Tuesday came and went, and the news only got worse.

A few dozen people were killed in New Jersey and New York, some by felled trees, others drowned in the flooding. A major New York hospital had to be evacuated when its generator failed. Photos of expensive cars floating in a waterlogged underground parking lot in Manhattan’s financial district drove home the scale of the cleanup that lies ahead.

For now, any talk of normalcy is being pushed farther and farther away. At first, city officials closed schools for the day, then for the next day. By Tuesday night, everything from preschools to university lectures was canceled for the week. Subways are unlikely to be restored for a week. And while bridges were reopened, city notices, including on Facebook, informed would-be drivers that they were opened to help rescue efforts and disaster relief.

Not all of New York is underwater or without power. “There’s still a functioning city above 34th Street,” said a neighbor. With the electrical outages and subway closures extending into the weekend, some neighbors walked 30 blocks to buy groceries and carry them back
south.

The first day of Hurricane Sandy brought with it some humor and even excitement, with jokes about New Yorkers stocking up on emergency rations of quinoa and exotic teas, or Mitt Romney’s pretend hurricane preparedness advice (“Evacuate to one of your other homes”). That all ended on Tuesday as the scale of the flooding hit home.

The disaster has brought a sobriety on southern Manhattan, and solidarity.

At Le Basket, a small deli and convenience store on the corner of Broadway and 3rd Street, the owner, a middle aged Korean American, promises to remain open 24 hours a day until the flooding recedes. In the East Village area, churches and universities send around notices where free meals and working electrical outlets can be found, so those living in the blacked out areas can charge their phones.

The city has put out a call on social media for volunteers to man soup kitchens and help the homeless, poor and hundreds of thousands of evacuees from flooded areas to cope with the storm’s aftermath.

The New York Times suspended its pay wall to allow those in the afflicted areas to keep track of developments and official notices. T-Mobile customers spent the day – and no small amount of dollars on
their monthly bills – lending out their phones to Sprint and AT&T users, as T-Mobile is the only major cellular network still operating in southern Manhattan.

Our days are filled with rain, our nights with a startling darkness. But while we know some are suffering terribly, there is also beauty in the solidarity and detachment forced on us by the storm.

Our days are filled with rain, our nights with a startling darkness. But while we know some are suffering terribly, there is also beauty in the solidarity and detachment forced on us by the storm.

Bosko Tripkobic was a Belgrade high school student in the mid-90’s during the worst of the international sanctions imposed on Serbia, “when sections of the city took turns being without power or water.”

In the US-led bombing in 1999, he was an undergraduate at the University of Novisad in the north of the country. Bombs fell every night for 78 days, destroying buildings, power stations and the city’s three main bridges.

Today, Bosko is a good-looking young legal scholar working on a dissertation about judicial ethics at the NYU law school. At 34, the drama and darkness of the past 48 hours still bring back unpleasant memories – alongside good ones – from those dark days.

Living in Serbia during the 1990s was scary, “but it was also fun,” he says. When power outages knocked out television or the Internet, “people would talk. For hours with your family, without TV or anything, you can’t imagine how many things you can talk about. It brings people together.”

News and opinion website have already produced a steady stream of commentary comparing Hurricane Sandy’s destructive power to various conflicts around the world, from 9/11 to Pearl Harbor to the rockets raining down on Sderot this week.

Sandy is devastating – and may cost as much as $50 billion in damages – but that’s not the only way it is like a war.

In an eerily dark Manhattan apartment building, sharing a lone working power outlet with a dozen others on a hallway floor, with the intermittent sound of ambulance sirens a keen reminder that barely a kilometer away flooding continues to devastate homes and businesses, it is surprising how close one begins to feel to one’s neighbors, even if they hail from far-flung Belgrade, Barcelona or Mexico City.

For now, the camaraderie of our neighbors, now friends, soothes
these difficult days. Laughter fills our darkened hallways, drowning
out the wind and the rain. If there is a silver lining in this
terrible mess, it is that darkness forces us to look up from our
distracted lives and speak to one another. In darkness, not in light,
lie the origins of human solidarity

The damage is still being done.  Subways and tunnels and the lower floors of countless offices and homes are still flooding. When it is all over, the colossal task of repairing and rebuilding vast stretches of America’s coastal cities will begin.

But for now, the camaraderie of our neighbors, now friends, soothes these difficult days. Laughter fills our darkened hallways, drowning out the wind and the rain. If there is a silver lining in this terrible mess, it is that darkness forces us to look up from our distracted lives and speak to one another. In darkness, not in light, lie the origins of human solidarity.