They were a brotherhood of three – Ruid, Ricky and Sandro – who left their families behind to work a standby shift Sunday at the southern tip of Manhattan.
Nearly 48 hours later, they were still manning their office tower, after the rising waters and strange fires and acrid smoke, the nights spent in a chair, the pitch dark that followed the blackout.
Stranded far from home, the three maintenance workers traded jokes – when visiting a nearby flooded building, best to bring scuba gear –and managed to procure precious commodities: hot coffee and fried egg sandwiches.
“It’s nasty. Downtown is completely shut down,” said Ruid Mohamed, 37, delivering the bad news with a broad smile. His car had escaped damage, allowing him to make a run for breakfast 60-odd blocks to the north.
Such were the small victories in one corner of the city the morning after New Yorkers awoke to the devastation wrought by what they hoped would be a once-in-a-lifetime storm. And their response was true to form. They maintained a brave front, coping with adversity in matter-of-fact ways: Get the job done. Help where you can. Try not to kvetch too much.
There is still a long road ahead before a semblance of normal life can resume. The blackout in much of lower Manhattan and elsewhere could last for three or four more days, authorities said.
The citywide subway system will remain shuttered or impaired for considerably longer, even as buses began running Tuesday.
Driving down one of Manhattan’s concrete canyons early Tuesday, the city divided into two distinct parts. In the first, the tempest had snapped trees and awnings like so many matchsticks, but bodegas were open and the power was on.
Further south, the traffic signals were off, all stores shuttered and the buildings dark. Nearest to the water the scene was more apocalyptic, the buildings silent and dripping, flotsam from the surge covering sidewalks, together with a strong smell of gasoline.
In the streets near Bowling Green Park, a teardrop-shaped plaza that is home to Wall Street’s iconic bull statue, New York’s can-do industriousness didn’t take long to emerge.
By afternoon, the previously deserted streets hummed with activity. Utility trucks arrived en masse. Subway workers started removing sandbags and wooden barriers from entrances.
And contractors began pumping the water out of what had become a minor post-storm tourist attraction: an underground parking garage that had filled like a bathtub, jumbling cars together at its entrance as though they were a pile of children’s toys.
Steve Donahue stood in front of 1 Broadway, the building where he has served as chief engineer for 23 years. “As long as everyone is alive, that’s the big thing,” he said, his eyes weary. The flooding is the “worst I’ve seen.”
Then he briskly moved on to practical talk: how he was contacting city agencies for help and equipment to get rid of the water still in his building (most of which had been removed by his own pumps, operating on emergency generators).
A volunteer firefighter, Mr. Donahue noted that he’d likely pick up those duties once he was able to return to his house on Long Island. “When I get home, I’ll be doing that, probably,” he said.
For Manjeet Singh, the storm spelled business opportunity. At a corner of the plaza, Mr. Singh held a sheaf of pamphlets and handed one to each passerby. The brochure touted the services of RDM Home Improvement Contractor, a company based in Queens.
“We can fix problems quickly and do emergency work,” said Mr. Singh, 55. “Our contact number is here.” Any takers? Not so far, said Mr. Singh, but several people had thanked him for the brochure.
Mostly, New Yorkers tried to go about their daily business in extraordinary circumstances. Early Tuesday, Janet Caruso, a veteran taxi driver, took a passenger to Newark, N.J., through the Lincoln Tunnel, at that time Manhattan’s only major road link off the island.
She nearly didn’t make it back. Finally she found a way through the waterlogged streets on the New Jersey side, something she managed “only with great endurance and an awful lot of luck.”
“We’ll survive this,” said Ms. Caruso, 59. “It could always be worse.” And the lack of transportation options means “marvellous business for a taxi driver.”