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new york volunteers unload food on the lower east side Volunteers help unload food from a truck for distribution to the residents of the Lower East Side on Friday, November 2, 2012, in New York. (Photo: AP Photo/ John Minchillo)

Voices from the City

New Yorkers share their stories as relief pours in

By Fred Hechinger | null null , null

As of this morning, power was restored to some areas of the city, including lower Manhattan, which had been completely without electricity since Monday night. Food and water supplies have also been pouring in to the city from the Red Cross and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). Volunteers have been pitching in all over the city.

But many parts of the city are still without power or public transportation and are still suffering from shortages and damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.

In the city that never sleeps, complete and total darkness is something that most New Yorkers aren't used to. They're not used to gas shortages, either.

Even though emergency supplies of gas are beginning to make their way to the city, the entire metropolitan region and New Jersey have been suffering from a severe shortage. Getting fuel delivered during the storm and its aftermath has been largely impossible.

What They Experienced in Lower Manhattan

Cab driver Ndiaga Fall has been lucky in that regard. He worked through the storm and through the following days – and nights – but his fleet owner has his own gas supply, so Fall didn't have to worry about running out of fuel. But he saw the hours-long lines – and flaring tempers – at stations all around the area.

The storm started while he was in the middle of a shift. "To be honest with you," Falls told me even as he is driving through the eerily dark streets of Tribeca, "it was so scary that night." Garbage cans, tree branches and other debris were moving hazards, blown by the strong winds, which also shook his taxi. He had to drive a second shift because, with bridges closed, there was no way to get his cab back to its garage in Queens. "I just had to keep driving around," he said. "I didn't have a choice."

He says that he tried to spend time in lower Manhattan, where people were without public transportation as well as power. But it was harder to drive there even during the day, because traffic lights were out. At night, it's pitch dark, except for the lights of a few emergency generators and car headlights. Fall is a little luckier here, too, because of his long experience of driving in West Africa, "because we didn't have lights there." But, he added, "Still, it's dangerous because sometimes you're not able to see people."

Outside City Hall, a police officer tells me what it's like dealing with traffic when there's no daylight and cars don't know what to do or where to do. "Once it's absolute darkness it's very difficult, they're flying right in front of us and sometimes," Officer Leo says, "they can not stop in time." She has also been assigned to prevent the kind of lootings that have occurred in Red Hook.

At nearby Ground Zero, Rodney, a Local 3 technician, had been working since 6 a.m. that morning to pump out the 35 feet of water that had flooded the World Trade Center site. "It's got to be over a billion dollars worth of damage," Rodney said. "Set everything back a year, with all the damage that's been done down there."

The area was already feeling the economic impact. If you were to walk down Duane Street in Tribeca on Wednesday or Thursday, the only store that would have been open was the Duane Park Patisserie. Like the rest of the neighborhood, the bakery had no electricity, meaning no refrigeration for all of the cookies and other treats in the store. Sarah Monize had been working at the bakery during the days of the hurricane, and had to figure out how to save as much of the food as possible.

"Unfortunately, the bakery is full of perishable items, and without power you can only keep perishable items alive, so to speak, for so long," Monize said. The bakery stored some of it away in Queens when they were able to, but a lot of the food had to stay at the bakery, and most of it wouldn't stay for long. "So we just kind of have to start over," Monize said. "Everybody does."

Advance preparation was the key for Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe, an art gallery in Chelsea, another neighborhood that was faced with power outages. Gallery owner Miles McEnery gathered his staff before the storm. "It wasn't a popular kind of decision to make at the time, on Sunday, when you call the staff and you have everyone come in and shore up the premises and transfer all the works," McEnery said. "We were overly cautious, but in this case not overly cautious, we made the right call."

McEnery's gallery saved all its work by moving it, but other galleries weren't so lucky. Small galleries on 27th Street had their basements flooded, losing vast amounts of art. McEnery also lives in an unaffected Brooklyn neighborhood meaning that coming into Chelsea to the gallery was, as McEnery said, "like crossing over to the dark side of the moon, which was a little surreal."

For most residents without power in lower Manhattan, the moon was their only source of light. "At night when they say it's dark," said Miriam, a Tribeca resident, "It is dark."

Luckily, the power has been brought back to that neighborhood, but the strange darkness over such a usually bright city will be something that isn't forgotten by New Yorkers.

A New New York, After the Storm?

Unquestionably, the storm and its aftermath are likely to have a deep impact on the future of the city.

Andrew White, Director of the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School, discussed lasting effects of the Hurricane Sandy.

"It's pretty clear that the moment has arrived for the city to figure out how to deal with rising sea levels," White said, "This will probably require massive infrastructure investment, thus higher borrowing for the necessary capital. And I fear that may eventually mean less money available for other important investments, like schools."

White also brought up the political consequences of a storm like this.

"Mayors have suffered mightily in the past when they failed to clear the streets of heavy snow quickly enough, so weather has long had political consequences," he said.

"I've been thinking how some of the hardest hit communities are ethnic, white and politically more conservative," White added. "I wonder if this experience will make them more understanding of the importance of a strong and effective government."

White could only compare the powerful impact of Sandy to two other disasters in New York. The first being the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and the second being the great fire of 1835.

"The 1835 fire, however, was natural in the sense that unusually high winds spread a warehouse fire all across lower Manhattan, and unusual freezing cold weather made it almost impossible for firefighters to stop it," White said. "The entire southern tip of Manhattan burned to the ground, something like 650 buildings destroyed."

Sounds pretty bad, but the city bounced back, White said. "It rebuilt rapidly, and with more spectacular architecture than before."

Out of that tragedy came rebuilding that, he added, "permanently changed the face of the city."

Hopefully, after all the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy the silver lining will be another re-birth of the city. The Great Fire might have been more catastrophic than Sandy, but Sandy will definitely give New Yorkers a new view, and ways to prepare, if another hurricane comes along.

And if the city is hit hard, it will just bounce back. The bakeries will keep on baking, the galleries will keep on exhibiting, the assisting team of technicians and police will continue to rebuild this city. And Ndiaga Fall, and many other cab drivers, will keep on driving.

After all, this is New York.

You can find share your Hurricane Sandy experiences and find more coverage of the storm and its aftermath on the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps Blog.


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