On Sunday afternoon my eight-year-old daughter and I flew into New York for a wedding. Now it’s Wednesday and Hurricane Sandy has laid waste to my friend’s nuptials – she is stuck in Brooklyn, guests have had their flights cancelled, she fears the Water Club, where there is a brunch on Sunday, is under water and the shop where her wedding dress is being altered is closed until further notice.
Yet her concerns are minor compared with others who have lost everything. New Yorkers began assessing the damage yesterday – at least ten dead, 23 fires, 80 houses lost in a fire on Breezy Point in Queens, 60,000 people without power in Manhattan alone. Mayor Bloomberg is a frequent presence on television, authoritative without being patrician, calm and reassuring without underestimating the gravity of the drama.
News footage of subway tracks submerged beneath scummy water and rubble bolsters Bloomberg’s message that this is the worst disaster in the subway’s 108 years and that New York is facing unprecedented upheaval.
Yet while Battery Park is under water and downtown below 39th Street blacked out without electricity, parts of the city seem unaffected apart from fallen branches. The biggest midtown drama on Monday was a collapsing crane on 57th Street, which I saw from a taxi window (contrary to rumour, there were plenty of cabs). Soaring up alongside what will be the highest residential building in Manhattan, it had buckled and was swaying like a wisp of wire as emergency forces evacuated the streets beneath it.
MEANWHILE, STAFF IN many grocery stores stayed overnight so as not to close. On Sunday night in Barzinis, the family-run grocery store opposite where I’m staying on the Upper West Side, people were stocking up as if for a siege and I had to queue for 45 minutes but I needn’t have bothered as the shop stayed steadfastly open.
Pictured above: Cars submerged on 14th Street in New York during Hurricane Sandy (source: The Atlantic)
Friends took us to Mimi’s, an Italian restaurant on Second Avenue, on Monday night when the storm was at its height and I was surprised to find it noisy and crowded, the mood jolly. It was surreal knowing that a couple of miles away the hurricane surge was hurling water into the tunnels and subways and incapacitating the transport grid.
Governor Cuomo said yesterday, ‘New Yorkers are at their best when things are at their toughest,’ praising the courage and heroism of the ‘first responders’ who plunged into the fast rising Hudson to rescue others. A friend, travelling up from downtown to meet us last night, was driven by an orthopaedic surgeon from NYU Hospital who was offering lifts to passers by. 76 shelters are open in the city, all partly staffed by volunteers. Even in my local 7/11 volunteers were helping overworked staff to pour coffee.
Yesterday Governor Cuomo joked that he had told President Obama, ‘We have a once-in-100-years flood every two years now.’ ‘This is the new reality,’ he told New Yorkers, ‘We have to find ways of building our city back stronger and greater than ever before.’ Given the response and mood so far, it seems that they’re well on their way.