As Sandy news coverage dies down and the hashtag #Sandy ceases to trend on Twitter (always a sign of news fatigue), the storm is far from over in Lower Manhattan. Three days after Sandy caused massive flooding in Alphabet City and knocked out the local Con Ed plant, a quarter of a million Manhattanites are still without power and are running short on basic supplies.
My neighborhood, the East Village, is one of many without lights, heat, Internet or cell service. In fact, most of Manhattan below 40th Street on the East Side and 27th Street on the West Side remains in total darkness and completely cut off from the outside world. The only way to get much-needed supplies, check email or send a text message is to walk dozens of blocks north or west. If you want to find out if the subways are running, you better wake up early to buy one of the few newspapers for sale at the local bodega; you can’t get news updates via TV news or Twitter. Most troubling, if you find yourself in the blackout zone and need urgent medical assistance or police, good luck: you’ll have to get to a working pay phone and dial 911.
I am writing this post in midtown Manhattan, which is a completely different world. The lights of Times Square never faded during or after the storm; restaurants are open for business and the cell signal is as good as you’d expect in a national emergency. I am lucky enough to have an open office near Bryant Park where I can charge my cell phone and get in touch with relatives who have been affected by Sandy throughout the tri-state area.
Meanwhile, back in the East Village, our version of Times Square is completely dark. Normally bustling with NYC undergrads and saki-bombed twenty-somethings, St Marks Place is now dead-silent after dark and covered with rotting food. Our local market, which proudly bears a sign claiming it’s “always open,” was finally shut down last night by the city. (I accept that it’s not wise to sell dairy products two days after a power failure, but it would be nice to have a place to buy pasta and sauce without walking to midtown).
Still, there is something surreal and even beautiful about living in a pitch-black neighborhood of Manhattan. This is one of the busiest cities in the world, but I find myself slowly walking down the streets at night, shining my flashlight on little details I never noticed before.
>>Scroll down for photos taken in Lower Manhattan from Monday through today, using an iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 and edited on Instagram.
Calm before the storm
The NYC subways shut down at 7PM on Sunday– a move I considered extreme. I admit, I thought Hurricane Sandy was just hype. Last year, Hurricane Irene came and went without leaving much more than a puddle on my street (although the Jacob Riis Houses were flooded). I was sure the mayor was just being overly cautious and Sandy would amount to a rain shower.
Jake and I didn’t do much emergency prep this time; however, as the storm approached, I started having doubts and ducked in to the St Mark’s Market to pick up some food, just in case. I was a bit late, as the only remaining bread was naan. (They actually restocked that same day, and I was able to buy sliced bread just as the storm picked up on Monday night).
Bananas were one of the first items to sell out.
Many bodegas cleared out their produce aisles, which typically surround the store. However, during and after the storm, these bodegas were just about the only businesses still open. Without them, we’d have no supplies at all in the East Village.
We ventured out in the rain on Monday afternoon to see what the fuss was about. It was definitely windy, but I was still not convinced this would be the “Frankenstorm.”
From early on, it was clear that Sandy was not umbrella-friendly.
We were pleased to find our local Subway open, although they were out of many ingredients and my favorite, chocolate chip cookies. I imagined this would be the greatest extent of my storm hardship.
Local dogs took their storm prep a bit more seriously than I did, as you can see from this fashionable rain attire.
Jake donned his EMS windbreaker, as we felt like urban adventurers traipsing through the rain storm. Many businesses were already shuttered on Monday afternoon, as the NYC subways were shut down at 7PM on Sunday. If you were in the East Village when the storm started on Monday, you were most likely a local.
Sadly, the TV show Smash would have to find another place to film– as it was already clear on Monday evening that business would not be conducted as usual this week in Manhattan.
While duct tape was the storm prep of choice, some businesses ventured into novel materials on Monday. This coffee shop opted for packing tape.
Another coffee shop, The Bean, appeared to be hedging its bets, as it was open for business but posted an “emergency” phone number on the door, just in case.
Superstitious New Yorkers could ask Zoltar for guidance in the storm, at the Gem’s Spa bodega on St Marks.
Rain, wind and flooding
As the storm picked up on Monday night, Jake and I decided to venture out and see what it looked like. (Definitely not the best idea, as some New Yorkers were killed walking their dogs or snapping photos at this same time period). Rain was drenching St Marks Place, and the Halloween decorations took an ominous turn.
The 7-Eleven was still open for business, despite the hurricane.
The Astor Place cube was deserted, and framed by sanitation trucks. The department smartly parked their cars around Cooper Square, which was far from the flooding of Alphabet City.
We came across several more umbrella fails, a few spectators and a couple of bicyclists who were battling the wind. At one point, a gust knocked over a bike deliveryman.
Trees were already coming down in the East Village, like this branch outside of the St Marks Market.
I was done with the weather chasing and retreated to our apartment, but Jake set out for Alphabet City. He came across a massive downed tree.
On Avenue C between 9th and 11th Streets, he came across a gushing tide of water that began to rise up towards his knees.
Jake snapped a few pics and video of cars becoming submerged in water on Avenue C, before returning home at my pleading.
Soon after, the lights in our apartment began to flicker before the power went completely out. We had received a text message from Con Ed stating they might “preemptively” cut our power, but it turned out the blackout happened because the plant at 14th Street was overrun with water.
We grabbed our headlamps and flashlight, and waited until the winds and rain died down before venturing out again to see the damage. Every street just north of us was flooded between Avenues B and C.
At 14th Street and Avenue B was saw an amazing sight: the FDNY were pulling down a rescue BOAT that they would use to explore the downed ConEd plant. I never thought I would see that in Manhattan!
Spectators gathered around the boat, marking this as a bonafide media happening.
The police station in Alphabet City was completely overwhelmed by water, which appeared to be chest-high.
Objects were floating in the flooded streets in Alphabet City, and we felt for the people living in basement apartments who were frantically trying to sweep water out of their homes.
Pipes were gushing sewage-smelling water onto the street across from Tompkins Square Park.
Walking north past Stuyvesant Town, we spotted a street sign ripped down and attached to a post by caution tape.
It wasn’t all tragic, though– some residents were having fun in the storm.
A hipster even played the accordion outside 7B bar.
I even rediscovered my old friend, the pay phone. It served me well in the 2003 blackout.
This time, however, it cost me 75 cents to call my mom in Long Island!
After the storm calmed down, we were left with nothing but darkness and the sounds of blaring sirens.
Apocalypse on St Marks Place
In the aftermath of the storm, St Marks Place has gone from a thriving social hub to a wasteland. Rotten food was thrown on the streets last night, including hunks of raw meat.
Buses were so crowded, we had to walk to midtown to get supplies and cell service.
The streets became our offices, as we trudged up past the blackout line to check messages and even to put on makeup.
Banks have become an oasis where we can charge our cell phones and laptops.
But we’ve survived. Even the homeless residents of the East Village weathered the storm on the streets of St Marks Place.
Are you living in blacked-out Manhattan?
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