Water, fire and darkness: New York City after the superstorm

By Jennifer Peltz

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 30 2012 10:47 a.m. MDT

A woman uses her mobile phone to photograph New York Harbor at Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. Defiant New Yorkers jogged, pushed strollers and took snapshots of churning New York Harbor on Monday, trying to salvage normal routines in a city with no trains, schools and an approaching mammoth storm.

Richard Drew, Associated Press

NEW YORK — The massive storm that pummeled the East killed 10 people in New York City and left the nation's largest city eerily quiet Tuesday, with no running trains, a darkened business district and neighborhoods under water.

It was "a devastating storm, maybe the worst that we have ever experienced," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who gave no firm timeline on when the city's basic services would be restored.

Scenes of the damage from the overnight havoc were everywhere after a wall of seawater and high winds slammed the city, destroying buildings and flooding tunnels. Between 80 and 100 flooded homes in Queens caught fire and were destroyed. A hospital removed patients on stretchers and 20 babies from neonatal intensive care, some on respirators operating on battery power.

Sidewalks, streets and subways usually bustling with crowds and traffic jams were largely empty. And high above midtown, the broken boom of a crane continued to dangle precariously over a neighborhood.

"Oh, Jesus. Oh, no," said Faye Schwartz, 65, Tuesday morning as she surveyed the damage in her Brooklyn neighborhood, where cars were strewn like leaves, planters were deposited in intersections and green Dumpsters were tossed on their sides.

The storm was once Hurricane Sandy but combined with two wintry systems to become a huge hybrid storm whose center smashed ashore late Monday in New Jersey. New York City was perfectly positioned to absorb the worst of its storm surge — a record 13 feet.

The dead included two who drowned in a home and one who was in bed when a tree fell on an apartment, the mayor said. A 23-year-old woman died by stepping into a puddle near a live electrical wire. A man and a woman were crushed by a falling tree. An off-duty officer on Staten Island who ushered his relatives to the attic of his home apparently became trapped in the basement.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said 156 rescue missions were made by state and city police.

"It's fair to say that the state police and NYPD and the National Guard saved hundreds of lives yesterday," he said.

At a darkened luxury high-rise building called the William Beaver House in Lower Manhattan, resident manager John Sarich was sending up porters with flashlights up and down the 47 flights of stairs to check on residents.

He said most people stayed put despite calls to evacuate. One pregnant resident started having contractions, and Sarich said that before the power went out, he nervously researched how to deliver a baby on the Internet.

"I said, 'Oh boy, I'm in trouble,'" Sarich said. The woman managed to find a cab to take her to a hospital.

Uptown in Chelsea, the city's thriving gallery district was under waist-high water the night before.

Reggie Thomas, a maintenance supervisor at a prison located within striking distance of the overflowing Hudson River, emerged from an overnight shift there, a toothbrush in his front pocket, to find his 2011 Honda with its windows down and a foot of water inside. The windows automatically go down when the car is submerged to free drivers. It left his car with a foot of water inside, and unable to start.

"It's totaled," Thomas said, with a shrug. "You would have needed a boat last night."

The city's transit system suffered unprecedented damage, from the underground subway tunnels to commuter rails to bus garages, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said Tuesday.

"We have no idea how long it's going to take," spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said.

All 10 subway tunnels between Manhattan and Brooklyn were flooded during the storm, as the saltwater surge inundated signals, switches and third rails and covered tracks with sludge, she said.

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