How Hurricane Sandy passed through our town

The NYC skyline after Sandy through the window. Photo Credit: MD

Sandy came and went and left a lot of devastation in its wake. We were more fortunate than many in my locality in Jersey City, New Jersey. We mostly observed the storm from the windows with almost no interruption in power or any other discomfort.

Many of my friends don’t have power yet. Many are throwing away food from their freezers after three days of no power and many spent the night in the cold despite diesel generators. Many intersections in our neighbourhood don’t have lights yet and the road along the river to Hoboken from our side is still cordoned off. The Manhattan skyline looks quite different from its usual bright self with a long, dark section in the middle across the river. The Verrazano-Narrows bridge looks half suspended by an invisible thread from the edge of the river upto the middle of the Hudson since only half of it is lighted and the rest of it has no light.

I know this is not much compared to the devastation I’m seeing on TV. But it’s because this waterfront area always looks so perfect (sometimes a little too perfectly made-up) that the damage seems so glaring.

Part of a boardwalk floating on water the day after Sandy. Photo Credit BW

If you looked at the blue sky and the sparkling river outside this morning three days after Sandy (and the long row of ducks passing by who have, no doubt, come out from wherever they were pent up these few days), you wouldn’t know that a storm had passed except for a few planks of wood or a stray thermocol cover of something floating by on the water. Nature looks like it has come out fresh from a shower.

There are sounds of pumps and generators all over though and streams of water are flowing across the sidewalks from where they are being pumped out of underground train stations and tunnels for electrical cables. There is an unusual number of people and babies on the road for a weekday.

Cooped up in the apartment myself for the evening and half the next day when the storm raged, without the TV and the internet, I had not seen what was going on outside except for what I could see out the window (a few text messages and spotty 3G and the radio did keep me informed).

So it was strange when I found my relatives in India had already seen great details of what had happened, say in Queens, and we didn’t because they had the internet and the TV.

I had a lot of time to think and gain a perspective on things. But as I tried to write about the experience, a reflective style would not come. In situations of such magnitude, you’re lucky if you can manage some description with integrity and so I decided to just record what I saw and provide my tiny bit of detail in the great picture of what happened. So here it is.

All of Monday, we were waiting. The storm was coming.

New York City skyline before Hurricane Sandy. Photo credit: MD

Although we had stocked up on some canned food and water, we didn’t really expect much to happen. Last year, we had heeded mandatory evacuation orders in our building when Hurricane Irine was expected and had headed out at about an hour’s notice of mandatory evacuation.

That day, we drove and drove and drove and drove upto the Pocono mountains in Pennsylvania in sheets of rain and the dark but found no rooms in any hotel because folks from Manhattan had already moved into them heeding evacuation orders the previous day. As a result, we had spent the night in a rest area.

Thankfully, evacuation wasn’t mandatory for us this time. So we stayed.

But the water was steadily rising.

The waves are usually much below the edge of the pier of this hotel. Photo credit: BW
The debris were reaching the edge of the pier. Photo credit: BW

For a moment, we went outside to the edge of the pier to see how it was on Monday. I have never experienced winds like that before. We were scared that we would be blown over into the river and clung to the flimsy railings for life.

At night, the waves of the river started licking the edge of the pier. The dark water was full of lines of billowy white foam. The rainwater and the river water was  blown around with great force by the wind and it looked white against the dark surface of the Hudson.

It was high tide. Rain water and river water pushed in from the ocean up the river by the hurricane filled up the river. The water pushed some debris over the edge of the pier at first. Then it rose higher and higher until there were no debris, no edge, no pier, almost no railing. It was dark.

The railings and the pier were under water. Photo credit: MD

It looked like we were on a boat in the dark. A light turned on in the ground floor apartment and I saw a silhouette of a woman looking out, waiting. The water was close to the edge of her window.

I had  food and water in preparation for being trapped here for a while. But the unexpected happened. When the surge hit, the long spread out layers of light in front of us in the hotel went completely dark and so did we.

And then the fire alarm started.

Now I know that my panic was not real. Had there really been a fire, I could have waded through the water. It could not have been very high.  But at that moment, it seemed like we were in a fire in the middle of a dark river. I was prepared for being trapped but not for escaping from fire in the dark water.

The light hanging from a lamp post. Photo credit MD

The power came back after half an hour but the cable and internet did not. When CNN came back on after two days, we realized that some people weren’t as lucky as us. There were real fires and real people had been washed away. The radio had kept us connected but it wasn’t just the same being able to see the faces of people.

Being not connected to the internet for three days, speaking to many neighbours for the first time breaking big city cultural norms, being prepared to live without electricity and rethinking high-rise living, I had many thoughts out of the ordinary. But seeing the local Starbucks with the door smashed in by the water had an immediacy that none of these thoughts could match.

When the storm subsided and the curfew was lifted the next day we took a walk in out neighbourhood and observed scenes of devastation.

So I’ll just post some pictures I took of our neighbourhood here. The damage in our area was much less than in many other places. But our town looks different now.

Long lines outside Chilli’s the day after Sandy. Most highrises around didn’t have power. Photo credit: MD
New York City skyline after Hurricane Sandy
Part of the NYC skyline was dark the next day (and still is). Photo credit: BW
Fallen trees after Hurricane Sandy
One of the many fallen trees in our neighbourhood. Photo credit:BW
Along the boardwalk on the Jersey City waterfront. Photo credit: BW
The water lifted this section of the boardwalk and deposited it almost intact on several park benches and some fallen street lamps. Photo credit: MD
The water trespassed over private property. Photo credit: BW
Oh how the great fell! Photo credit: BW
Street signs on Washington Street in Jersey City. The streets were all rivers in the dark. Photo credit: BW
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52 thoughts on “How Hurricane Sandy passed through our town”

  1. The elephant on its side was pretty amazing. I too write from NJ. We didn’t have internet for 13 days. I know what you mean about not being able to write at first. It was hard to get mojo back. Enthusiasm for things I was so excited about, took weeks to return.
    Thanks for this peek into the storm by you.

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  2. Not to belittle Sandy or anything, I’m sure it was a horrendous experience. We in the Philippines regularly get slammed by hurricanes (typhoons, we call them) each year. It’s a fact of life and we get so used to it that there comes a certain fatalistic blase-ness to them. I’ve been working away from home in a country that’s still tropical but out of the typhoon belt. Would you believe I miss the thrill and excitement? Weird but I do. It’s like, I imagine, the year going by without the turn of seasons.

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  3. I am sorry about all the devastation of Sandy. My part of the country, Ohio, was hit by a terrible thunderstorm, a Derecho, the first week of July and our power and that of the surrounding area was out for a week. It was a terrible week. Our food supply fell victim to defrosting first. Then our bedrooms got too hot to sleep. And then our long expected house guests came and we all went to a hotel and incured a bunch of unforeseen expenses. All in all, it was a terrible experience and I was in shock. I couldn’t write my blog for at least a week and then all I could write about was the storm and it’s aftermath. If you’d like to know how it affected me, go to itsmindbloggeling and check out July 16th, 18th and 23rd.
    Glad you survived and thanks for the pictures.

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  4. Hi BW, thanks for the like. That was some storm! It was covered extensively over here, on the TV in England. Still, I am sure that the newsreaders were unhappy that it was not an even greater disaster. You could sense the disappointment in their broadcasts!

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  5. Hi! I hope you don’t mind. I nominated you and your blog for the Reality Blog Award. The post will be out 6th November 2012, 12 pm Malaysian time (that would be 0000 H 6th November 2012 in New York). This is the short link : http://wp.me/p2u8Gu-cL 🙂 (couldn’t find a way to message you so had to do it here!)

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  6. Frightening! And deeply written and photographed and felt by all. But I hope it raised consciousness about the grim realiteis of climate change and that your president is indeed presidential and will turn his eyes toward the human causes once re-elected. As they say, don’t f..k with mother-nature,

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  7. In an arbitrary way I was looking forward to reading this post. As you call yourself b. worder… once again you have a way with words. You said you could not be reflective, but you are because you told the story. This is my first comment to you… however I have been “following”. You seem to have a gift even I find hard to put into words. Something more than intuitive, vivid or even integrity… I just dont have the words, bottled worder.. . but you do. Thank you so much for sharing. Im glad to see your fine.

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  8. I have friends in both Brooklyn and Staten Island. My heart breaks for all those who have gone through the storm and now face the devestation and clean up efforts in front of them. Be safe out there, and thank you for sharing this view into Hurricane Sandy. Great job.

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  9. Thanks for sharing! My thoughts and prayers are with all of those recovering from Sandy. I hope to volunteer in the clean-up effort! We’ll see if my Ga. family can make it up that way soon.

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  10. This is a wonderful post… thank you for sharing. I have seen such down here in the south, but not so far north. I’m glad you are safe and pray for those who weren’t so fortunate. We sent help (EMT’s, electricians, etc) but they were told that if they didn’t join a union, they couldn’t help. They called them horrible names, scabs etc. We are a right to work state as is Alabama. Which only means we don’t have to join a union if we don’t want to… some do, some don’t. I’m sorry that our guys made that long trip only to be yelled at and called ugly names, but more than that, they (our guys) were disappointed and didn’t understand, they just wanted to help people they weren’t interested in taking anyones job. Guess that is what divides the country now… union or right to work states. Thanks for posting and proving personal pictures.

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  11. “Thankfully, evacuation wasn’t mandatory for us this time. So we stayed.”

    That is some serious courage. A loud-enough thunderstorm is enough to make me antsy, yet you decided to ride out the shocks of a hurricane…man,you’re brave.

    I can’t imagine what it’s like to ride out a storm or see its aftereffects (and I hope I never do), but whatever the case, it’s good to hear that you’re all right. Hope it all goes well on your end.

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  12. And here we Norwegians complain about bad weather…! I keep being baffled by Sandy’s destruction, as well as other hurricanes.
    I wonder what would be left of my city, Tromsø(a city on an island!) if a hurricane like Sandy struck here… Hm, did I just come up with idea for a story?:P

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  13. This is so very well-written and explains in such detail what you went through. So glad you are safe! From one New Jerseyan to another, our state will rebuild and get through this. Be well.

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  14. It takes a writer to encapsulate and use the words that bring to life the reality. After channel switching for the last few days, I feel I have finally been brought into the heart and truth of this tragedy. Well done and god bless.

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  15. Thankful you’re safe. So many have suffered terrible losses. Our prayers are with everyone. In NE Ohio, we got huge winds and unending rain, but were also blessed in comparison the millions without power, food, gas, etc. Thanks for sharing.

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  16. Reblogged this on Meandering in My Mind and commented:
    This is one account of the frightening power of Hurricane Sandy. Nature keeps reminding us that we cannot control of the weather….Thank goodness there was sufficient time to warn and evacuate those in the path of the SuperStorm. I worry that we may have more like it…as our planet continues to evolve.

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  17. You’ve painted such a vivid picture with your words and photos. I’m so glad you were safe during Sandy’s fierce attack. As always, I am moved by your writing style. I look forward to the emails that let me know I should visit and see what is new.

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  18. My goodness, reading about and seeing these surreal photos reminds me that Sandy was not surreal at all; though I remained safely tucked away on the other side of the coast. This was well-told, even if utterly heartbreaking. Glad you are safe!

    ~ Cara

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  19. Our family were heartbroken to see the damage in Manhatten and our thoughts were with everyone there. Recovery will be difficult but worth it.

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  20. I still find it hard to take it all in. That this hurricane could have devastated such a huge amount of the US just blows my mind. Nobody will forget this any time soon. Good you are safe and relatively unscathed.

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