Superstorm Sandy – seven days in a divided city

Our man Nikhil Kumar chronicles the sounds and sights of an apocalyptic week in Manhattan

New York

Sunday

The warnings add up as the weekend closes. New York Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey's Chris Christie issue them, and even President Obama breaks way from the campaign trail to notify Americans that Sandy is a "big storm". "We have to take this seriously," Obama says during a visit to the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Hunker down is becoming the cliché du jour. And many are. By mid-afternoon, a hardware store off New York's Union Square has run out of flashlights. Minutes away, the queue at a local supermarket snakes round multiple isles before reaching the bank of tills. Bottled water appears to be on everyone's list, and more than a few weigh down their baskets with soup and instant noodles.

But this isn't panic, not yet. Everyone's being cautious. Monday might be a write-off but we'll be back to normal – back to work, back at school, back on the subway, which shut down tonight – on Tuesday. Thus goes the common refrain. Why stock up, then? Oh, it's just in case...

Monday

As New York sleeps, Sandy speeds up. Morning forecasts presage an ocean-going, full-scale, "life-threatening" weather demon. Lower Manhattan's pavements clear to let it pass. In certain parts, you can cross entire blocks without encountering more than a handful of people. In case you think you've misread that last sentence, that's whole blocks. In New York City. On a Monday morning. Traffic has thinned right out. As the rain gathers pace, scores of shops and restaurants close early. Some have never opened at all.

In the afternoon, the President reappears with another warning. This time he's speaking from the White House in proper commander-in-chief mode. "Do not delay. Don't pause," he says, imploring the millions along the north-eastern coast – the most densely populated corridor in the country – to evacuate when the order comes. And yet, there is no sign of trouble in New York, so far. And then night falls.

The storm crashes ashore in southern New Jersey at about 8pm. An hour or so before, someone rings about a damaged crane near Central Park. Have you heard? Knocked sideways by howling winds; one-half is dangling dozens of storeys above ground. And, sure enough, there it is on the news, thinly visible through a haze of rain, threatening to come down any minute.

About half an hour later, with the wind and the rain beating against the windows, the lights go out. Via phone message, word comes of an explosion down by 14th Street. A transformer has blown as floodwaters from the East River sweep into Manhattan. Sandy has arrived. Indoors on the third floor of a building that rises up on 6th between Washington and Waverley, all you can hear is the howling wind and the sound made by pellets of rain striking the window panes. Later, urgent sirens – police? fire engines? – blare in the distance. There's nothing to do but turn in.

Tuesday

The lights are still dead – and now the phone (on AT&T) won't work. Attempts to find a signal by going around the block, around to the next block, or the one after that come to naught. But nothing. Nada. No service. The wind has eased, and the rain is becoming lighter. Downed trees and scattered rubbish are on the pavements around lower Manhattan. Traffic lights have gone dark, and the police are out in force. So are the residents. Disoriented, with no power, no mobile phone signal, and little idea of what's going on, they've been out on the pavements since daybreak – at least in the parts of town that aren't flooded.

Travelling uptown brings the phone back to life, and with it accounts of Sandy's devastating impact across the Jersey shore and, nearer to Manhattan, in Queens and Staten Island.

A late-morning visit down to Manhattan's southern tip, in a cab that takes half hour to find, such was the scramble in the absence of the subway. Now I can see some of the severity of the flood, with the entrance to the Battery-Brooklyn tunnel still blocked off. But while there is no power in the West Village, East Village, Chelsea, SoHo, the Lower East Side and other stretches of lower Manhattan, around Battery Park City, where the storm surge was reported to be most pronounced, the lights are still on. Some residents (who have stuck around in defiance of the mayor's evacuation order) say they experienced brief outage. But most seemed to have had power throughout the evening.

After dark on Tuesday, there are two New Yorks: the one with power and the one without any power or mobile phone signal and, in parts, without water. Looking north from downtown, the brightly lit antenna spire of the Empire State Building seems brighter still against the black foreground. In blacked-out parts, shops and restaurants are largely shuttered. The few that manage to reopen – with the aid of generators – are doing a handsome trade.

Wednesday

With the power and phone network still down, the only way to communicate – the only way to get anything done – is to travel north. That means finding a cab or, more likely by Wednesday morning, sharing one. Drivers take three or four fares at a time, such is the demand.

Uptown, the world suddenly comes back to life. It's as if nothing has ever happened. The storm debris has been cleared away; shops are open; restaurants are serving hot food.

The contrast with the public housing blocks on Manhattan's south-eastern edge could not be starker. Over there, only blocks from the East River, in the lower reaches of the East Village, downed trees are still visible on the pavements. There's no power, and for many, no heating or hot water. This is where the transformer gave up; the explosion occurred at a substation on the corner of East 14th and Avenue C, up the road from a row of shops and businesses that had been flooded on Monday night. Cars parked on the surrounding streets were submerged when the river rose up, residents say, and many have been damaged for good. When I visit the area on Wednesday morning, the roads are eerily quiet.

From the trendier SoHo neighbourhood, where the power is also out, comes news of a fire sale at Balthazar, an upmarket French eatery. Steak sandwiches are going for less than half the price as the owners get rid of meat that is doomed to rot in the absence of electricity for the freezers.

Thursday

The later it gets in the week, the more pronounced are the differences between the lit-up city in the north and the darkness down south. Lower Manhattanites in increasing numbers are pitching up to stay (invited or not) with uptown friends or relatives, leaving downtown feeling bleaker than ever. And if they haven't moved out, people are still having to travel north to charge their phones or purchase hot food. After dusk, vendors appear on the pavements, hawking flashlights in the still-dark streets.

Friday

Those who've stayed behind in the darkness are developing an edge by the end of the week. On Wednesday, many people were still sharing cabs with a "we're-in-it-together" camaraderie. But today more than one seems ready to fight, right there on the desolate avenue, for a taxi. But the mood is beginning to lift as the day progresses: power is coming back on. Chelsea, TriBeCa and more. By Saturday, the electricity company promises, New York will be one city again.

Saturday

Power! The lights came on in the middle of the night, and later, we're told, most city parks are set to reopen. No news on the subway, though. A limited service began earlier in the week – but that was mostly uptown. Downtown stations remain off limits. But at least we have power.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments