Tuesday Morning, October 29, 2012
I woke up shortly after 9:00 on Tuesday, eager to check whether electricity had come back, which was of particular concern because I had an assignment due at noon that day, assuming classes would resume on Wednesday. It was not, and I would find out later that NYU was canceling all activities and classes through the weekend.
While I'd stayed up the previous night reading the news on my phone, I found in the morning that reception was cut to almost nothing. If I paced back and forth around the apartment while sending a text, it might get something off, but most of the time I was unsuccessful.
Being awake, and again having nothing else to do, I decided to go for a walk, this time heading south to survey the sites I figured had seen the most damage. I made my way towards Battery Park, where The Weather Channel had stationed their top reporter, Jim Cantore, the entire previous day.
Many more people were out walking now, and the rare person clutching a cup of coffee was shouted at from across the street, as so many were desperate to know where they could get a hot brew. In my walk I passed only two or three places that were open, all small deli-coffee shops that were operating with candles and flashlights. On one hand, it was nice to know that business could go on without electricity, as it had for all of history before this past century, but it felt odd, putting those restrictions in the context of our modern city that is certainly not equipped for it. As with most businesses in Lower Manhattan, the wine shop where I work went undamaged, but the power outage would keep us out of business for a week, as we could not ring up sales.
I was impressed that a few of the trees I'd seen knocked over the night before were already removed. There was a great response effort by the city to get things up and running. As I'd noted the previous day, there wasn't a ton of rain that came down, so the flooding that occurred was mostly a result of the storm surge breaching the walls of the island. Most of this receded with the tide, but some found low spots on the interior. The first notable flooding I saw was at Grand Street and West Broadway (top.) Most of the intersection was filled with salt water. I'd never smelled the sea that far inland before. Especially in New York, you pretty much have to get out on a long peer and consciously sniff to catch a whiff of the salty sea air.
There were a few more spots I saw with residual flooding at low-lying intersections. About a block from The World Trade Center, right by the West Side Highway was another, and crews were already out working to pump it dry.
The weather was mostly calm, but not much different than the previous evening. There was the occasional gust and passing shower. At one point, I ducked under a bit of scaffolding to avoid a particularly cold dense rain, but that too soon passed. As I made it down to Battery Park, it was hard to tell whether much damage had been done. Clearly water had risen above the storm wall, but mostly it looked like the park had a good bath. New York Harbor was still quite high, white caps breaking everywhere in sight and occasionally lapping over the edge of the island in a few low spots, but the worst of the storm was over. The biggest difference was the halt of sea traffic. I only noted one police boat riding across the waves.
Most curiously, as I was departing the park, a crowd of people surrounded a large puddle, where a turkey briefly frolicked before being scared away by the mass of onlookers. As I got close to take a picture, a woman's dog started chasing the turkey, and as she did not let go of the leash, the dog began to wrap his tether around me. Like a scene from a slapstick comedy, the turkey ran in a circle, the dog chasing after it, and me chasing after the dog so as not to be bound by his leash. After the turkey decided to tack in the other direction, I was able to break free of the chase, but I heard one person say to his friend, "I wish I got that on video." Why didn't you?, I thought. I could have been a YouTube sensation!
I headed back in towards Wall Street next, but before I reached the financial landmark, I decided to head east and check out a part of the island I'd never been to before. On my way to the shore, I ran up against the harshest wind. I could just barely walk forward against it, so I decided to find a safe spot out of the direct line of the gust underneath the overhang of a building. From there, I watched as a row of trees were blown nearly 45o backward, remarkably staying intact and not snapping.
When the wind subsided, I walked the final block to the East River, getting some nice views of Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan from an open peer. What I found most fascinating were the old brick buildings along the water, surely a remnant of America's thriving shipping industry during the mid-19th century. It reminded me a lot of buildings by the waterfront in Philadelphia, but I'd never seen the equivalent in New York, which has been built and rebuilt so many times over the years. There was a fair amount of flooding around these buildings, but most of the remaining water appeared to be at street level, hardly creeping into the buildings themselves, if at all.
As I got to the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, the clouds broke, and I got a great view of the sun beaming back at me from the other side. It was a gorgeous site and the clearest indication that the storm had subsided. Our focus now turned to the recovery.