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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.