the day I ran across Manhattan in a hurricane

Regardless of where you are in the world, you must know that this last Monday evening Hurricane Sandy touched down in New Jersey, just south of New York (yes, yes, by then she was technically “post-tropical storm Sandy”, which is the lamest name ever, and she’d been a hurricane all along, so she’ll always still be called Hurricane Sandy). The storm had a diameter of approximately 800 miles and New York got hit by the right-hand side of her as she passed over New Jersey, which is the more lethal side to be hit by (but obviously not nearly as bad as having the centre of the storm go over you).

By the time Sandy arrived, the whole of New York was tangibly waiting for her. The transit system had closed the day before, trains and buses had been moved to higher ground to escape any flooding and the subway entrances were gated closed. If you needed to get anywhere, you walked. Homeless people and people living in low-lying areas like Coney Island had been evacuated. Classes were cancelled and all but the most industrious shop and restaurant owners had closed their establishments by noon on Monday. The few that remained open served the late panicked customers searching for alcohol mainly (although maybe a few people were buying tinned food and water) in preparation of the looming storm and potentially countless hours stuck indoors.

For the first half of Monday, things were pretty normal apart from the fact that classes had been cancelled and that it was raining quite heavily. But there was a weird air of anticipation – we were waiting for a hurricane to arrive and no one had any idea how bad it would be. Most of us had no idea what a hurricane was even like. Would we lose power? Would our building be damaged? Would our windows shatter from high winds and flying debris? Would we have to be evacuated? Basically… would it be the zombie apocalypse? (Should we stock up on weapons?)

By mid-afternoon my internet had crashed, and with it any hopes of making my deadline that day. I met up with Miks, a friend who lives on the floor below me and is in the same masters program as me – he’s from Latvia and was a journalist there before starting our masters program. Journalists are fun people to be with when disaster is looming… they are the combination of fearless and adventurous that is needed in such times.

We went up onto the roof of our building … climbing through a small window and then going down the fire-escape (because obviously the doors to the roof had been locked in order to, you know, prevent people going onto the roof in the storm). “How do you know this way onto the roof?” I asked, totally bewildered. “Smokers always know routes” was his reply. True that.

This was our view of the Hudson River from the roof, downriver and upriver (both with New Jersey in the background):












And this is us on the roof:

Police cars and fire engines were trawling the streets, their sirens blaring, and the loudhailers of the police could be heard everywhere. It was crazy and exciting being in the storm on the roof… so obviously we decided to do the next logical thing…. and walk to Times Square in the growing storm. We grabbed an orange each as rations (they were eaten by the third block as were a pain to carry) and Miks considered picking up fallen branches to use as weapons (like some passing people had). I must admit, I started the journey having accepted that we probably wouldn’t make it all the way to Times Square… which is 81 blocks away (over 4 miles and almost 6.5km) from where we live.

We moved quickly, having opted for running shoes in the event of having to run (more from the police than from the hurricane) and saw really interesting things along the almost-deserted way. There were still lots of joggers out (heaven forbid New York joggers would stop for a single day, even in a hurricane) and people walking their dogs, as well as fellow hurricane adventurers. We tried to take photos but it was raining very hard, so our phones were getting wet and the pictures didn’t come out so clearly.

The gyms were still full (there’s a gym on the second floor that was totally packed) and people walking their dogs below:

And shop owners sand-bagging the doors of their shops:

We went down onto a pier on the Hudson and jumped around in the storm. If you jumped up off the ground, the wind carried you and you landed  several feet away from where you were before… it was awesome.

One of the people jumping on the pier with us said he lived in a nearby building and pointed to it. Turns out he lives in the Trump Towers… we totally should have seized the moment and networked with a millionaire in the middle of the storm… but we didn’t, we carried on with our adventure instead.

As we left the pier, the cops arrived and used their loudhailers to yell (and swear) at the people still playing on the pier: “Get off the pier! Get off the pier! Get of the f*ing pier!” It was strange and totally hilarious hearing the cops swearing over loudhailers! Everyone on the pier ignored them and next thing the cop car was driving on the pier after people! It was ridiculous. The pier was undoubtedly my favourite part of the journey!

We saw people who had been evacuated from New Jersey being bussed in to an evacuation centre in midtown Manhattan:

Then we came across “the crane” that such a huge fuss was made of… as well as the crowd of reporters lurking on the street below, reporting live for various news stations (hoping, although they’d never admit it, that the crane would fall and make their reporting career):

Finally we reached Times Square… and there were only a few other people there (but the adverts blared on as per usual). It was deathly quiet and still – the rain and wind had stopped momentarily:

We were soaked through and exhausted so we caught a cab home instead of attempting the return journey on foot. By the time we got back up to 123rd Street, debris was beginning to fly, trees were breaking and scaffolding fell off the roof of our building (the closest we came to real danger all day). We ran inside and the adventure was over.

The next morning, I walked just over 100 blocks with some friends, examining the damage in upper Manhattan, which was extremely lucky and had little more than broken scaffolding and fallen trees. This is the small park attached to the residence where I live. About half of its trees were down.

And Central Park also had many of its trees fall, some onto cars (stupidly) parked nearby:

Power is slowly being restored to areas that lost power, but many in Manhattan are still blacked out, and far more in Brooklyn, Staten Island and elsewhere:

All in all, Sandy was an interesting experience. I’m grateful that our area wasn’t badly damaged and I think often of those who lost loved ones, their homes or valuables in Sandy’s destruction. The skies have been cloudless for the past two days and it’s hard to believe that such a storm passed by mere days ago.

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