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Super-storm Sandy: New Yorkers feeling wind and water weary

NEW YORK, Oct 30 — The walls of our 40th-floor apartment on the Upper East have only just stopped creaking like an old oak tree in a storm, but the pendant lights above our kitchen table continue to sway nauseously before my eyes. It feels like we’ve been on board an ocean liner in rough seas for the past six hours.

Hurricane Sandy, the so-called perfect storm given its convergence with two other weather systems, one from the east and an Arctic cold front from the north, mixed with the high tides that today’s new moon brings has certainly left its mark on NYC.

Five dead, 375,000 evacuated, record storm surges of up to 14 feet in Battery Park, 250,000 without power in Lower Manhattan, an emergency evacuation of patients from the NYU Langone Medical Centre after a backup power failure and the entire FDR expressway covered in sea water after the East River broke its banks at about 7pm. The water levels have started to subside (fortunately it didn’t reach our building, but it was close) following the 10pm high tide.

Unlike with Hurricane Irene, the last hurricane to hit NYC, this was scary.

We were not within the evacuation zone, but being so high up in this glasshouse of an apartment, with hurricane force winds pounding the windows, rattling the blinds and causing the building to sway like a slow pendulum, had me fretting that perhaps we ought to have taken up a friend’s offer to join them in their brownstone house on 95th.

We had one hysterical child who packed her bags (consisting of mostly her favourite soft toys) ready to go. But go, we could not.

As our children waited it out in their makeshift beds in windowless bathrooms, Mayor Bloomberg reported in a “live” address to New Yorkers: “The time to evacuate has now passed.” The emergency services were dealing with “10,000 911 calls every half-an-hour”, and he needed people to stay put to allow emergency vehicles to use the roads.

The front-desk staff downstairs normally have most things under control; not tonight. The tense scene awaiting us when we went to seek reassurance that the 10-year-old building could withstand the winds was so ridiculous, it was comical.

In an effort to stop the glass revolving doors from “spinning out of control” and letting a roaring, wet wind plus flying debris blow in, three burly doormen had wedged themselves into the circular door sections. A sudden strong gust surged as we approached, prompting Tom my husband to jump in and help; the harassed building manager looked on with an air of utter bemusement.

All was resolved by a resourceful security guard “nicking” a robust wooden fence from the nearby construction site, and securing it in front of the troublesome entrance; desperate situations call for desperate measures I guess!

It’s all much calmer now, the winds and the rain have eased off a little; CNN’s hurricane guru Anderson Cooper has checked out for the night.

The news reporting has become less urgent with local channels showing repeat, although quite extraordinary, footage of sea water gushing like a river into the Battery Tunnel which links Manhattan to Brooklyn; the collapse of the front wall of a Chelsea residential building exposing four apartments and the partial crane collapse on 57th Street.

Its boom has been dangling precariously 90 floors up and over a densely populated part of Manhattan since it buckled mid-afternoon. The winds, which reached up to 70mph or more, flipped it almost 270 degrees through the air; let’s hope it lasts the night and there are no more fatalities.

Feeling like most New Yorkers right now, wind and water weary, I might curl up with the little ones on the bathroom floor; who knows what Super-storm Sandy might bring tomorrow…

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