With the exception of smart phones I got online this morning for the first time since mid-evening on Monday. If you’re reading TPM from other parts of the country, our New York office is located in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan on the West side of the Island. That places us about 6 blocks below the virtual line below which electricity got knocked out in “Lower Manhattan.” I happen to live just a few blocks away. So we’ve been without electricity since.This morning we left — my wife and kids to relatives on Long Island and me to what I think was probably the last hotel room left in the city. I’d seen plenty of still photos of the flooding and aftermath of Sandy in New York, New Jersey and other nearby areas. But I hadn’t see any of the video until I got a chance to watch some local TV news coverage this morning.
What I found so surreal about this storm is that in Manhattan at least there really was barely a storm at all. For whatever reason, through the period when there was the worst part of the damage the ‘rain’ never got worse than maybe a slight drizzle. Really no more than that. It got windy. But not all that windy either — though there were definitely gusts that were quite unlike anything normal. So through Monday night everything was pretty normal — just a wet and dreary Fall evening. Except for the fact that if you walked into certain parts of the city, you walked into the ocean.
In Chelsea the electricity went out around 8:30 PM. Since I couldn’t do any more work and it didn’t look that bad outside I decided to go out. So I grabbed my flashlight and went down the 9 flights of stairs to the street. The streets were mainly abandoned, except for lots of emergency vehicles. Cops, ambulances, fire trucks and various sirened things I couldn’t even identify. I’d heard that the electricity had gone out when the Hudson came up over the banks and inundated the Island up to 9th Avenue — which is a pretty decent amount of acreage, three plus avenue blocks.
The walk west was a mix of moments of fear as big gusts of wind blew between the building and made me wonder what I was doing out exactly and then families and middle aged men out walking their dogs as though nothing had happened.
It turned out 9th avenue’s inundation was a bum steer. But at 10th Avenue, there it was. Everyone’s moving to Chelsea. Even the Hudson River.
It was a vaguely carnival-like atmosphere. Certainly it was the topography. But the water had stopped right at the eastward edge of 10th Avenue, almost like the cops had told it: this far, no further bub. A scattered crowd of people were out just taking in the sight. Cars who apparently hadn’t heard we were in the midst of a Hurricane kept coming up only to be turned around by two or three NYPD cars there to block off the area. Oh, then there’s that woman riding up the avenue on her bicycle. Over the bullhorn the cops let her know that that probably wasn’t a hot idea since the water can be electrified.
And then there was that cab that just thought he’d slip through — you know, unnoticed past the couple hundred people and three squad cars all jumbled into a hundred or so foot space, bounded by either side of 23rd Street. “Yo! Whaddya Dooin?” comes the deeply accented loud speakered voice of one of New York’s finest which sparks peels of laughter and guffaws from the bewildered assembly. And then the ‘cab/NYC flood/called out by the cops’ equivalent of a walk of shame, 180% degree turn in 6 inches of water turn back to the East.
In our neck of the woods we probably had it as easy or easier than any other part of the region that was seriously affected by the storm. Little damage, really no storm at all, just no power.
And even on that count, only a few blocks away it was like nothing had happened at all. On my way back to my apartment, looking up 7th Avenue, you could see Time Square, an oasis of neon and sin, raving along twenty blocks to the north as though nothing had happened at all.