Hurricane SandyOur man on the ground, Chris reports on the chaos left by Hurricane Sandy - and how the city that never sleeps is coping.
Wednesday 31 October 2012
Trying to determine the difference between the sensationalist fervour of the media and reality is sometimes tricky to do; never has this been truer than the past week as Hurricane Sandy approached America’s East Coast. As the super storm grew in ferocity, the impending meteorological disaster was subject to unavoidable and increasingly speculative coverage across a host of media sources. News channels shared equal bar real estate with sports channels. Sitting at a bar on the weekend, I found myself with one eye on the World Series baseball game and one eye on a program called Tracking Sandy, which specialised in wind-battered reporters giving worst-case scenarios from the end of a pier. The hurricane itself was dubbed Frankenstorm by the news media and people were openly joking about holding ‘hurricane parties’, so I found it hard to take the whole thing seriously. Despite the fact that the subways and schools were closed, I assumed this was all simply precaution. I’ve been in New York for 5 weeks, and the idea of ‘the city that never sleeps’ taking a nap seemed incredulous to me. I first began to take Sandy seriously when I ran over to Central Park for a run on Sunday afternoon, less than 24 hours before the storm was due to hit, only to find that the entire park had been closed ‘due to storm conditions’, with gates and signs warding away potential trespassers at every entrance. Clearly there is a shared mentality amongst runners, because rather than turn back in the face of strengthening winds and stinging rain, I decided to run along the pavement that skirts the perimeter of the park and in doing so encountered a number of similarly lycra-clad, hardy souls who had decided to brave the weather too. While the route was far more flat than the 6 miles within the park and gave me the chance to see a number of familiar landmarks, the uneven paving and plethora of displaced dog walkers meant cat-like reflexes were required to avoid breaking stride. We had been told that both electric and water would likely go out on Monday, so we were to charge every electrical device, don’t consider using elevators, buy candles, stock up on water and buy lots of non-perishable food. After returning home from my run, soaked through and with the sound of wind still ringing in my ears, I told my flatmate that we should probably heed the warnings and find a shop that was still open. Monday morning was a strange experience. My flatmate and I sat in our 12th-storey apartment watching the local news channel with baited breath, awaiting the hurricane’s arrival. The blinds were down, the bath was filled with water, the fridge was stocked with bottled water (and beer), and the kitchen sides were laden with crisps, dips, and tinned food. The anticipation was palpable, Every 15 minutes or so I found myself nervously peering between the shutters in my bedroom, closed in case the windows smashed, to assess the state of play outside. It wasn’t until 3pm that the main drama in my area occurred. News reports began to come in about a crane that had collapsed at the top of a 90 storey building in Midtown West. I knew that this was close by, but it wasn’t until the reporters made their way through the city to report from the foot of the building that I realised it was barely a block from my apartment. I paced back and forth for a time until deciding I couldn’t resist the temptation any longer, and headed out of the apartment to assess the damage for myself. The wind hit me like a punch in the face as soon as I stepped out of the front door of my building. It quickly became evident that the long, straight streets of New York act like wind-tunnels, channelling and concentrating the gales of wind as they came in fits and spurts. I was barely thirty seconds from my building before I was able to stare up at the behemoth that is building One57. Sure enough, sat atop the tower was the mangled crane that hung precariously over the streets below. Fire engines and police cars were everywhere, intermingled with news crews and amateur photographers; I could scarcely believe that this was happening on my own doorstep. While at this point the wind was largely manageable, there were certain prolonged gusts that forced you to steady yourself. It was similar to the experience of standing on a tube train without holding any hand rails and trying to stay up right as it abruptly slows to pull into a station. I quickly returned to my building after being struck a number of times by debris picked up by the particularly strong gusts of wind. While it was just grit and small items, I took it as warning enough to head back home. After another 5 hours sat in front of my television I felt compelled to return, and this time found the crane swinging wildly in the strengthened wind. The sight of this giant metal pendulum swinging hundreds of metres above my head was mesmerising. This time I found myself stood on that street for the best part of half an hour, alongside a handful of photographers and onlookers willing to brave the storm. The worst of the storm is over now and the clean-up has already begun. I realise how lucky I am that Midtown West was relatively unscathed, particularly as the apartment in which I stayed for my first two weeks in New York suffered flooding and power outages. I can’t fully comprehend just how much of an impact this will have on New York; but speaking to the people and watching news reports highlight, quite understandably, just how strong-willed New Yorkers are.