Hurricane Sandy; a personal experience from lower Manhattan

November 1, 2012 § 9 Comments

I struggled with where to begin this post because this has surely been the strangest month of my life.  It started with the successful launch of my own whisky, Brenne, which while I planed it for over a year, I quickly realized that you can never really be ready for what happens … (foreshadowing?) nothing could have prepared me for the speed at which I would zoom through life from Oct 1st right on through to the end of the month where suddenly, life came to a screeching halt with the presence of Hurricane Sandy.

Photo credit: Bloomberg News

I’ve lived in Manhattan for just short of a decade.  I joke that I came out of the womb saying, “Sorry Mom, but I’ve got to go to New York!”  To say that I love New York is a vast understatement.  I love NY.  I am NY.  My identity is here, my life is here, my friends & family are here (or are close enough that most past through quite often).  I love the pulse, the energy and also the community that is New York City.  So naturally, when events happen that change the beat, I admire and jump in as New Yorkers rally to help, protect, and support each other and our city.

During my time here, I’ve lived through a few landmark events, including the Black Out of ’03, the Transit Strike of ’05, and Hurricane Irene ’11.  The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to me feels like a combination of all three on steroids.  Four days in, we still have no heat, cell towers or power and based on the latest reports it looks like we have another 2 more days to go until the electricity comes back on.  Many subways are still under water and the trees that used to line the cement below my window have either been stripped bare, cracked in half or totally uprooted.

(Below is my corner after 3 hours of clean up work had already taken place Tuesday morning.  During the storm, I watched a tree beat an air conditioning unit out of my neighbors window.  Violent winds.)

Walking around the West Village, Soho and Tribeca on Tuesday, October 30th, the day after Sandy tore through NY & NJ, I couldn’t believe how much the city looked both like itself and not at all.  The buildings still stood in their original positions, the roads were still there, most of the signs and traffic lights were swinging in their places – except there was a dark gray feeling of doom that weighed heavily on everything.  In our 1hour walk around our neighborhood I can’t tell you how many hoses I saw emptying streams of water onto the sidewalks from the depths of basements and even lobby’s.  It seemed like every 5 blocks or so there was another street closed as brave workers carefully & quickly broke down tens of thousands of feet of scaffolding 10, 18, 20 stories high that had been pulled away from the buildings during the storms – or worse – had pulled building off with it and crashed to the sidewalk below during the night.

Cold and wet, we turned our faces into the wind and rounded another corner as the rain temporarily let up, this time walking into a moment that filled us with happiness and light.  A tiny bodega run by three energetic guys who had made it to their shop flipped their metal NYTimes New Stand upside down, set a charcoal stove on top and got to work making hot coffee right there on the side walk.  They were so happy, shouting gaily that they had fresh coffee, cream & sugar for $2.  But let me tell you with that money, you weren’t only buying piping hot caffeinated warmth, you were also buying a piece of social connectivity.  The ConEd (electric company) workers joined in, the fire men pulled a hook & ladder right in front and instead of shutting them down, got in line.  Locals and displaced tourists started huddling around and for the next few minutes, we connected, smiled, and knew this was just another one of those moments in New York’s history that we will not only live through but thrive from.

When the power first went out – everyone in my building entered the dark hallways, checked on neighbors and hosted impromptu “black out dinner parties.”  Kids made shadow puppets on the walls with their hands and flashlights, the adults broke into their wine stocks, and more and more neighbors realized just how big our whisky collection really is. 😛

(This is about 2/3rd of the collection at best)

It’s like stepping back in time every night as we gather around our battery powered radio and walk through our apartment using only candles to light our way (you have to save your batteries/flashlights for the stairwell and streets! Stores -if even open- are out of batteries for miles!).  Last night, I got a little annoyed as Mayor Bloomberg reminded us over the airwaves to dial 311 is for downed trees, 911 for emergency and an 800# for FEMA.  All I could think was, “that’s all lovely … if only we could actually make calls!” If we have an emergency now, I will need to run down 5 pitch-black flights of stairs onto an equally dark street and go to my nearest police or fire station.  That’s not the most comforting of thoughts … But luckily, we have our lives, our health, our neighbors and our city.  Our building has never smelled better with all of the scented candles burning practically 24 hours a day.  And I am so thankful that everyone I know is safe, dry and have a roof over their heads.  There were many who were not so lucky.

On Wednesday, we learned that my husband’s office in midtown had power, internet, hot water and best of all, cell coverage!  We were able to get a ride up and spent the day catching with with family, friends and of course, work.  I looked out his window and saw “The Crane” dangling & swaying in the breeze …

It was well into the night before we got transportation to take us back home but it was a drive that I will never forget.  We started at the edge of Central Park going down 5th Avenue.  The shops brightly lit the sky and we watched as the New York pre-Sandy seemed to be coming back to life.  People were packed on the sidewalks going in and out of stores and restaurants, life seemed to be buzzing all around us.

And then we crossed 34th street. 

It was as if we had crossed over into apocalyptic New York.  It was black; pitch black.  Not a street light or building gave any indication of their whereabouts.   There was hardly anyone out on the streets – despite it being Halloween – and only the occasional taxi.  It felt eery.  And a bit scary.  In a “Hollywood movie you can almost hear the depressing orchestral music” kind of scary.  We made it back to our very dark building and climbed the pitch-black stairwell past our floor to our roof.  We needed to see this on a grander scale.  There before us were the shadowed outlines of buildings who make up the Manhattan skyline.  The Empire State building clearly marking the end of “dark, apocalyptic, New York” and the beginning of “bright, shiny, vibrant New York.”  We live in the “dry & dark” part of the city.  But even below us, there is a city that is still underwater. I’ve heard people talking about the “3 New York’s” right now – all unique, all real, all extremely different from each other, and yet all connected by miles of concrete and asphalt.  To travel from one end to another is a totally surreal experience.

We, like so many others, lost our family’s beach cottage on the New Jersey shore that my 101 year old Grandma bought for the family decades ago.  I spent my childhood summers there just like my dad and his cousins.  It is sad, of course.  But nothing is as serious as loosing a life.  As my Grandmother told me just today, “Walls can be rebuilt, the memories we have will stay with us forever.”

Photo credit: I did not take the flooded subway station photo.  It was shared by a friend on Facebook.

I snapped the above photo of my TV right before the power went out Monday night.  This was being filmed in lower Manhattan.  Moments before we watched a huge piece of metal float behind him.  He was saying that he was standing just a few blocks from “the bull” – an incredible sight.

I wish you all a safe, healthy, and warm start to November.

Apologies if I don’t respond quickly to comments – I will be back online as soon as I can.


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§ 9 Responses to Hurricane Sandy; a personal experience from lower Manhattan

  • Sarah Baumberger says:

    Oh Allison . What a well rounded account of this terrible disaster- from the blackout party to the damage of your beach house and your grandmother’s comments regarding that…it encompasses it all. Thank you for sharing your experience. I haven’t been downtown since it happened but feel like I have now. That was a scary ride. And from the looks of your whisky collection and your positive attitude, your part of the city is anything but “dry and dark.”

  • Allison – Thank you for sharing your experience and insights. Thought provoking and heart warming at the same time. Long live the New York City spirit in all of us.

  • G-LO says:

    Yo Allison!

    Thank you so much for sharing this! It would have taken me hours or even days to pull this together. Beautifully done!

    If anyone can get through something as horrible as Hurricane Sandy, it’s you and your fellow New Yorkers. You are one seriously resilient group of people. Wishing you, your family, and many friends a rapid recovery. Here’s hoping you can tell us your tale in person over several drams of whisky very very soon. Sending positive vibes your way!


  • Katie says:

    What a shocking and affectionately written piece. I love the world through your eyes – and snifters*

  • Fran Thomas says:

    An amazing piece of writing Alison, it has really conveyed the impact of Hurricane Sandy. Glad to hear you and your family are all safe and wishing everyone over in your part of the world all the best and that things will return to some sort of normality as soon as possible.

  • Susannah SB says:

    Allison, thanks for sharing your experience and photos. It’s like nothing happened up here in Washington Heights, but I feel helpless anyway, because I want to go downtown to help with the clean up. It sounds like you guys should get your power restored by the end of the weekend (fingers crossed! The rest of the boroughs have to wait till next week.) but in the meantime, if you need any heat, hot water, outlets, etc. my doors are open. And if you need anything (an extra set of hands, a drinking buddy, whatever) in the coming weeks as you get back into work and the whirlwind of promoting Brenne, just give a shout.

  • Josh Feldman says:

    Amazing and moving post, Allison. I’m so sorry about your family’s summer home. I know how devastating it can be to see a beloved place destroyed. Power has come back at The Morgan – so I imagine it has for you too. It’s still out in New Jersey – probably for a good while yet to come. What an an intense, bewildering, and yet ultimately priority correcting experience. It is good to be alive – even if cold and dark!

  • […] 5th, was the first day the New York Tri-State area felt like it was starting to get back to work post-Hurricane Sandy.  And it felt great.   Just like the old saying: you never know how much you love/need something […]

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