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.”
Back on the edge of Bowling Green Park, a slightly rumpled middle-aged man in a sweatshirt and jeans surveyed the area with a proprietary air.
Arthur Piccolo, the chairman of the Bowling Green Association, a civic group, was trapped in Manhattan when the subways shut down. He had spent the previous two nights sleeping on his office couch, subsisting on sandwiches and yogurt and reading whatever was at hand.
“It’s been very … unusual,” he said dryly. “I’d prefer it if it wasn’t this way, but what are you going to do,” he added with a shrug.
Later in the afternoon he planned to make his escape: a three-hour journey by foot over the Brooklyn Bridge and on to home.
BY THE NUMBERS
18,100: flights to, from and within the U.S. that had been cancelled due to Sandy’s wrath as of Tuesday evening, according to FlightAware.
4.7 million: U.S. public-school students who stayed home Monday and/or Tuesday due to the storm, the Wall Street Journal reports.
$20-billion: the cost of property damage as a result of Hurricane Sandy, the forecasting firm IHS Global Insight estimates.
People who stayed in a Red Cross shelter Monday night throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States
The top wind speed recorded during the height of Sandy’s destruction
“Stay away from the parks, they’re all closed. Don’t go near damaged trees, beaches, sidewalks or sea walls. People have lost their lives. I know it’s fun to look and it’s fun to challenge nature but nature is an awful lot more powerful than we are and we just don’t need any more fatalities.” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a Tuesday press conference
“We were quite surprised. We were waiting all day long and we saw nothing. In France we say ‘a lot of noise for nothing,’ ” French tourist Florence Buin told a Reuters reporter she was irritated that a Broadway show she wanted to see with her family was cancelled over what she dismissed as a mild storm
“We’re just happy to be doing a show tonight because the storm has forced a lot of shows to shut down production, including Maury. It was a little frustrating when Maury was like, ‘Jeff, the paternity test is in and you are … gonna have to wait two days for the results.’ Jimmy Fallon, during his Monday night audience-less monologue on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon
How did Sandy get her moniker? The World Meterological Association (WMO) has six lists of names from A to Z that they rotate through. Sandy’s predecessor was Hurricane Rafael, and if there’s another this year, it will be dubbed “Tony.” In the past, the WMO has retired names if the damage wrought by those storms has been particularly deadly – it’s why we’ll never see Hurricane Katrina again.
Romney photo-op Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney held a storm relief event in Ohio Tuesday in which he encouraged people to bring in canned food and clothes to be shipped off to New Jersey. But he didn’t follow instructions. The Red Cross says those types of donations must be “sorted, cleaned, repackaged and transported” so it prefers cash – but where’s the photo-op in that?
Bill-payment relief One of the few good things to come out of Hurricane Sandy’s visit? You don’t have to pay off your credit-card bills so quickly. A slew of American banks are recognizing that it’s not easy to slosh your way through town to get to the bank and are waiving late fees on credit-card payments. Some, such as TD Bank, also won’t charge you their fee for using other banks’ ATMs.
New star emerges The “are they real or are they fake” online photos of storm damage are losing ground to the new social-media riff : the animated facial expressions of Lydia Callis. For the uninitiated, she’s New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s sign-language interpreter, who has stolen the spotlight during the mayor’s recent media appearances. The proof is at lydiacalasface.tumblr.com.
Caffeine deprivation We’re certain millions of residents of the northeastern United States were snapping at their partners, hitting peak productivity only in the mid-afternoon and reporting fewer cases of bad breath than usual this week. On Monday, roughly 1,000 Starbucks locations between Virginia and Maine were closed. By late Tuesday, the majority had reopened but about 250 were still shuttered in New York and New Jersey.
Most cynical marketing stunt? It’s a toss-up between Bloomex flower delivery offering 50 per cent off bouquets as part of a “Hurricane Sandy Special” and American Apparel, which promoted the discount code “SANDYSALE” only in U.S. states affected by the storm.