The Storm

Monday, October 29, 2012

When I woke, around 9:30, I surveyed the weather out my window, noting the roof opposite me was already as full of water as it typically gets after big storms. While I wondered how it would hold up, with the worst of the storm still several hours away, it turned out we would only see a little more rain.  Most of the damage from the storm came through other capacities, namely the wind and storm surge.

Throughout the day I continued to check the weather, watching the news coverage as a voyeur in California might have while the storm bared down on the city.  As I'd anticipated, my Monday without school became a lazy day to catch up on email correspondence, a bit of homework I'd put off over the weekend, and the continuation of my mini-Scream marathon, watching the third of the now four-movie series.  Of course, I figured I'd finish the set on Tuesday, but without power, that never became a reality.  In a way, it seemed apropos, as the last of the series did not come out until long after the first three.

As day turned to night, the sirens of emergency vehicles became a ubiquitous part of the background noise.  I later read that 10,000 911 calls came in per half-hour during the storm compared to the typical 1000.

Around 6:00, clouds broke a bit, giving me a clear view of the under-construction Freedom Tower—the one skyscraper I can see from my window—and I noticed the lights at the top, where the building was not yet sealed in glass, and on the crane appeared to be flashing.  I'm not sure what caused this, but I speculate that the wind on the exposed parts of the tower was affecting the work lights.

The lights atop the Freedom Tower start to blink.

By 8:00, I pulled out some fish from my freezer to thaw.  It was only twenty minutes later that the power went out.  Fortunately, I had a little forewarning.  About five minutes before the electricity went, the lights dimmed and the refrigerator moaned as we appeared to receive a lower voltage of power.  At that point I turned my computers off and anticipated the worst—a night without electricity.  Con Edison, the main power supplier for the city, had done a bunch of robo-calls earlier in the day alerting customers, including myself, that they might shut off power in certain neighborhoods in anticipation of future loss so that they could the system up and running quicker after the storm.  As I would later find out, that was not the case for me.

The Con Edison substation at 14th Street along the East River explodes during the storm.

I'm happy my parents checked in with me in advance of the storm to make sure I was prepared for such an event.  They thoughtfully suggested I buy a flashlight, which I did on Saturday morning before the mad rush in anticipation of the storm began.  I even tested it out before hand and was thankful to have it when the power went.

It was at that point that the fun and games ended.  Before it just felt like a snow day in elementary school.  I was free to lounge around and watch movies, and other people could be caretakers during the storm.  It reminded me of an episode of Parks And Recreation where the wanna-be jetsetter Tom Haverford went camping with the rest of the parks crew and brought a tent full of gizmos, only to blow out the car battery he was hooked up to in the first hour or so.  I too was now left stranded, obligated to take on the elements I'd been avoiding.

Tom Haverford, played by Aziz Ansari on Parks & Recreation, shows off his Skymall accented tent.

There was nothing much to be done inside at that point, so I decided to take a gander at the damage on the street.  Conditions seemed pretty calm.  The rain had mostly stopped, and only the occasional gust served as a reminder that the storm was not yet past.  Eager to get out of the apartment, I went for a short stroll around my neighborhood, finding a number of downed trees and many branches.  All power was out, except for at NYU's Bobst Library, Kimmel Student Center, and The Silver Towers, where many faculty live.  They must have had some backup source of electricity to stay functioning while the rest of Lower Manhattan shut down.  Wicked Willy's, the dingy bar next door to The Bitter End on Bleecker Street that sends a bicycle taxi-van around the neighborhood to pick up tired and inebriated customers, stayed open through the storm with candles and flashlights.  The Freedom Tower was lit for a bit longer, but that too went dark by 9:00, prompting one of my friends to chide, "Sandy's a terrorist."  From Greenwich Village, The Empire State Building shone like a grand beacon in the distance.

Seeing as the worst of the weather appeared to be over and many other pedestrians were out walking, I decided to head back to my apartment, grab my camera, and go for a longer walk.  I first headed to Houston, walking down the middle of the street.  With no cars on the road, save for the rare speeding emergency vehicle, I felt like I was in some sort of zombie movie, surveying the remnants of a city all but lost to an epidemic.  At first, walking the middle of each street seemed like a novelty to enjoy, but I continued the pattern for precautionary purposes as well, as any trees or scaffolding that might fall would be by the sidewalk.

Taking advantage of the rare scenario, I walked up Broadway to Union Square, ducking briefly down 8th Street to avoid a big gust from the north.  From there, I went out to 5th Avenue, up to Madison Square Park, and then back down Broadway and University Place to my apartment just south of Washington Square.  There were a fair amount of people out, about half walking their dogs, but no signs of looting or mugging.  I consistently had a few people in sight, but it was much more sparse than New York tends to be even in the wee hours of the morning.  Traffic lights were out, and most of the cars on the road were emergency vehicles.  A handful of traffic signs were bent sideways by the wind, and the occasional newspaper stand or trash can was knocked over.  I pulled one full black trash bag out of the middle of 5th Avenue so that a speeding car wouldn't run into it or make a last minute swerve out of the way, causing greater damage.

Inside my apartment building.

The Empire State Building shines beyond a dark Washington Square Park.

Light pollution from uptown provides a silhouette of Washington Square Park.

A fallen tree on LaGuardia Place in between Bleecker Street and Houston Street.

The Silver Towers remained in light.

A blown over newstand.

Pedestrians I ran into at Broadway and Houston seemed to be wearing these Tron-like outfits with illuminated body lines.

Looking up Broadway from Houston Street, The Chrysler Building shines in the distance.

A fallen tree at Broadway and 3rd Street.

Using the flash on my camera, it looked as if signs were hovering in space.

Looking back along 14th Street.

NYU's Kimmel Center lights up the end of 5th Avenue.

The Empire State Building overlooks Madison Square Park.  The lights of Times Square can be seen on the left, never powering down.

Con Edison's temporary workstation in Union Square.  Their headquarters is on the perimeter of the park, and they set up a large fleet of vans around the square.

Ghandi's statue, at the bottom of Union Square.

A traffic sign at Union Square blown sideways.  You can see how off it is by the sign in the background.

The remnants of a former street stall along University Place.

NYU's Bobst Library can be seen at the end of University Place.

The NYU Weinstein Dormitory continued to have power.

Washington Place, a main thoroughfare of NYU's campus goes mostly dark.

For some reason, there appeared to be a faint light coming from inside NYU's Frederick Loewe Theater, where I've performed many times. 

NYU's Stern Plaza, the largest privately-owned open space in Manhattan, looked no different than ever.

A few lights were on along NYU's buildings at the foot of University Place.

Wicked Willy's kept on selling booze during the storm.

A downed tree on my street.

I got back home around 10:30 and made a tuna salad sandwich, substituting it for my planned codfish meal.  Adding some grandeur to my low-key dinner, I opened the bottle of Saumur Chenin Blanc I'd intended to drink alongside the other fish, and the end of a bag of barbecue potato chips had to do for a side.

Trying to discern the cause and impact of the power loss, I stayed up a little while longer, searching the news on my phone, and then I decided I ought to conserve my battery, going to bed finally around midnight, as sirens continued to traverse up and down town.  As I discovered, a power plant at 14th Street along the river had suffered some sort of explosion (video above,) but at the time, a statement from ConEd said they were hoping to have it fixed by the following morning.  Obviously they did not yet know what they were dealing with.  Oh, how wrong they were.

My tuna sandwich and wine dinner by flashlight.

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