One thing I love about New York is that each neighborhood is like a separate city. Go 20 blocks and you see different geography, architecture, restaurants, nationalities and vibes. In northern Manhattan we live in a quieter neighborhood with a large natural park a few blocks away and smaller apartment buildings. Twenty minutes south on the subway and you can enter a whole new world.
So when a hurricane hits New York City — and how unreal is that I can type that line two straight years — there are 100 different stories in 100 different parts of the city.
We were the lucky ones, in the lucky part of the city. Our lights flickered a bit around 10 p.m. but stayed on. Our ceiling bubbled a bit — we’re on the top floor of our building — but never actually leaked. So that was our story, but that’s one section of Inwood in northern Manhattan on Broadway and even people in our neighborhood — depending on the block — experienced different conditions. Just a few blocks south a deli flooded and water covered cars. Near Inwood Hill Park the wind took down a large tree that landed on a car.
And then there’s everywhere else in the city. Striking images, starting Sunday even, with the pictures of empty subway stations and a vacant Grand Central Station, the types of images you usually only see in post-apocalyptic movies that utilize CGI. Monday came and so did Hurricane Sandy. From morning through the night we watched TV and stayed online, seeing the unbelievable pictures and hearing the unreal stories.
Different parts of the city, different conditions. At 57th Street, perhaps the most striking image of the day as a crane more than 70 stories up broke and threatened to crash to the ground.
As I wandered around different networks, the national ones were probably focusing more on New York than places like Delaware and the Jersey Shore. The local stations actually had people spread out, showing the damage in Atlantic City, Long Island and Connecticut. A month ago we walked up and down the boardwalk in Atlantic City for four days. Monday we watched parts of the boardwalk float away.
Whenever a disaster — man-made or Mother Nature — hits New York, I do like watching Bloomberg operate. I disagree with him on many things — start with the soda ban — but he always exudes calm and confidence, even with his ludicrous attempts to speak Spanish.
As night arrived so did the flooding. Water filled the streets in lower Manhattan. Water covered cars in the Village. Water overwhelmed subway stations. Water took over tunnels and even the Ground Zero construction site. Water surged at Coney Island and in Queens, devastating the Rockaways. Reports of fatalities came in, the first a man killed when a tree fell on his home.
More amazing images. The facade of an apartment building being ripped off, exposing the insides of the apartments as firefighters raced inside.
Fake images mixed with the real ones, raising the question: When the real pictures and videos and stories are so incredible, why create false ones?
The wind and flooding caused the power to go out for hundreds of thousands in New York City, but the task confronting Con Edison was summed up in a frightening video of a transformer explosion. This is from a distance, imagine being a few blocks away:
Late in the night a story that sounded like a false rumor but was all too true. Power outage at New York University hospital. The backup generator also failed. Doctors, nurses and firemen evacuated patients but did it without the elevators. Staff carried babies from the NICU nine flights down while providing ventilation. Critically ill cancer patients were carried down and in to waiting ambulances.
At midnight the local CBS station broke away from its coverage to air David Letterman. It was one of the stranger Letterman shows in 30 years. There was no studio audience, just Dave, the band, some staffers and guest Denzel Washington and musical guest Paul Banks. With any other talk-show host it might seem tacky or even insensitive. But Letterman is New York. Only he could have been the first to come back on the air after September 11 and he was again in his element as Sandy raged and he sat in front of empty chairs.
Every part of the city had a different experience. But events like Hurricane Sandy also prove again that no matter which part of the city they live in, New Yorkers are all in it together. I saw the images and didn’t think, “That’s not my neighborhood.” I thought, “That’s my city.”