Wreckage left in Sandy's wake tests city's famous resilience


THE SUN was shining yesterday and the memories of howling wind and rain that brought New York to a standstill on Monday night are fading.

But although this city is no stranger to catastrophe, both natural and man-made, the wreckage left in Sandy’s wake is testing the city’s resilience. What could have been described on Wednesday as a “spirit of the blitz” mood turned to frayed nerves yesterday as the ongoing power outages have driven many people out of their apartments, forced businesses in half of the city to close and left millions of people without viable means of getting to and from their jobs.

As of yesterday afternoon, lower Manhattan was still without power, creating a surreal situation reminiscent of cold war Berlin where half of the city was overloading on business as usual, while the other, by force of circumstances, was taking a break from it all in the dark. On the east side, 40th street is separating those with power and those without. On the west side 25th street is the demarcation line.

For those living south of this artificial border, the novelty of trying to survive modern life without modern appliances is starting to wear off. One of my colleagues, who lives on the 53rd floor of a high-rise on 38th street, has been without power since Monday. Having lived through the blackout in 2003, when most of the city lost power for a day or so, she prepared as well as she could for what the storm might bring; filling the bath with water, stocking up on tuna fish and candles and so on. On Tuesday her family were enjoying their indoor camping adventure, yesterday plans were afoot to evacuate to a hotel.

Expensive as such an option is, having to negotiate the 53 flights of stairs every time they need a pint of milk is proving exhausting.

At least this family had the necessary supplies on hand to get through the worst. Many New Yorkers, who were whipped up into a “shop till you drop” frenzy before last year’s over-hyped Hurricane Irene, decided this time around to take their chances.

Danielle McGurran , an artist living on 28th street, found herself in dire straits when darkness descended on her neighbourhood at 11pm. Without so much as a candle on hand, her iPhone was her only source of light. The next day, realising she had no heat, light, food or running water, McGurran sought refuge with friends living in the more fortunate half of Manhattan, where she has been since. Even after living through 9/11, the 2003 blackout and Hurricane Irene, Sandy is proving a trial, she said.

“You feel indestructible as a New Yorker, every day is hard here, every day is like a hurricane, but Sandy is testing us.”

The biggest challenge for New Yorkers at the moment is getting to work. You can try to imagine what the traffic is like in an already grid-locked city when many of the 5.2 million daily subway users are forced to commute by car or bus.

Some intermittent subway service had resumed on Wednesday night but the lines for buses to take commuters over the bridges in Brooklyn and Queens were stretching hundreds of yards yesterday morning. Even those lucky enough to have trains running all the way to their offices were emerging ashen and defeated after their commute.

In a few days’ time, hopefully, the lights will be back on, the subway will be running again and New York will be back to business as usual. It’s going to take a little longer, however, for the memory of Sandy’s wrath to truly fade.