Last week an earthquake and this weekend a hurricane: Life in New York City is starting to resemble a disaster film. We take pride in our street smarts, but are New Yorkers prepared to deal with the worst hurricane threat in 26 years?
To see how businesses and locals are getting ready for Hurricane Irene, I walked around the East Village and Lower East Side on Friday and Saturday. I discovered critical shortages of emergency supplies at Kmart, shuttered doors at Whole Foods and resilient New Yorkers determined to enjoy their Saturday tradition: the boozy brunch.
If these photos are any indication, we’ll sail through this crisis on a beer high!
Beer makes up for crucial battery, flashlight shortages
When Mayor Bloomberg ordered mandatory evacuations of flood-prone areas on Friday, New Yorkers began to take the hurricane threat seriously. By 3 PM on Friday, dozens of people were lined up on 14th Street, waiting to get into Trader Joe’s supermarket.
A few hours later, the Kmart at Astor Place was clogged with local residents in search of emergency supplies.
Kmart’s flashlight inventory was sold out by Thursday night and the store was completely out of batteries on Friday, according to staff. Customers were filling carts with the few remaining crates of water, along with beer, candy and Gatorade.
With little hurricane experience, many New Yorkers seemed confused about what products to buy. Water was the obvious choice, but only two crates of Evian and a dozen bottles of Smart Water remained on the shelves.
Flushing my toilet with a bottle of Evian seemed like a Manhattan cliche, but I loaded a crate on my shopping cart.
Kmart’s camping aisle had a noticeable gap; all of the lanterns and flashlights were missing from the shelves. Not a single battery-operated light source was available for sale in the store.
The cooler aisle was also ransacked, and only the tiny or enormous models remained on the shelves.
After visiting the beer aisle, it became clear why so many New Yorkers were desperate for coolers. With no batteries, flashlights or large jugs of water available, residents would have to rely on alcohol to get through the storm.
At checkout, shopping carts were clogged with chips, cookies, sugary drinks and other unhealthy snacks. I felt compelled to tweet about the poor selection at Kmart, and the fact that New Yorkers aren’t sure how to prepare for this type of storm.
A Nashville-based blogger responded with helpful advice. I was relieved to see most Kmart shoppers had at least two of these six items in their carts:
Duct tape and sandbags form first line of defense
When the bustling Cafe Orlin shutters its doors for Saturday brunch, you know local businesses are taking the hurricane threat seriously.
Throughout the East Village and Lower East Side, stores covered their windows with duct tape and plastered “closed for the hurricane” signs on their doors.
The sight of X’s on shop windows, combined with graffiti scrawled on the walls, added a post-apocalyptic air to the Bowery.
While bloggers debate the effectiveness of using duct tape on windows, business owners on St Marks Place have embraced this low-cost form of prevention.
The Heart Break restaurant looked like a student art project on Saturday, with its duct-taped windows forming a checkerboard of sorts.
Fashionistas were forced to look elsewhere for vinyl mini skirts on Saturday morning, as the Patricia Field boutique on Bowery was strewn in silver tape and covered by metal grates.
Duct tape wasn’t for everyone, however. Some business owners upgraded to heavy plastic tarps. This Bowery lounge covered a wall of windows with a sheet held down by heavy rocks. Presumably, this would deflect the blow of an errant shopping cart sent flying by the hurricane.
Luke’s lobster shack also embraced the tarp, using it to cover the metal doors to its underground storage area. The eatery also introduced a Southern U.S. hurricane staple: the sand bag.
Neighboring Caracas restaurant, known for its Colombian arepas, dutifully covered its cellar door in plastic and sand.
Upscale eatery Peels, located on a stretch of the Bowery deemed “lower Manhattan’s answer to the Champs-Élysées” by New York magazine, clearly takes hurricane preparation seriously.
Its wood-covered windows will protect the restaurant from flying objects– and post-hurricane looters looking for hot menu items like andouille corn dogs.
Subways, supermarkets close before hurricane
Governor Cuomo took the unprecedented step of shutting all subway and bus service at noon on Saturday, ensuring New Yorkers can’t wander around Manhattan in gale force winds.
A policewoman was posted outside of the 2nd Avenue Subway stop, which was already shuttered on Saturday morning.
Procrastinating Lower East Siders were forced to shop for hurricane rations at bodegas, since Whole Foods was closed on Saturday. A security guard stood inside the door making sure no one tried to enter.
Adding to the zombie apocalypse vibe, the city’s green garbage cans were all upturned. Conscientious locals placed their trash on top of the cans, instead of throwing their litter on the street.
Brunch as usual
New Yorkers seemed determined to carry on with their usual weekend routines, despite the impending storm.
When rain started to pour around 10:30 AM on Saturday, many sought cover under store awnings and scaffolding. A brave skateboarder seemed unfazed as he sped down St Marks Place in the East Village.
Just moments before, the weather was sunny and humid. Brunch goers flocked to the few open restaurants, like the Gemma Trattoria at the Bowery Hotel.
Outdoor seating is highly coveted in the East Village, and some diners refused to give up their plum seats when it started to pour.
The rain didn’t damper last-minute runs for hurricane supplies. The line snaked down the aisle at the St Marks Market, and only expired or exotic breads were left on the bakery shelves.
Once key supplies have been purchased, there’s little to do but wait for the hurricane to touch down in New York City. Some city dwellers are planning hurricane parties, and the (open) East Village bars will be bustling tonight.
I calmed my pre-hurricane jitters with a tasty margarita at La Palapa in the East Village on Friday.
How are you preparing for Hurricane Irene?
Share your plans by leaving a comment below!