Hurricane Sandy: Uptown, they described it as 'mostly hype' - but then came flying metal and flooded streets

In his second dispatch from New York, our correspondent describes the changing mood as Hurricane Sandy batters the East Coast of America
  • @PerneInAGyre

By 10:30pm yesterday evening (EDT), the worst of Hurricane Sandy had arrived: flying metal and five people reported dead across the state. In New York City, there were whirlwinds of flying debris downtown and flooded streets. According to eyewitnesses, the Con Edison generator in Alphabet City exploded in showers of blue and yellow sparks. Storm surges up to 14 feet high pummeled Battery Park in the south, closing the Battery Park tunnel and the subways. A crane in Midtown collapsed in the middle of the day, and a building on 14th Street was also reported to be crumbling. According to a friend who stayed in the Lower East Side, water had reached Avenue C by midnight.

Evacuated from Alphabet City to Uptown, my flatmates and I lounged under flickering lights, with Al Bowlly on the stereo and half-empty plates of spag bol in front of us. Some draped themselves over sofas, smoking cigarettes and occasionally plonking ice cubes into watery whiskey. Occasionally someone would look up from a Twitter feed or run back inside with a new snippet of information from the television in the next room — “Trees fallen!”, “NYU hospital generator down!”, “the Mayor’s banned taxis!”. People handed around iPhones with highly exposed Instagram photos of trees piercing walls in New Jersey; and WNYC crackled out updates that tuned in and out on the radio as the power fluctuated.

On the television, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg told his constituents to be safe on the streets. “These are not games,” he said in a 10:00pm press conference. He later tweeted: “Do not go outside. Conditions are extremely dangerous. Please stay where you are until the storm passes.”

Earlier in the day, I went for a run. Though the streets were noticeably emptier and the park had been barricaded by wooden fences, a great many people were also running - quite competitively, it seemed, as several people tried to pass me at a pace - and even taking their dogs for a walk. Among them were Robert Dreizen, 50, and his wife Jane, who were taking Daisy, a white dog of mixed pedigree, for a walk by the East River on the Upper East Side. “She’s coping pretty well — our cat’s hiding under the blanket,” he said. “Our biggest concern is if the power goes out.”

On Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem, many bodegas (newsagent-delis) remained open despite the heavy winds and leaves careening down the street. “We’re supposed to be closed — it’s dangerous, but hopefully everything will be alright,” said Moreno Cipriano, 23, a cashier at the Central Park Deli. “I’m Dominican, so I’m used to hurricanes.”

Norida Muniz, 35, said she was staying home because she has received two days off from her job at the medical receptionist’s. She was buying a $5.00 steak and cheese sandwich for herself, and some soup for her elderly mother at Central Park Deli.

Further uptown, the legendary Apollo Theatre on Harlem’s 125th Street was closed and the Columbia University campus (where I study at the School of Journalism), usually bustling on a Monday, was silent as the odd stray leaf blew through the driving rain. At Milano Market, a food shop at 111th Street and Amsterdam, Steven Straub, 21, an English major at Columbia and sustainable development major Alex Luntz, 21, were buying supplies for the hurricane. They said they had weathered Hurricane Irene last year, and had mostly prepared by stocking up on sandwiches and flashlights — although they thought this storm was mostly hype. “To be honest, we’re not that prepared”, he said.

Running back next to Central Park, I saw fallen trees being cleared by tractors. Later, on a walk through the Upper East Side, only a small number of businesses were open. Serena Cho, 32, the cashier at Ko Sushi, a Japanese restaurant on 3rd Avenue where a few customers played cards over sake and sushi, said that the restaurant had stocked up on food and had seen a “lull” in customers due to the weather. Abdul Kaschin, 50, of World of Nuts and Ice Cream agreed that business had been “slow” today, and that he would probably not reopen his business tomorrow as he lived in Queens and the bridges that connect Manhattan to Long Island will likely be closed.

According to the television, we’re through the worst of it, but reports of flooding and flying debris are still filtering in from downtown. Taxi drivers refuse to take you anywhere in the lower half of the city and ambulances and police cars are almost the only traffic speeding up and down Manhattan’s usually busy avenues. Here in the apartment, the night is drawing itself out like slow jazz and my fellow downtown evacuees are falling asleep around me — the sense here in Manhattan is that only tomorrow will reveal the full scale of the destruction.