Having grown up in Bombay, severe weather, specially severe rains which cause flooding and 3 to 4 feet of water logging are not new to me. [I have also lived through 2 cyclones there]. Every year we had a day or two off but after that, things got back to normal. Despite all the systemic inefficiencies at play in India, all the lapses of judgement, somehow I don’t recall being as overwhelmed by those events as I was with what went down last night. Surprising. Maybe it’s because that was the norm in Bombay, not an exception. Maybe because we knew what to expect.
My husband like a lot of New Yorkers did not expect Sandy to amount to much. “Irene” he said “was also a much hyped scream that ended with a whimper”. He was planning to head off to work yesterday; the day Sandy hit. Eventually he did not. Phew. Prudence is the better part of valor.
I cannot give enough props to preventive measures undertaken by city authorities days in advance to ensure minimal casualties and emergencies.
It’s now obvious that one can never be prepared enough for such times. Repeated reminders got most of the job done. I say most because despite every warning, there were people who did not evacuate Zone A.
There were people who wanted to be out by river promenade (visible from my apartment) when it was clearly unsafe to do so. Police would come, round them off, tell them to leave but they went right back as soon as the police left. Thrill seekers or as the Mayor said, people who unnecessarily risk not just their lives but also lives of first response personnel. Idiots.
However what really irked me (always does) is how networks went out of their way to scare, yes scare folks and draw multiple doomsday scenarios. Even after the worst of the storm had passed, even after Governor Cuomo & Mayor Bloomberg said the city could breathe a little easy, TV anchors and their severally gray undertoned ‘stories’ kept at it with reporters standing in 4 feet water or right near lapping waves, in insane winds, trying to ensure their two minutes of fame & clock higher TRPs. Really, these dramatics were not required because we all knew without doubt that what we had was a monster storm.
Yes, we could see for ourselves how intense Sandy was.
While it was an ominous grey & rainy day to start with, as soon as high tide hit in the evening, stretches of roads right outside our apartment were flooded with waters from an overflowing East River. FDR (an arterial highway connecting north and south Manhattan) was eerily, shockingly under water. A parking garage nearby had obviously not anticipated that waters could rise that much and was filling-up fast with river water right before our eyes. They had to resort to putting sandbags at the entrance smack in the middle of a crazy, windy storm.
Sandy at its peak (in NYC was between 7pm to 9pm), generated winds so strong that our apt on the 35th floor was shaking, yup shaking! The chandelier and window blinds were swaying hypnotically from left to right; creaking walls seemed surreal and the noise made by winds outside was decidedly scary. I’m guessing wind speeds were around 70 mph, with gusts touching 90 mph. We almost moved into an apartment on a lower floor to get away from the disorienting swaying but eventually decided to ride the storm on the 35th floor.
We are lucky, very lucky, that we haven’t lost power at any point till now. Many of our friends were not as lucky. They don’t expect power to be back for another few days. One can only imagine how trapped one might feel stuck for days on 30-40-50th+ floors. My son’s school is also out of power and partly flooded, so he has the week off. Yesterday, all bridges, subways, highways out of NYC were closed. Today, some of those are open tho’ city subway remains shut, as do buses. Only a few taxis are plying the roads.
A story that especially tugged at my heart was the evacuation of NYU Langone hospital right in the middle of the devastating storm. Moving patients, infants from ICU’s, NICU’s, with ventilators and other machines strapped on has got to be one of the toughest things to do. However, hundreds of ambulances lined up to ensure as smooth a transfer as humanly possible exemplifies just how admirably things are handled here during absolutely unforseen emergencies. In fact, perched on the 35th floor, knowing emergency vehicles were lining our entire block was comforting for us since we literally did not know what might happen next. The Mayor & Governor have been giving updates, taking questions by reporters regularly, so that at no point of time have we New Yorkers felt lost.
1. The fact that climate change is a reality and not just some liberal fantasy should gain ground; certainly after repeated encounters with hitherto unheard of weather patterns. Hopefully policy makers open their eyes and do something concrete to tackle this issue.
2. The critical role social media (Twitter/ FB) plays at times of emergencies cannot be underestimated. Folks were glued to these sites where second by second updates/ photos were being put up about what areas to avoid, which streets were shut, what tunnels were flooded, which shops were selling supplies. At times like these, when all you seek is information, these nuggets are priceless. [New media is a reality brand managers, the old world is changing rapidly and its best you do too].
3. Lastly, one doesn’t really need to die to realise how many friends one has. I was inundated with calls, messages on Twitter & FB, emails and texts from friends and family all around the world. Yes, they could not do much more than say “Stay safe”, that they “Hope all goes well”, but you know what? That really is all it takes. It was enough, more than enough.