“SHE WASN’T SANDRA DEE”

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Photo by Genghis


IN THE DARK BUT OKAY: Mabel is untouched by Huricane Sandy.

It was a bummer of a slog, I’ve gotta admit. The electricity is back on in our apartment on Water Street in lower Manhattan. Five days without power is an ordeal of a low order, but it is constant in a deprivatory sense.

The things we take for granted when the juice is flowing—running water, functioning elevators, lights in the house, communication with the outside world—reveal themselves as abundantly important, when they are eliminated by circumstance. It was like Ray Miland’s “Lost Weekend”, except it was a better part of the week, instead of the weekend.

Without electricity, we even had to be careful about how much we used our cell phones, since there was no way to recharge our cell phones. Residing in a twenty-first floor apartment (in our part of town, this is not known as the “penthouse”) of our Lower East Side building, meant that getting in and out of the house consisted of making our way up and down twenty-one stories of blacked-out stairways with a flashlight. Bill Parcells father had a favorite saying, which he passed on to his famous son:

“It is always the darkest before it goes pitch black.”

That applies to this situation. That wasn’t the worst thing, however. The biggest challenge, was rationing water and food. Our power company, Con Edison, gave an estimate for repair this past monday night when the lights went out: It would take “3 to 4 days” to restore power to the lower third of Manhattan that was blacked-out when Hurricane Sandy cut a swath of destruction through New York.

There were collateral consequences of Sandy’s invasion of the east coast of the country, which included the disruption of running water, and scarcity of food (which were minor compared with more severe consequences). People more prescient than I, cleaned out store shelves prior to Sandy’s unfortunate landing, leading to shortages of food and potable water for people who didn’t evacuate danger zones. This made the days before electricity was restored, a waiting game, with people hoping that their food and water supplies could out-wait the period without power. More on this later.

First, I’d like to recount how unexpected these consequences were, when Patty and I—and the majority of New Yorkers—“prepared” for Sandy. I put “prepared” in quotation marks to underscore the across-the-board underestimation of Sandy’s power and might among New Yorkers, and how her power and might would ultimately ravage the east coast like a horde of bikers at Hollister in 1947, considering how historically weak hurricanes have been in the New York area.



HOLLISTER 1947: Hurricane Sandy set upon NYC like out-of-control bikers (shown: Boozefighters MC).

One would have expected this level of topographical devastation in Florida or Louisiana, but not here in New York where storms have treated our region with a gentle hurricane hand. New York would soon be shaken out of her blissful ignorance, with a storm so fierce so as to be historic for the region. The east coast may never see such a large and deadly storm again.

Without exaggeration, the destruction that Sandy leveled on New York and her neighboring states was so extreme, that it would not be inappropriate to call it Katrina-like. In fact, I believe the destruction of the east coast by Sandy, far exceeds that laid waste by Katrina.

Millions of people in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut lost electricity. Tens of thousands of people lost their homes to the murderous, swirling hands of Sandy. This Bride of Frankenstorm was a bitch, allright. The mortality rate at this early time, is 41 and climbing. One area of Breezy Point, which in Queens (Queens, fer cryin’ out loud–nothing like this is supposed to happen in Queens) had over 100 homes destroyed by fire due to Sandy.

Thousands are homeless. Staten Island (one of NYC’s five boroughs), Jersey, Queens and Long Island, were the hardest hit. The scenes in the outlying boroughs of NYC and on Long Island, are being compared to pictures from Europe in War World II. Areas, look literally bombed out.

The financial losses are estimated to be 50 billion dollars and climbing. The devastation to the east coast cannot be exaggerated, so viciously was it dealt to the tens of thousands whose lives were decimated, the reconstruction of which will take years to accomplish.

One day there stood normal lives; in the days immediately following Sandy and in the coming months ahead, these were and will be transformed into totally abnormal lives, foreign to these people’s experiences. Unsuspecting existences were turned upside-down. Happy lives became chronically miserable, at the mercy of cruel fate and uncaring climate.

Bernard McGuirk, the “Imus In The Morning” show’s producer and one of Imus’ long-time sidekicks, has his own incredible story to tell. Bernard, who lives in Lido Beach (near Long Beach) on Long Island, decided not to evacuate based on his experience with Hurricane Irene last year.

With Hurricane Irene, Bernard and his family evacuated to upstate New York, and nothing dire happened to his town then. This gave McGuirk a false sense of security before Sandy arrived. This time around, Sandy turned out to be far more deadly than Hurricane Irene.

The day after Sandy hit land, McGuirk and his family found themselves stranded on the roof of their flooded house. During the night before, the Atlantic Ocean reached their doorstep, rising and rushing like the Colorado Rapids with greater height and intensity by the minute, and eventually invaded and flooded the lower floor.

It took Bo Dietl (a well-known ex-NYPD detective who runs a private security firm) and his powerful connections, to get the McGuirk family out of harm’s way.

Dietl had a U.S. Army officer drive an army Hummer with a Nassau County (a county on Long Island) police detective, to extricate McGuirk and his family from their precarious perch. This was well-documented on Imus’ show in the days following Sandy’s landfall.

During those days, nobody on the show had heard from McGuirk since communications were down. None on the show and none of the show’s viewers, knew whether McGuirk was alive or not, until Bo Dietl had him located and rescued. Bo Dietl sounds like one very good friend to have.

People like McGuirk were shocked and surprised by the Sandy’s ferocity. However, Manhattanites like Patty and I, were even more shocked by how our little piece of this Earth suffered in the crushing grip of Hurricane Sandy.

Hey man, events like these were not supposed to happen on the stalwart island of Manhattan! It was a complete violation of known history, unforseeable and unsparing as a hammer. The island of Manhattan had never seen anything like the Perfect Storm that Sandy turned out to be.

The closest phenomenon New Yorkers experienced, was the schadenfreude that we surreptitiously felt, when hearing of disasters in distant parts of the country, when viewing those disasters from what we thought were the safe urban confines of NYC. Was Sandy payback for what is just human nature?

Sandy’s 14 foot storm surge, breached Manhattan’s woefully inadequate 5 foot storm surge walls. Lower Manhattan at her lowest points, was inundated with salt water. Some of that salt water wreaked havoc with NYC’s underground electrical system.

The Queens-Midtown tunnel and the Holland tunnel, and the subway tunnels to outer boroughs were flooded. These tunnels became totally filled from end to end, like water balloons at an unwanted party.

I doubt if anyone in Manhattan had ever considered buying flood insurance, so incongruous was this storm in NYC. A Con Edison electrical substation was flooded by the storm surge, causing the loss of power to 226,000 people in the lower third of Manhattan.

This was the event that caused my lights to go out. It is amazing to think that such a confined trouble area as this substation is, could cause so many problems in such a widespread area like lower Manhattan. I believe that the term “exponential” applies here.

I understand that this substation consists of a giant shipping container-like housing, that holds 14 heavy-duty relays. Each relay switch controls a different segment of lower Manhattan below 39th Street. This space had to be completely drained and dried-out, and each switch had to be dried and tested in the restoration process. This is what took 5 days to achieve, to give lower Manhattan back it’s juice. The restoration was incremental and painstaking.

This effectively shut down the mass transit system of New York City. Since lower Manhattan was blacked-out, the street lights and traffic lights were non-functional, making traveling by car a nightmare. In the immediate aftermath of Sandy’s destructive winds, which lasted several days, all the bridge crossings to and from Manhattan were closed by the city because of the high velocity winds. We were cutoff from the rest of the world.

It was reminescent of “Escape From New York.” All that was missing was Snake Plissken flying his glider into a blacked-out NYC, to rescue the president. Manhattan’s isolation was complete and disturbing. Like the island-prison in “Escape From New York,” we were incarcerated by a force greater than ourselves, and her name was Sandy. She was no Sandra Dee. Olivia Newton-John need not apply to play Hurricane Sandy.

Now that I have power and TV back, I’m seeing images of NYC as she looked from nighttime helicopter views before the restoration of power. Manhattan looked eerily incongruent, with an upper Manhattan lit up as usual, the bright lights reaching up to the sky, in contrast with the hyperdark lower Manhattan, desolate and menacing, left alone and shunned like an evil stepsister.

This is a tale of two Manhattans. Above 39th Street, all was well and normal. Below 39th Street, blacked-out streets inviting looting and unseen acts of mischief, beckoned with a dark heart. It was the Darkside squaring off with the enlightened, the depraved lower part giving credence to the virtuousness of the lighted upper crust. The Lower East Side finally earned its rep, through the stark visuals of contrast and opposing ends.

Equally stark on the TV screen, are images of gas lines miles long, drivers of cars fuming and waiting hours to get the pump. This was like the gas shortage of 40 years ago, with gas rationing, and car drivers pulling guns on one another from impatient rage. There are stories in this modern version involving firearms.

The one I heard about on TV was about one irate motorist arrested for menacing another motorist at a gas station with an unlicensed firearm. This example had a guy cutting into a gas line that was more than a mile long. The man who cut in at the front of the line, was confronted by an incensed motorist. The man who cut off the other driver pulled his .25 caliber pistol, aimed it at the other motorist who was standing at the gun owner’s window and said, “If you don’t get away, you won’t live to get gas today.” The motorist retreated, reported the incident to the cops. The cops arrested the man with gun.

I think yer gettin’ the idea. On a personal level, Patty’s and my greatest challenge, was making water and food last until the power was restored to lower Manhattan. In “preparation” for Sandy, Patty and I filled 14 Welch’s grape juice jugs with water, in case that power was disrupted for (we thought) a day or two.

We soon found out how inadequate this amount of water would be. In lighter moments, I jealously watched with tredipation, as Patty sparingly dribbled water into the cats’ water bowls. In these moments, this comment was anxiously issued from my lips: “Hey! be careful how much ya give ’em. We need it too!”

There was also the inability to flush the toilet to deal with. This sanitation problem was solved with the judicious use of plastic garbage bags, strategically placed under, and locked-down by the toilet seat, followed by discreet disposal.

Food was also in limited supply in the house (“house” is used in New York parlance, to mean any home, whether apartment or standing house), exacerbated by the food spoiling in the refrigerator. This was a race against time! We placed all perishables in the freezer where defrosting items would extend the lowered temps of the perishables. This bought us some time, as the yogurt, bologna, cheese, juices and milk, stayed edible for another three days with the fridge turned off.

Patty in all of her wisdom, purchased a disaster kit a few years ago. One of the items in this “go kit,” was a wind-up radio whose battery can run on either the winding and on solar power. This little radio turned out to be a gem, since it was our only link to the outside world.

It was this little radio that enabled us to keep up with the news, along with updates on the restoration of power to NYC and areas outside of New York. In some areas of NYC, Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut, the destruction is total. The destruction in these areas is so comprehensive, that it might’ve been caused by a tornado or act of war.

On this day five days after Hurricane’s Sandy’s landfall on the east coast, there is one good thing to note. My faithful Harley 74, Mabel, never got touched by Sandy’s wet, grasping hands. In the darkness of her parking lot a couple of blocks from the East River, she and her F-150 sister Amy, stand dry and proud, at peace and seemingly unaware of the physical and psychological strife that Sandy caused in their human family. For that I’m grateful. Later.

FINITO

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7 Responses to ““SHE WASN’T SANDRA DEE””

  1. Lane Says:

    Scott,
    Glad to hear you guys fared AOK.
    Lane

  2. SCOTT "GENGHIS" WONG Says:

    Thanks, Lane.

  3. Jeff Waterman Says:

    I was thinking of you, Scott. Glad you & Patty are OK ( & Mabel , too.)

  4. Andy Says:

    Great read, Scott. Thank you for sharing this with all of us, especially we, so far away on the left coast. Just a question; had you enough water, could you have flushed by pouring water in? Guess it’s a silly question, as getting water up 21 floors would have been a chore as well. Quite an ordeal for so many. Glad things are coming back to some semblance of order, albeit slowly. Andy

  5. SCOTT "GENGHIS" WONG Says:

    Thanks Jeff and Andyl. Andy, we did not have enough water for both drinking and flushing the toilet. That was a problem….

  6. rebel Says:

    Just an old iron horse fan here, glad your still kickin’, it’s nice to be able to choose living “in and with” the past. The world is a sorted place with select comforts. stay dry. Rebel

  7. SCOTT "GENGHIS" WONG Says:

    Thanks Mr. Rebel. I’m still kickin’, but not Mabel’s kickstarter–the knee’s shot!

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