Three days after Hurricane Sandy made its devastating East Coast landfall on Monday, desperate people were still being rescued, countless homes had been destroyed, millions remained without electricity, and my New York City neighborhood was slowly coming back to life.
As a life-long Manhattan resident, I had experienced other disasters, but Sandy was my first hurricane. The wind whistled and slammed our building with 80-mile-per-hour gusts. We heard flying debris crashing and scraping outside and the sound of glass breaking somewhere in the darkness. And though our windows were shut tight of course, the wind still got in with invisible drafts blowing open my bedroom door no matter how many times I shut it, like a Halloween haunted house. Throughout the night, our nearly 100-year old apartment building held strong and didn’t flood, but millions of other people weren’t so lucky.
The next morning, my own neighborhood, the Upper West Side, was eerily deserted, even without the devastation seen in so many other areas. Local banks, pharmacies, restaurants, and other businesses were completely shuttered. A sign in the darkened post office said simply, “This branch is closed.” Schools were also closed and most importantly, so was the New York City subway system, the largest in the world, crippled by Sandy’s flood waters.
If you don’t live in New York City, it’s hard to understand how much we rely on public transportation here. In Manhattan, approximately 75 percent of households don’t even own a car. Instead, in order to get to school, work, and every place in between, we walk, ride city buses, take an occasional taxi (the most expensive form of transportation), and overwhelmingly ride the subway, which carries 8.7 million people on week days.
Without the subway, many of the people who work at the banks, businesses, restaurants, and other jobs in my neighborhood and many others simply can’t get there. Lots of store shelves are now empty, and places that are open have limited hours. No subway has also meant no school this entire week for the 1 million-plus New York City public school students and their teachers.
When limited bus and subway service started up again in some parts of the city yesterday, it was impossible to squeeze even two inches onto the buses, which were immediately more overcrowded than ever, and traffic was gridlocked on every street that wasn’t covered with water.
But at a busy Broadway intersection, I heard the undying spirit of New York, wafting above so much difficulty and sadness. A subway musician — locked out of our local subway station still closed off with police tape — was standing outside, playing his music. The musician said he didn’t feel he would do a good job volunteering at a shelter, so he was doing what he knew best: making music to lift people’s spirits. “I wanted to do something to bring some normalcy back to New York,” he said.
That night was Halloween, and in yet another Sandy-related disappointment, trick-or-treating was cancelled in many parts of New York and New Jersey. I didn’t mind, though. I was so grateful to be spared from Sandy’s destruction it didn’t feel like Halloween anyway. It felt like Thanksgiving.
—Kid Reporter Grace McManus
Photo: Lower Manhattan was still dark on Wednesday, November 1, as residents and businesses wait for power to be restored. (Dante A.Ciampaglia/Scholastic)