Far from home
A New Yorker stuck in Buffalo reflects on Hurricane Sandy
Published: Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
Since I was 9 years old, I have thought Sept. 11 would be the worst disaster New York City would go through in my lifetime.
Although I didn’t quite comprehend the events of 9/11 at the time, I remember enough of it – as I have grown up, I have been able to retain it.
Then again, how could I forget?
On Monday night, as I watched the devastation Hurricane Sandy brought to New York City, I got a familiar feeling.
It took a phone call to my parents before I realized Sandy wasn’t going to be like Irene was last August. This was a lot more serious.
Although my Brooklyn home is on high ground, my parents’ and friends’ descriptions of events transpiring around the city left me feeling empty and helpless.
My best friend was the first person I contacted after I called my parents. Although he is away at school, his house sits on the cusp of the Zone A evacuation area.
His father was staying in a hotel in Manhattan so he could get to work. But his mother and two younger brothers were stuck at home, with water rising in their basement and a tree on top of their garage.
That was when it really hit me. I turned on the news and saw images of familiar areas that were nearly unrecognizable.
A shot taken from downtown was the picture that hit me hardest. The photo was taken facing north and highlighted the line where Con Ed – an electric, gas and steam service to NYC –shut the power off.
The Empire State Building and the surrounding area were lit up, but from 36th St. south, all the buildings were dark.
It only got worse when I started reading Facebook statuses.
Breezy Point, Queens – where a good number of my high school classmates are from – was flooded and then set on fire by exploding transistors when the rain stopped. More than 80 houses burned down. Almost an entire community was leveled in fewer than 48 hours.
Rockaway, not far from Breezy Point, where even more of my high school classmates live, was flooded above the first story. Families were cowering in attics, similar to what happened in Hurricane Katrina.
The damage I was seeing resembled the movie The Day After Tomorrow, and as my mom continued to relay more news, she kept repeating: “It’s like a disaster movie out there.”
This is something no New Yorker has ever imagined.
Manhattan was never shut down like this before. By Tuesday night, every bridge and tunnel that connects Manhattan to Long Island and New Jersey was closed.
My grandfather, who grew up in Brooklyn and lived through the unnamed hurricane of 1938 that ravaged Long Island and New England, can’t recall NYC being this locked down or any storm afflicting the city with this much damage.
Despite the huge disconnect between the severity of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, the images resemble what we saw seven years ago in New Orleans –streets flooded, houses underwater.
Although the water levels did not rise as high as they did in New Orleans, no one expected them to get as high as they have.
I understand people who aren’t from New York City are brushing it off as a disaster that doesn’t affect them. The places probably mean nothing to them. Every report is just another nameless place that has been filled up with a bit of water.
But for too many people, this is reality now – not just for people in the city, but also for UB’s huge population of students from NYC and Long Island.
As Sandy continues to move inland – seemingly targeting Buffalo – my mind is in a completely different place.
The images of devastation do not stop. My childhood summer getaway – Fire Island – is completely submerged in water.
The accounts of what’s happening in NYC have humbled my Buffalonian arrogance that the bad weather here outweighs any weather downstate. The constant rain over the past few days in Buffalo seems miniscule compared to the widespread destruction experienced in the southern boroughs.
While watching the rain, wind and flooding, my initial reaction was relief that I was far away. My calculated reaction was much different.
I realized the only thing worse than riding the storm out with my friends and family was watching from 400 miles away. I feel helpless.