An evening with Sandy
Reporter's notebook

An evening with Sandy

Losing power, seeking refuge and praying for fellow New Yorkers as a superstorm hits

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

Streets are flooded under the Manhattan Bridge in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn, N.Y., Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. (photo credit: Bebeto Matthews/AP)
Streets are flooded under the Manhattan Bridge in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn, N.Y., Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. (photo credit: Bebeto Matthews/AP)

NEW YORK — They couldn’t scare us, but not for lack of trying.

Be afraid, said the meteorologists; be very afraid, added the news anchors. We are the story, they all agreed, we gutsy handful of
millions on the East Coast of the United States braving the most
ferocious storm in 100 years, the “frankenstorm,” the “monster.” Sandy
was coming.

When the news outlets weren’t talking about the hurricane, they were
talking about the talk about the hurricane.

According to the news, the top three terms used by Facebook’s half a
billion users on Monday night were “Sandy,” “safe,” and “storm.”
Twitter saw so many tweets with the hashtag #Sandy that “it would take
a supercomputer to sort it all out,” said a reporter.

But for all the drama, and hard news reports trickling in of five
deaths in New York City, a broken construction crane and a dilapidated
three-story building losing two floors’ worth of façade in the gusts,
it was hard to take the whole experience seriously.

The danger was real, but not for us. Danger came in the form of
flooding from the sea, not wind or rain. Low-lying areas suffered
most. New Jersey’s coast was battered hard, with whole neighborhoods
under water and Gov. Chris Christie promising to delay Halloween
if the damaged areas weren’t restored to regular function by Wednesday
night. Closer to home, the fire department headquarters on Grand
Street in southern Manhattan – a 20-minute walk from us – had to
be evacuated by boat. Cars parked near the East River were underwater. Perhaps as many as 400,000 New Yorkers were told to evacuate low-lying areas.

Outside our window in the East Village, we saw nothing more
frightening than pretty yellow leaves shaking to a rhythm of gusts and
pattering raindrops. As the sun set Monday over empty Manhattan streets – emptied not by storm, but by cautious officials who shut down flood-prone transportation networks – we faced a more dire problem than a hurricane. Our two-year-old son hummed with anxiety and boredom after a day spent indoors. He’d already played with every toy and walked every floor of the building.

“What the heck,” my wife shrugged. With the radio warning of a
“life-threatening storm surge,” but our window revealing nothing more
frightening than a rainy evening, we donned coats and hats and walked
out into the drizzle.

The streets were not completely empty, we discovered. Every 50
meters or so we passed a young couple looking for last-minute
groceries or an elderly professor leading a wet dog on a leash. We
passed a deli run by a Chinese family that was open for business and
full of customers. A few meters farther, a bustling café advertised
its French desserts. Finally, we came across a small corner pub,
alluring in its dark intimacy and a sign promising delicious crepes
and cheap alcohol.

We stepped out of the rain and wind into a tiny, warm room with a bar
seven stools long. Four were taken by people who chattered away like
old friends.

“How are ya?” the bartender called out. “How’s it going, buddy?” to
our two-year-old son, who blinked back with suspicion.

We ordered a spiced rum and a heated Pinot Noir with honey – drinks
for a storm – and settled in gratefully, our son gazing out the window
at the trembling trees.

“Where are you from?” asked a young man at the bar after hearing us
speak in Hebrew.

“Israel,” we answered. “Not used to this,” we added, gesturing at the door.

“Oh? You don’t get storms like this in Israel?”

“Eight months of the year, we get only sunshine,” we replied.

We’re Israelis, excited for the rain, we explained.

We left the bar at 6:30 p.m. and walked home. Hurricane Sandy made
landfall about 30 minutes later in New Jersey. Dire messages began
appearing on my cellphone screen with dread-inducing jibberish:
“Emergency alert: Emergency Alert in this area until 8:00 AM GMT Take
Shelter Now NYC_OEM. Type: Extreme Alert.”

Right about then, our section of New York City lost power and our
apartment was plunged into darkness.

Stepping out of our door, we found our neighbors setting up chairs in
the hallway and chatting in the dim light of generator-backed
emergency lighting.

According to Facebook, the sixth, seventh and ninth most popular terms
on Monday night were “power,” “friends,” and “prayers.”

If Facebook is any indication, we who lost power and sought refuge
with friends, who prayed for fellow New Yorkers just a few blocks east
or south whose homes and possessions were underwater this evening — we were not alone.

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