Surviving Sandy: One Australian vs Frankenstorm
Greg Truman is an Australian journalist who has lived in New York for 18 years. He lives in what is known as Zone A near the East River. As one of the biggest storms in the city’s history approached on Sunday, he took the mayor’s advice and evacuated to a safe area with his wife, and two young children. Here is his story.
LAST year, the approach of Hurricane Irene sent New York into a mighty tizz. The subway was shut down for the first time in history and Mayor Michael Bloomberg sternly instructed residents in the most susceptible flood areas – designated Zone A – to leave.
I was among those living in the mandatory evacuation area in Manhattan about 200 metres from the East River in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, but many of my neighbours were having none of it and opted to stay. A hurricane impacting Manhattan? Forget about it.
But I’ve got a couple of young kids and the luxury of access to a place in the Catskill mountains about 180 kilometres north of the city, so preferring to be safe rather than sorry I packed up the family and off we went to wait out the storm.
As it turned out, Irene tippy-toed past NYC before charging up the Hudson Valley, literally wiping out several small villages near our place and trapping us in the house with little water, no power and no way out for several days.
Returning to Manhattan, pristine in the storm’s aftermath, I vowed to think twice before taking that decision again.
I got the chance two days ago, as the local media went into hyperbolic overdrive with Hurricane Sandy heading up the coast and threatening to meet up with two other weather disturbances to create “Frankenstorm.”
The mayor wasted no time, ordering us out again and shutting down the city.
In my apartment building, home to many young would-be Wall Street Masters of the Universe, the sceptics were in the vocal majority. No-one was going to going to fall for that, not after Irene turned out to be a relative dud.
Local restaurants and bars boldly declared their intention to stay open, even behind three foot walls of sandbags, there was plenty of boozing going on as the first signs of the storm rolled in.
I was in two minds about heading off again, but there was something about the warnings with Sandy, including the fact that any storm flooding would likely coincide with extreme high tides.
Thirty metres across the road from my front door there is a stone etching, noting the former East River waterline. Like much of lower Manhattan, landfill over the years has been used to push the river back and create valuable property that now houses residences and commercial offices.
The river came to reclaim that part and more of the island tonight, spurred on by a record storm surge of four metres. As best I can tell my neighbouring are all safe – in the dark, without power and unable to leave their apartments, but secure. Police are using bullhorns to tell everyone to stay inside in the high rises and going through the residences in Seaport to ensure people are out.
“It’s so quiet,” one neighbourhood friend said. “That’s the scariest thing, Manhattan is never this quiet.”
I got out of there with my family in a bit of a rush on Sunday: packing a single change of clothes for everyone and as many video games as 10 and five-year olds can handle. I wasn’t going to head for the hills as I did last time – surely the storm would follow me – midtown Manhattan would do, although paying a small fortune for last minute accommodation killed off any immediate sense of satisfaction for doing the right thing.
And soon I was second guessing myself; the streets were delightfully free of clutter and there was an uncommon hush in the busiest neighbourhoods.
Rain drifted in and out and the wind blew, less-than-impressively, as we ambled up towards a new hotel today, only breaking out the umbrella once.
The wind kicked in during the afternoon – a strong storm of Sydney proportions – and we scrambled back to the tiny but impressively expensive accommodations only to be stopped in our tracks along the way. A crane was dangling from a building a few blocks from the hotel. There was talk of having to evacuate. Maybe I should have headed north?
Fortunately we were spared and we took refuge in the creaking room on the 30th floor of the hotel that swayed slightly in the 80 km/h gusts.
Late at night, the rain has stopped and there is barely a breeze, but the crane is still dangling and the river continues to gush into the streets of my downtown neighbourhood. The water also swamped other sites such as the World Trade Centre and looks to have wreaked havoc with the subways.
I suspect Frankenstorm spooked New Jersey and states to the south more than NY with its destructive winds and lashing rains, however, at the least, maybe the tidal surge will serve as another blunt reminder to all coastal and island cities of what potential catastrophe rising seas can invoke. - AAP