ManhattanWhiteGirl's Blog

All Things NYC
NOVEMBER 4, 2012 10:40AM

Four days without power or water in Manhattan

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The streets on Monday afternoon were practically deserted
The Hudson River was spilling over the walkway
A lot of people were out taking pictures—this was at about 4 p.m. 
My 11-year-old son and I live on 30th Street between 8th and 9th in Manhattan. Our power went out Monday night. We hadn’t done anything to prepare for the storm whatsoever, but as soon as the lights and the computer went out we at least filled the bathtub with water and all our water bottles and our filter pitcher. I learned that from the blackout when my son was one-and-a-half. The water goes out, too, because the pumps can’t work.

Like many people, we didn’t believe Sandy was going to be anything bigger than Irene, which had been so vastly hyped up—not that I had any kind of attitude about that like some people did. But nevertheless we weren’t at all prepared for what was to come. I don’t blame those people who didn’t leave their homes.

All the stores closed early Sunday night because the subway was getting shut down at 7 and the workers had to get home. The city was starting to empty out but people from around here were clearing the shelves at the grocery stores and there was a line at Alan’s Alley video that went down the block. My son and I got two movies and food to last that night and the next day.

Monday morning the streets were empty of traffic. It was crazy. My son and I walked over to the Hudson River at about four in the afternoon and took these pictures. The river was spilling out onto the walkway, spray was flying, rain was blowing like mad. We got drenched to the bone and we weren’t the only ones—there were a lot of people out taking photos.

Somewhere around 8:45 in the evening I was updating my website for my high school classes when the power popped off. We had one stubby candle and a little miniature flashlight. We immediately went outside to see what it was like and to check if I could get coffee for when I woke up, which I’m obsessed with. We went down the pitch black stairwell, something I was already familiar with from the blackout. It was so strange and eerie to see Manhattan in darkness. And the impending storm made the feeling a hundred times more intense.

The streets were so dark, with no light from any of the buildings. Curiously, the east side of 8th Avenue had power, so a store called Gardenia Deli was open on that side, and so was the Molly Wee Pub. Of course Penn Station was shut down. I got Starbucks Double Shot espresso from Gardenia Deli and we walked around a little more. Our block was just black and the wind was starting to whip up. Gusts came up that would practically take you off your feet and there were branches and leaves all over the street.

“It’s so savage out here without lights,” my son said, and I agreed. There were still a lot of people walking around in the dark. A twig flew and hit my son so hard in the mouth that his lip bled and we decided to go home. We knew people got hit by falling trees sometimes so we went back to our building and walked up the darkened stairwell. By then it was almost 10:00 and we just went to sleep.

There were even fewer cars on the street Tuesday morning but without power we had no idea how bad the hurricane had been. We went down the dark stairs again and we were surprised how many people were out walking around. It seemed there were a lot more people out than on any given day, but then again we couldn’t be sure.

We went over to the Hudson River and we were amazed the West Side highway wasn’t still flooded, as it had been the morning after Irene. But we later learned that the water had gone all the way to 10th Avenue. We saw a lot of art galleries that had been destroyed, furniture turned over and everything wet and dirty and every which way. A woman said water had risen up from the street drains, that it just kept coming and coming. The water mark on some of the walls was four feet high.

Most people probably already saw the apartment building with the entire front torn off, beds just peacefully sitting there as in some sort of museum display. Gardenia Deli on 8th Avenue took on the air of a rescue zone. It was packed all day and all night, with people buying sandwiches, beverages and coffee, and watching for the latest updates on the news.

I was all set for the power to come back on Tuesday night, I guess just because that was the way it had been with the blackout. But then people started saying it was going to be four or five days. I thought, how will we ever get by?

But it’s amazing how you get used to things, and by Wednesday morning we had some strategies in place. We bought gallon jugs of water to pour down the toilet for flushing. I washed my hair in the sink with a bottle of drinking water. We went searching around Wednesday night for candles and couldn’t find any but our neighbors gave us some. A classmate of my son's lives in Penn South, the large, federally subsidized middle-income housing development right by us and they have their own power supply. We went to his apartment and filled our water jugs and by Thursday I lost any embarrassment and took a shower there.

We were texting back and forth with our neighbors with updates and encouragement. It was so odd to go in and out of the darkened buildings and run into people you knew on the darkened streets. Duane Reade had power strips out and they were letting people sit around and charge phones and computers. We went there several times and kept seeing people we knew. The same with Starbucks. Starbucks had internet and was open by Wednesday so my son and I went there in the mornings.

Thursday morning was cold and Friday morning was cold. As I habitually wake up early I read a book by candlelight—not romantic. I had to hold the book so close to the candle I thought I was going to set it on fire. It was so good just to see it get light out.

But in a weird way I had a nice time with my son, going here, going there, getting our water and candles, establishing our strategies and routines. We had the whole week off together and we were dealing with life—we laughed and joked a lot and were also at each other’s throats. It was just life.

We rode the free, curiously empty subway on Friday to go to my high school in the Bronx and when our power came back on at home that afternoon at about 6 a cheer went up on the street that you could hear through the closed windows—almost as loudly as the one inside our own apartment.


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I'm glad you made it through the storm okay, & had a good time with your son to boot! :)
I'm glad you made it through that difficult time. But, that said, I cannot understand how a person, with a child, no less, could be so totally unprepared. Do you not know that life throws curves at us all the time?

You should ALWAYS have an emergency kit on hand. It should include 20 gallons of fresh drinking water. A couple of large (10 gallon) buckets with tight fitting lids (emergency toilets), one oil lamp with a bottle of lamp oil, a kerosene lantern, a dozen candles, a 30 day supply of any prescription meds you need (rotate every month), a first aid kit, a propane camp stove (for cooking) and a propane heater, 6 bottles of propane (camp stove size), a sealed bag of bedding, one of clothing, and one of food pkgs that are not waterproof. An emergency flare, waterproof matches, a good knife, an old fashioned coffeepot, coffee, sugar, salt, powdered milk, and other comfort foods and snacks. Plus canned and waterproof packages of food.

Yeah, I can hear you now, "who can afford all that?" Let me assure you that I didn't get all that on one shopping trip! I built it up one or two items each week. I now have all that, most of it in double the quantities I've mentioned, as well as a full 3 month - yes MONTH - supply of food. I'm still fighting with my doctor over a 3 month supply of prescription meds.

The point is, in an emergency, you CANNOT depend on 911 or other government aid. You MUST be prepared to take care of you and yours YOURSELF. If wise, and your state laws allow it, get yourself a weapon and training in its use. Those who are unprepared may very well try to take what you have.

Good luck to you!

Wonderful account. Every story helps paint the picture.
Glad you are okay. I'm with Skypixeo that we all need to be more prepared. I'm not, but I decided after reading your story that I'm going to work on it. You just never know what is goign to happen.
Thanks for this description. It sounds pretty intense.

I keep a spare yacht out back, with a bazooka below deck. Everyone around here does. There was this great salesman.....
sky's right, you know. I'm going to get one of those crank radios with a built in flashlight and USB port so I can charge my phone. I figure if I only use it once, it'll pay for itself. I can't use candles - they make me nervous, so I bought double A batteries to power my maglites. But hey, you made it!
You made it. There are people there who are dumpster diving for food. Everybody from FEMA on down blew this one. Sanitation workers are finding dead people as they pick up the junk. Where are the truck loads of food, water and gas that FEMA should have had staged?

Remember, while you were sitting in the dark the mayor was using the generators and food so that they could run a race. People are fighting in the streets and yelling at FEMA officials who showed up without any food or water for anyone while the elected jerks are busy patting themselves on the back about the great job they did.

Maybe, just maybe, they should have left the mutual orgasms out until they actually did something. With 8 million people without power, do you really think it's time for pats on the back?
sky's right, you know. I'm going to get one of those crank radios with a built in flashlight and USB port so I can charge my phone. I figure if I only use it once, it'll pay for itself. I can't use candles - they make me nervous, so I bought double A batteries to power my maglites. But hey, you made it!
Didn't Bloomberg cancel the marathon?
Even though I've heard from friends and read about it, I still can't even imagine Manhattan without power. I'm so glad that you and your son are safe! Good luck!
That had to be one of the best cups of coffee. Sky's response leaves me shame-faced, but I think there is a can of tuna around.
How long will you accept superstorm related excuses from your students?
Hurricane Irene was horrible upstate. It almost wiped out my house. And then came Hurricane Sandy. Was I prepared? No. Why? My propensity to forget is enormous. That's probably why I have 2 kids instead of one:) Glad you are safe.