jump to navigation

Two Weeks (An Overview) November 13, 2012

Posted by craftlass in Sandy.
Tags: , ,

Has it really been two weeks?

Time has lost all meaning.

Two weeks ago I watched the waters rise up my street, for some time peacefully lapping at the pavement in front of our building. We stood there, gaping out the window, dazed by how a river usually a mile away could have created this impossible-to-understand sight. Finally, we sat down and tried to distract ourselves until we heard a sudden sound like a big waterfall followed by a rush of dozens of smaller ones. Our street was gone, no longer visible as the bright clouds threw shadows across the churning waters. The peace had ended.

As water filled up the cars parked on the street and their electrical systems flooded the lights and the horns began. It was the worst concert and light show ever. The droning shifted over the course of the night as some batteries ran out while other cars joined the din, you could hear the frequencies coming and going and the distances shift. Then there were the cars that simply had alarms go off. We later heard that some cars also had their windows open, so in addition to floodwaters they caught what rain fell. Modern car design is really incompatible with flooding.

We were prepared for a storm and for flooding, but no one had prepared us for that!

The morning after, featuring the planter, sign, and a completely drowned car. The night before the water was up to the last’s windshield!

The next morning brought both a bit of recession and some surprises. A sign we recognized from across town was floating up our street. A planter drifted along, eventually meeting the sign before both lodged on a gate. We made a game of guessing what the more mysterious objects might be. Neighbors stepped out on stoops or leaned out windows as we all called out to each other for news. People across the street from each other looked for signs of damage that couldn’t be seen from stoops or windows on the same side. A window had blown in on the floor below us, something we couldn’t have fixed without a helpful neighbor checking our building over. It was like going back generations to a time when news spread in the form of gossip more than any other medium, except we couldn’t cross the street or go next door.

Through these early days we were doing really well. We’d prepared for at least 3-5 days in every way. We lost power around 9 PM on Monday, about 5 minutes after I saw a tweet about our substation being shut down. It was pretty cool to have a little notice, one of the many times and ways Twitter would help us as Sandy and her aftermath unfolded. We figured we’d have a few days without power and rejoiced in the facts that I had a large stockpile of candles and various flashlights and that our stove worked. My partner cooked up a storm, carefully using everything he could from our freezer as it thawed. We played board games in the candlelight and I read through the first four Harry Potter books. It was fun. There was nothing we could do but wait things out, anyway. We carefully conserved our phone batteries while trying to tweet frequently enough that friends and family knew we were okay. It was nice to spend time just hanging out together.

From our stoop on our first trip outside.

Now and then a reminder would come of how lucky we were to be two healthy adults without children or pets to worry about. Construction tractors rolled around with rescue workers and National Guardsmen in a front shovel looking for anyone in need of emergency help, shining flashlights up to any window where people appeared. Every vehicle brought people to windows. In the newfound quiet that had spread across our usually vibrant town, every noise was a cause for excitement! During sunlight hours we saw people trudging through the water with trash bag-wrapped legs, some toting backpacks for their late evacuation while others were just exploring. Either way, everyone still on the block would greet them from windows while they would tell us what they’d seen in their journeys so far, like town criers who were each given just a little piece of the information. We were constantly being warned by the town not to venture into the waters but found ourselves immensely grateful to those who did for those little scraps of knowledge they brought.

A garbage bag floats in a basement entrance (probably about 4′ of water at this point)

Wednesday brought the welcome sight of a nearly-dry street. The planter had floated across the way and was dumped in the middle of the street. The neighborhood matriarch was already clearing her sidewalk of fallen leaves and debris. Cars sat dead along the sidewalks. I awoke to an empty apartment but soon my partner returned with news from City Hall, including the valuable knowledge that the Target just over the border in Newport was open and powered. We raced over to find Best Buy was the same and had set out a few power strips for people to use. We grabbed some power and decided to see if there were any battery-operated or alternative-power radios (the one classic disaster supply we’d overlooked) even though we expected, and found, they were all gone. Target was a bit crazier. People were huddled around outlets all over the store, most charging phones while a few had laptops and one girl even sat there playing a Nintendo DS while charging it up. I gave my phone a really strong password and plugged it and a spare battery charger in behind a display TV, stashing them out of sight while we shopped for snacks and supplies and chatted with other people in the same boat as us. The magnitude was becoming clearer.

That day set a pattern that would last almost a week. Daytime was for charging phones and seeking out news in-person, in a different area each day. Evening brought curfews and a retreat into our apartments. We’d eat a big dinner and find ways to amuse ourselves while trying to not overuse our phones then fall asleep to the hum of generators and pumps. We visited with friends a bit, finding some normalcy in just talking to people we already knew. We stopped in to check on businesses we frequent and their owners and staff. We were given some really good free meals by generous people like Big D’s Grub Truck and Sweetery NYC. We fed some neighbors with the extra food from our freezer-emptying meals. I have never been so proud of my town or the people in it and I was pretty proud to begin with.

Along the way we met dozens of people, some with heartbreaking tales of losing their homes, cars, and shore houses. Many lost property that had been in their family for generations. Our sidewalks became glutted with piles of furniture and flooring and lifetimes of memories. Still, so many of these people were smiling as they cleared everything out of the homes they couldn’t inhabit, because no one had lost life in our town and that made us all rather lucky. There is nothing like a natural disaster to reprioritize your mind.

This sign, sitting on a pile of all the worldly possessions of someone around the corner from us, felt like the perfect symbol of the dichotomy of emotions post-Sandy.

As we felt a little more comfortable using our phones more we started to see some news of other towns and grasp just how lucky that actually was. Seeing the mounting death tolls and images of classic boardwalks floating away while houses collapsed behind them brought home just what too much water can do. Hearing about the lack of help in some places, notably nearby Staten Island, was difficult. Here we were, getting help all over the place from generous strangers, and there was no way to pass that on to a place so close that so desperately needed it. For much of the week we were practically cut off from everywhere, with our precious PATH train out of service (that will likely take awhile yet) and only limited buses that had to use the overcrowded Lincoln Tunnel even after they started running again. Until this week the ferries were normal price, which means prohibitively expensive to most people. We heard it was taking people 2-4 hours to get into or out of New York City, a whopping trip of about 2 miles.

Reality sunk in as we eagerly watched the news of substation repairs. They were taking awhile even with specialists from all over the country working on them. I learned a lot about our local grid and which substations powered which parts of town, something I certainly never considered before. We almost never lose power! The temperature started dropping and we naively bought a space heater for when we got power back, knowing our boiler was going to take some time to replace. We still had hope.

I will never forget coming around the corner last week and seeing our streetlights on and lights blazing from our neighbors’ windows. I normally despise our over-bright block but this was glorious!!!

Except, wait – didn’t we leave a single light on in the apartment? A front one that we should be able to see from the street? Yes, we did. Yet, it wasn’t on. We raced inside and called the landlord to find out that our circuit breaker boards and meters were still wet. No power for us. With a nor’easter blowing in and the apartment already down to 54°F it was officially time to evacuate – a week after the actual storm we had survived with no problem.

We stayed with friends for a couple of days before we got an offer of a hotel room near my partner’s work. So, oddly, here I sit in a boutique hotel, fancier than I could ever dream of staying in, writing to you about my time in a disaster zone. It’s lovely and warm and has unlimited hot drinks and good wifi. Harry Winston is around the corner, the other way and down 6th Avenue is Radio City Music Hall, both already dolled up for a holiday I can’t even fathom preparing for. It should be magical to stay here, especially at this time of year, it’s the stuff of dream vacations. It’s a little different when the comfort factor is also what’s allowing the psychological impacts to rear their ugly heads. Still, I couldn’t be more grateful. We have much deeper resources than I ever could have imagined thanks to friends and family and the way people have rallied around us is… is… completely indescribable even for a woman with a fairly large vocabulary. We have no idea how long we’ll be houseless but we have learned that we are unlikely to ever be homeless.

I’ll be sharing a lot more about my Sandy experience, including tips that I certainly did not find on any disaster-prep lists or websites, but first I just had to get out the main story. You can also see our tweets that were posted throughout the storm and aftermath on the Storify that the wonderful Remco Timmermans put together for us. Reading it gives me chills now and I wrote a good chunk of those tweets!

Two weeks’ time has never felt so short and so long all at once.



1. PC0101 - November 13, 2012

Having followed your tweets from the disaster zone live this blog provides additional detail. Such personal accounts make you feel much more what it is to face such an intrusion of the forces of nature into one’s life; a disruption of what has been taken for granted during years.

craftlass - November 14, 2012

Thank you! I’m just so glad Remco archived those tweets, reading through them enabled me to remember much more detail. I really hope personal accounts drive home that this could happen to anyone – maybe not via flood, but through plenty of forces we just can’t fight. Being prepared is much easier when that fact is recognized, and being prepared is how you survive. Boy, will I never take power for granted again! Now I’m a bit scared of how much we rely on it for almost everything…

2. Suz (@souphead) - November 13, 2012

reading the storify. laughing a little. crying too. i can’t believe some of those pictures! since we were conserving batteries too I didn’t look around for pics. once i got back to everything, i didn’t want to relive it. now i can, but it’s making me sad.

and i want you guys back home!


craftlass - November 14, 2012

Yeah, that’s sort of what happens when I read through it (and now I’ve done that several times, using tweets as notes for this piece and upcoming ones. Still makes me laugh and cry each time!). What a weird experience we all lived through and what a weird experience it continues to be.

Ahhh, home – amazing how attached you can get to a somewhat crappy apartment. lol At least we’re determined that wherever we wind up it won’t be far from you. 🙂

xoxo right back at you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: