As you probably know, I live in downtown Manhattan, which has been devastated by Sandy. My roommate and I live in Zone A, about two blocks from South Street Seaport and the East River. All of Zone A was ordered to evacuate before the 7pm subway shutdown on Sunday. 375,000 people live in Zone A. It was nuts.
We were ordered to evacuate, so we did. Like most normal (ie don’t-work-for-the-city) New Yorkers, I doubted anything much would happen and thought the mandatory evacuation was overkill. After all, last year during Irene everyone made a big deal and nothing much happened to Manhattan. But I left anyway, because I didn’t want to not leave and then end up being one of those assholes who didn’t follow instructions and then had to be rescued.
So on Sunday afternoon my roommate and I, and Arnold of course, evacuated to my parents’ apartment in Edgewater, NJ. Even though their place is also on a river (the Hudson this time), it’s significantly further inland than our place (like, 3 blocks instead of 1) so I hoped we’d escape any flooding or power outages.
The first thing we did when we got here was go to the supermarket for basic supplies. It was a madhouse since everyone else was doing the same thing. Apparently everyone wanted to buy bread:
Which I still think is really weird. Why is that the #1 basic necessity? Enlighten me if you know.
Once we were settled into Jersey, with the news on non-stop and our fingers on Facebook and Twitter, we relaxed a little. Arnold was apparently exhausted from all the excitement, as he passed out in an incredibly awkward-looking position in the middle of the floor:
At this point the wind had already started up but I still thought nothing much would happen to us in our new location. You can see my worry level in real time by checking out my Twitter stream.
Monday morning came around with still not that much going on. The sky was completely overcast and the river was already high, and the wind was going, but that was it. It wasn’t even raining. We decided to head to Target to get some more supplies, like water and candles. We considered buying an XBox so we could have something to do, but they were sold out. Somehow those purchases together made sense at the time. Now that I’m writing this days later, it seems really really weird.
Most of the day on Monday was spent sitting around waiting, and contacting (or being contacted by) everyone I know. I swear I talked on the phone more that day than I have in the previous 6 months combined. I hate talking on the phone!
By nightfall things had gotten way worse. It was raining non-stop and news from the city was getting scary. A building facade collapsed. A friend in Tribeca (who didn’t evacuate and I’m still pissed at her for it) posted a photo of Batter Park City with the water starting to crest out of the Hudson. A power plant exploded. The wind picked up to frightening strength, literally shaking this 5-story building.
My hope that we’d escape flooding and power loss? Not the case.
By Monday night at 8pm, the power was out and the Hudson was pouring in. My parents’ building is far enough inland and above sea-level that it didn’t flood, but looking out the window you would have though the building was in the middle of a lake. The speed with which the water rushed in was mesmerizing and scary. We went to bed around 9pm hoping to wake up to no worse news.
In the morning the water had mostly gone down the sewage drains and back into the river, and the storm had ended. But power was still out and we had no idea what was going on in the city. We frantically checked Facebook and Twitter for news every few minutes, trying to also not use up all our battery power all at once. Not getting enough news, I went down to the car and turned on the RADIO. The local AM news station, 1010wins? NOT BROADCASTING. This scared me more than anything else had at that point. It turns out their AM transmitter got wiped out in the flooding but they were transmitting on a termporary FM channel, but damn. Remembering what that felt like right now is literally giving me goose bumps. It felt like I was in an episode of The Walking Dead.
From our phones, we saw that the devastation was much, much worse elsewhere and were thankful we evacuated when we did. This is what our neighborhood looked like when the water receded:
The storm surge flooded every building within a few blocks of the river, leaving behind mud and random junk it had taken along. Of course the power was out, and many areas of downtown Manhattan were still flooded. Everyone was pumping water out and throwing out their ruined belongings. Pretty much every building with a basement had water in it. Underwater garages had become pools full of floating cars (which then leaked their gas into the water, creating an even worse situation).
Meanwhile back in Edgewater, we discovered that our gas was still on, so we could cook on the stovetop and we still had hot water. Things were better than they could have been. We texted friends to see if anyone was worse off and offer them shelter, but no one took us up on it (no power is a deal-breaker apparently).
We knew from the interwebs that Manhattan above 26th street hadn’t lost power, so we decided to drive into the city to get dinner and charge up on Tuesday night. Driving through streets with no street lights was incredibly nerve-wracking and I get a stomach ache just remembering it. People suck at driving. A few minutes into our drive we saw lights up on the hill and diverted over to a nearby town, Guttenburg, which either never lost power or had gotten it back already. There we found some pathetic Jersey pizza and called it good enough for dinner, and headed back home. Went to bed super early again.
On Wednesday, still without power and with our devices powered down, we decided to head into the city to check on our place, get some food, and charge up again. Making our way down to lower Manhattan was spooky, as it was mostly empty except for emergency workers and people clearing out their ruined stuff. Below 26th street there was not only no power, but also no water, heat, or cell service. Having no cell signal was the freakiest thing yet.
When we made it to our building, we were dumbfounded by what we saw. Here’s what greeted us in the building lobby:
That thing on the left used to be the doorman stand, and was laying on its side. The computers and other equipment in it are utterly ruined. Mud everywhere. There were a few guys pumping water out of the basement. The building had flooded as much as 5′ worth, with water even coming into our mailbox which is about 3′ from the ground (I had a fabric shipment in there too, which got all muddy! Grrr. Luckily fabric can be washed, so no harm done). We didn’t bother checking the ground-floor laundry room or gym as we knew what we’d see in there.
Did I mention our building is BRAND NEW? When we moved in mid-June, we were one of the first apartments rented out in the new building. The destruction is even more heartbreaking when you take that into account.
We climbed the pitch-black stairs to our apartment to get more clothes and then headed back out. At one point my roommate accidentally knocked over a pot and it made a racket, and he told me he was scared the way the characters on Walking Dead are when they accidentally made a noise. If a zombie had actually appeared at that point we would literally have been expecting it.
We saw neighboring buildings and restaurants cleaning out and throwing out, pumping water out of basements. Some people were standing around simply staring at the destruction.
Here’s a picture of the 5′ tall water line on the building across the street from ours (which, by the way, is some sort of ConEd building):
And here’s what the street looked like, facing away from our building:
See that planter? That used to be next to our building’s front door. The flooding picked it clear up and moved it a block away. Here’s the view from the other side:
The planter came from back behind the white car. It used to have a twin sitting on the other side of the door, but I didn’t see it. Who knows where it ended up.
Depressed, we headed uptown to the powered side of Manhattan and spent the rest of the day camped out in various restaurants using their wifi and electricity.
Above 26th street you wouldn’t really even know that something devastating had happened if it weren’t for all displaced people like us looking for places to plug in our devices. We ended up hanging out in Port Authority (if you’ve ever been there you know how desperate for power we must have been to “hang out” there), where we ran into someone we knew who’d brought a power strip in with him to recharge. We sat by a power outlet for an hour or two, recharging.
It was getting late in the day and I didn’t want to drive through stoplight-less dark streets again, so we headed to the car and started to drive home. I was running low on gas by this point so we tried to fill up, only to find that the two gas stations near the Lincoln Tunnel were out of gas. So we went home and again went to sleep before 9pm again. It had gotten cold in the apartment with no heat, and I was thankful for Arnold sleeping next to me under the covers.
The first thing we did on Thursday morning was clear out the fridge and freezer of all the ruined food. I really hate throwing out food but there was no saving this stuff. It was pretty gross.
J had to do some work on Thursday, so we found a Starbucks in nearby Fort Lee and he camped out charging his devices and working. Meantime, I drove around on empty looking for an open gas station. Passed about a dozen before finding one that was open and had gas, so got in the gigantic line to wait. Two very nervous and boring hours later, I managed to get gas. I’m glad I didn’t have to push the car! I was driving on fumes by that point.
On my hunt for gas I discovered that the diner in Fort Lee was open and had wifi, so I collected J and we went to get lunch and wifi it up. The diner was packed and had people waiting to eat, so we couldn’t hang out after finishing. I still needed to charge my phone, so we headed back to the Starbucks so I could plug in. The wifi there was so slow it was unusable, which I thought was very weird until I glanced around the room and saw that many of those asshats were streaming movies. That’s so damn rude that I almost started lecturing people.
J and I spent the next half hour discussing how you could prevent that behavior from a technical standpoint (he’s a web developer too) . . . I’m picturing something that, when you try to do something bandwidth-heavy on a free public wifi connection, pops up with a huge graphic saying “DON’T BE A JERK!” and kicks you off the network for a 5-minute-long timeout as punishment.
By Thursday evening I was getting antsy that we still didn’t have power back and that I hadn’t gotten any work done all week. Seeing people tweet that their power was coming back on was making me really impatient to get it back ourselves! Then I saw a tweet from Flatiron School saying that they were letting people come hang out and charge/wifi there, so I tweeted them to ask if we could come by the next day. They replied yes so J and I made a plan to spend the day in the city at their offices.
Most public transportation was back to some degree by Friday, so we took a bus into the city and walked down to the Flatiron School’s space. Fast wifi on your laptop is so exciting after days getting the internet through your phone!! I didn’t end up getting much actual “work” done but I did upload pictures and catch up on email, so I felt more human and relaxed. Around 4pm we decided to start heading back to again avoid streetlight-less roads (NJ Transit drivers are awful enough without adding any obstacles). We picked up dinner togo, walked back to Port Authority, and waited in a huge line to get on a bus. Made it onto a bus about an hour later and got home to the even-colder apartment, where we took Arnold out and ate dinner, then went to bed.
J was scheduled to leave on vacation on a 6am flight on Saturday, so we got up before dawn and I drove him to JFK. Haven’t heard from him since so I assume he got on the plane and left town. Lucky bastard.
I drove back to the powerless, cold apartment and got back in bed with Arnold. After the sun came up I drove to a different nearby Starbucks and camped out to power up. This Starbuck’s wifi was out and had been for days according to the employees, but the wifi signal was still coming through. I introduced myself to the manager as a tech person and offered to troubleshoot the router. She replied that she didn’t know what or where that was. When we established it was probably in the back office, she told me she couldn’t let me back there and thanked me for my offer. So I sat back down and enjoyed my Mocha while my computer charged back up.
Meanwhile the place kept getting packed with people and then clearing out, in waves. Unfortunately some of the most annoying NJ-types decided to park at the table right next to me and in their loud accented voices started discussing awful things, like how much their condos cost and how much their taxes are. I recognized one of them and after a few minutes figured out she was Kim G from Real Housewives. I’m still ashamed I recognized her. When their conversation turned to how likely they are to be broken into by thugs coming in from poorer areas I packed up and left. Just could not take it anymore.
To cheer myself up I went to the next-door supermarket and bought supplies to make veggie stew. Came home and spent the next hour cooking and talking to my dad on the phone. PSE&G tweeted that Edgewater should have power by the next day. I was sad. Distracted myself with playing with Arnold and reading Bossypants. When the sun started to go down I heated up some soup and had dinner. Then I settled into my dad’s armchair to sew, wearing two sweaters because it was COLD in here . . .
And the power came back! I was so surprised that I held my breath for about 30 seconds in a superstitious attempt to keep it on. I could hear my neighbors screaming in excitement and allowed myself to believe it was really back. The first thing I did? Flip the heat on! Bet you thought it was going to be something more like check Facebook or something, huh? But no, it was COLD in here. I think I mentioned that. The next thing I did was call my dad to tell him (he’s coming home today, Sunday, so he was ecstatic to hear the news), and then go do about 5 loads of laundry.
Now that power is back here, the hurricane seems like it’s over for me, but it actually isn’t. I have no idea when I’ll be able to move back into my real apartment. NYC is inspecting each building downtown to clear it for habitation, and many buildings are failing inspection. If the building is damaged enough, it could be uninhabitable for weeks, if not months, while the owners fix the problems. Knowing that my building flooded so severely means I know we may not pass inspection. I haven’t gotten any news from management yet, and the only doorman whose phone number I have is actually away right now. I tried Tweeting someone who lives nearby to ask them to check my building, but didn’t get much of a response.
So my plan for today is to go pick up my dad when his flight lands at 1pm and then head into the city to check out my building. I’m crossing my fingers that it hasn’t been stickered with a red “do not enter” sign.
What I learned about losing power for 5 days:
- If you’re going to be out of power, let it be in the (not-too-severe) winter. Sure it’s cold, but you can huddle with your pet and put on everything you own, then pile up all your blankets and huddle down underneath them with said pet. It’ll still be cold, but you will survive. The last power outage I remember was in 2003 during a hot August day, and that was way more uncomfortable. There are only so many layers you can take off, but an almost infinite number you can put on! Bonus: in the winter your window sill or fire escape can serve as a refrigerator. I kept my milk on the balcony for 2 days and it stayed fresh just fine thanks to 40-ish degree weather.
- A fully-charged Macbook Air can repower an iPhone 4 battery to 100% at least twice before it’s out of juice. This is invaluable information.
- Eat the ice cream immediately. I though I had a few hours window but no, it was a soggy gross mess when I went to eat it. Perfectly good chocolate ice cream gone to waste.
- You don’t need light to shower. This actually really surprised me. I was able to shower just fine without actually being able to see most of what was in the shower stall.
Ways to help:
Tomorrow I am going into the city to give blood and volunteer. If you aren’t local but want to help, please consider a donation to the Red Cross or the Mayor’s Fund. I know a lot of knitters/quilters/etc like to donate handmade things, and those are lovely, but what the Jersey Shore and downtown Manhattan really need is money to rebuild. Please consider donating the $$$ you would spend making something instead.
Are you in need?
If you’ve been affected by Sandy and need help, please let someone know! There are many many resources to take advantage of but it’s hard to know who needs what. If you don’t know who to contact, please feel free to leave a comment here and I’ll get you in touch with someone who can help, or at least someone who can tell you who to go for help.