Dealing with Sandy’s Aftermath: A Week of Chaos

A dark Lower Manhattan in Sandy’s Aftermath

This week is slowly coming to a close. However, the wounds caused by the hurricane that hit New York, New Jersey, and other states are still wide open. The full extent of the storm was well hidden to us at the time of the last two posts.

Wednesday morning I was supposed to report back to work. Such as thousands of other people all throughout the 5 boroughs. Since the trains were not functioning, our job asked us to take our own cars or cabs they would reimburse us for. Flagging down a taxi proved to be harder for everyone else, except for me. I had one down in only 5 minutes. Seeing the traffic all around the Barclay’s Center made me feel a bit queasy. And trying to get out of Brooklyn was simply hell. Driving over the Manhattan Bridge was almost a piece of cake compared to the bumper-to-bumper scenario in downtown Brooklyn and before.

We drove through a somewhat less lively but nonetheless depressing Chinatown. Unkempt people, no matter what ethnicity, waiting in a long line for the bus to Uptown. Students trying to get a ride out of this city. Then the ghost town of the West Village and the rest of Chelsea. A family with two small girls, evidently not having taken a shower in days, with desperate looks in their eyes and even sadder expressions while waiving their hands for a cab. An angry woman shaking her fist at us because I was the only passenger in an otherwise empty cab.

After one hour I was finally in Midtown – way sooner than most of my coworkers. The horror stories from them piled up one by one: People from Queens were stuck in traffic for up to 2 1/2 hours before they made it to work. Other Brooklynites paid 75 bucks for a 2-hour cab ride which would have cost them 20 bucks max under normal circumstances.

That one morning by itself was the beginning of an endless frustration reaching throughout the entire week. The Empire State Building had its power up, alright, thanks to its own generators and what-nots. However, ConEd had turned off the heating. We sat bundled up in our winter coats, trying to get some work done and being hit over the head when pictures from Staten Island, Breezy Point, and New Jersey reached us through the online news. A heartbreaking story of a coworker who had lost his house and car all in one night. Another who was scraping sewage water remnants from her basement walls. And yet another stuck without electricity in Staten Island.

Traffic in Brooklyn on Thursday

It turned out that a total of four people lived in Brooklyn, and since we were pretty much all on the same route (Park Slope and Sunset Park), a coworker with a car volunteered to drive us to and from work until the day the subway was running again. While driving down the FDR, we passed the East Village, or rather, the depressing sight of ultimate darkness of what had once resembled a carousel ride.

On Thursday, subways resumed partial service to Uptown Manhattan and from Queens to the City (stopping at Times Square). Brooklyn was still cut off from Manhattan. The MTA started engaging shuttle buses from the Barclay’s Center to Manhattan. The lines were a total chaos: People waited as long as 3 1/2 hours to get onto their “ride.” As we drove past one of those horrendous lines, we saw people lined up around more than 6 blocks. Traffic was still dense in the morning. Police officers were checking if the minimum of three passengers per car was met. Whoever had less persons was asked to pick up waiting hitchhikers on the side of the bridges or to turn around and not enter Manhattan.

We decided to evade “rush hour” traffic and drive home at 3 o clock already. A wise decision. Subways started resuming service throughout Brooklyn, but still not into Manhattan. The buses were still a complete chaos. Much more pedestrians than usual could be found on the bridge throughout this entire week. Horror stories from the working subway lines in Queens were discussed at work: People were fighting over seats and shoving others from the benches. Passengers were smashed against the train windows but at least they had gotten on.

The updated MTA map that was valid until Saturday

More stories from residents of Lower Manhattan made the round: Supposedly their Uptown brothers and sisters denied them access when they went into hotels and asked if they could at least charge their phones. The discrepancy between this city sometimes still baffles me: Only one block over and it could have been you without power for 5 long days, 40th Street!

On Friday, the ESB started having problems with electricity in certain rooms. Our Internet gave up. We basically were simply incapable of doing our work because of these technical issues. Electronic heaters were bought and put into our offices so that we could take our winter coats off. It was pretty much a wasted day.

Horror news of a snow storm hitting us next week made the round. All of Lower Manhattan was still darkened out then. I started asking friends if they knew someone who was still stuck there and that they should get out before the second storm hits. Work asked a few people to come in on Saturday, only if the power and Internet was working again, of course. When I told my friends, everyone was shocked. In a state of chaos, we need a weekend without having to go through the excruciating pains get to Manhattan. Everyone needs these two days off to recover from the bad news, the frustration, and the shock that surrounded everyone who had to return to work and go through disastrous traffic or deal with half of New York still being out of power.

Traffic jams everywhere

Another crisis was slowly creeping up on us: The gas shortage! When we drove home once again on the last workday of this week, we found a line of up to ten blocks long leading from the Brooklyn Bridge all the way to Atlantic Avenue. People must have been waiting for hours already! The news reported a man pulling a knife at someone cutting the line at a gas station in Queens. We had enough of this chaotic week and just wanted to be left alone with our own worries, not having to bother with getting to and fro the City.

It also happened to be my friend’s birthday yesterday, so I ended up walking those 1 1/2 hours from the Slope to Williamsburg. Since the cabs were now charging outrageous fees due to the gas shortages, I tried a bus first, but two crowded ones drove by without even halting. After 30 minutes I had enough. As it was still early in the evening, I made it to the isolated part of Brooklyn safe and sound. A short stint past the famous Marcy Avenue Projects, but it was still early at night. At the same time, power was restored in almost all of Lower Manhattan. From over half a million households, now only 5,000 are left powerless. What a true wonder ConEd performed last night! The happy Facebook posts on my friends’ walls were endless and heartbreaking at the same time.

And then this morning finally some more good news: The 4 and 5 were the first subway lines to go all the way from Brooklyn through Manhattan to the Bronx! Hourly updates poured in: The Q to be restored by the afternoon, the 2 and 3 by tomorrow. The D up and running on Sunday. Now the only trains that are missing are mostly in Williamsburg: The G and L lines will most likely take until sometime next week to function properly again. The L is underground and all the tunnels have been flooded. Seeing pictures on the Gothamist really makes me appreciate that at least a few subway lines are up in the running this weekend. I will not yet take advantage of them but hope to get to work on Monday that I have more options than a car or a cab.

New York finally announced that they won’t hold their marathon this coming Sunday. One of the sanest pieces of news I have heard do so far in this matter. It had caused a lot of disgruntlement and even hatred when it came to this topic. How could a marathon be carried out when Staten Island, Manhattan and other parts were still struggling to digest what had happened to their destroyed homes? Luckily, hypocrisy did not prevail, even though Bloomberg’s initial argument was that the marathon would bring in hundreds of millions of dollars revenue… So everyone who flew out to run can help as a volunteer if he or she really wants to support this city!

What is the situation right now? The gas shortage and frustration connected to it still persists and most likely will for a long time. While Manhattan is almost restored to its old self, the often forgotten and in this case even neglected borough of Staten Island is struggling to keep up with restoration. New Jersey, Long Island and Westchester are mostly still powerless and have no heated water. Whenever this will be back to normal – who knows!

Currently I am simply thankful for living in one of the lucky areas and having had the option of a ride to and from the city. The initial state of frustration is giving way to depression and sadness at all the damage caused in this city. We survived but the wounds are still fresh and nowhere closed to being healed.

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