatory evacuation area), he was more concerned about the first responders who’d then have to risk their lives to save them when things went south. It was truly refreshing to see basically every person in power cut the politics, cut the bullshit and just say it like it was. If only they could all communicate so directly, at every level of government.

New Jersey Governor Christie, when asked if Romney might be able to come and tour the damage soon (and get some photo opportunities):

“I have a job to do,” he added. “I’ve got 2.4 million people out of power, I’ve got devastation on the shore, I’ve got floods in the northern part of my state. If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics then you don’t know me.”
Raw Story (http://s.tt/1rm5A)

So anyway. Thousands and thousands of flights are cancelled. LGA and JFK are both still shut (JFK’s website is even offline). The subways are shut down. Roads and bridges are apparently open. It seems like a bunch of local stores are open. I think I’m going to go and have a hamburger and enjoy the fact that I’m OK.

Thank you to everyone who checked in with me to make sure I was OK. Thank you to all the first responders who were and still are out there risking their lives to save people, even though some of those people chose to put themselves in harm’s way. Thank you to the City of New York, the Office of Emergency Management, NYPD, NYFD and every other agency involved for their quick reactions and what seems to be very measured and appropriate responses to the situation. Thank you to Obama for streamlining and pre-approving disaster response at a federal level. This is why we pay taxes people.

With motivation like this, I’m newly invigorated to get prepared more for next time. I need to refresh my HAM radio skills and First Aid certifications. I need to ensure we have appropriate supplies in the house. I need to collect some information on shelters etc in our area, and I’m going to look at possibly joining CERT here in NYC (the local equivalent of NERT back in SF) and/or possibly NYC-ARECS depending on the HAM skill level/equipment required. I don’t want to be caught out next time something like this happens. In the meantime, I’ll get back to living.

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