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"Four days later and little has improved" - a Cavan view of Sandy

Story by Tom Kelly

Thursday, 1st November, 2012 12:27pm

"Four days later and little has improved" - a Cavan view of Sandy

A tree is upended near Denise's home in Queens. Photo: Tom

Cavan born freelance writer DENISE SLACKE tells of her experience of Super Storm Sandy as it ravaged her current home of Queens, New York.

There had been some buzz in the media for a number of days before the storm hit. Most New Yorkers were reluctant to heed any warning and carried on about their business, more concerned about preparing for the upcoming Halloween weekend than battening down the hatches. I certainly didn't pay it any attention. The pace of the city moves so fast that New Yorkers had no time for Sandy, especially after the Irene fiasco 14 months previous.

In essence, the city was pretty calm. There was the occasional muttering, a rare look of concern, the odd "You ready for Sandy?" directed to the checkout girl in the grocery line, but really, people just didn't seem to care.

With the election and Halloween right around the corner, Sandy was an afterthought, put on the backburner and swiftly forgotten about. When she came up in conversation, most people likened the idea of her to Irene, referring to the needless mass hysteria caused over a rainy day and night, which, quite frankly, didn't have a look in with a summer's eve in Cavan.

It was the disappointing lack of excitement over the impending super storm that reminded me I was truly thousands of miles away from home. It's no secret that Irish people love a good storm. For the folks in rural towns like Cavan, the topic of the weather is enough to set off a great debate in the local Post Office about heavy rainfall, the risk of thunderstorms or if Mary will get a dry day for the wedding.

Should even the suggestion of a hurricane cross the mouth of our beloved Gerald Fleming, the country would be in uproar. Already the nation is obsessed with facts and figures pertaining to the infamous weather reports, with statistics informing us every year that this is the 'worst summer we have seen since records began'. What would we have to say about Sandy if she came knocking on our door? Everyone in town would be an expert. We'd talk until our throats were raw and our ears would be glued to Joe Duffy from morning til night.

But that wasn't the case in old New York. Mayor Michael Bloomburg was keeping his head low and while it was talked about at length in the media, the fact that there was virtually no sign of bad weather heading our way was enough to calm our minds. It was about 24 hours before the storm hit when the first tell tale signs arrived.

On Sunday, the city had a strange humidity to it. I found myself uncomfortably warm, despite nearing the end of October. There was an eerie feeling of calmness in the air.

People began talking at this point. It was time to gather supplies. Throughout the next number of hours, it became abundantly clear that the storm would be ripping through the island of Manhattan at approximately noon on Monday, ignorantly throwing a spanner in the works for Sunday night's Halloween festivities. The entire transit system was shut down at 7pm, and New Yorkers were warned to either evacuate the island, or find their way to a shelter.

Luckily for us, we live in Queens. My partner, Tom Lennon, and I decided to head to the supermarket early on Sunday to gather what we could. We were expecting a frenzy of people pulling whatever they could off the shelves, head butting each other to get the last of the bread. As soon as we arrived, we were met with the exact opposite. People were shopping for the storm, but instead of gathering the 'essentials', baskets were full with beer and pretzels. It seemed that if Sandy was going to be so rude as to interrupt the holiday weekend, people were going to strike back and throw their own hurricane party.

We grabbed enough food for a few days and headed home. At 8 o'clock that evening, the sky was black and the rain began. It was clear at this point the level of danger that was up ahead. The Metro Transit Authority's webpage was updated regularly to inform citizens that the subway system would not be reopening until the storm passed and the police were out in their droves with megaphones informing people to get inside and be aware of which 'zone' their apartment was in. We were in zone B, safe enough to stay put, but close enough to the river to expect major flooding.

The storm raged through the night, into Monday evening. Our apartment was safe, with the exception of our kitchen window that refused to close letting buckets of rain in, despite our best efforts. For 24 hours, the storm was relentless. The scale of damage the city saw was incredible, not to mention hundreds of house fires and power outages. The city was plunged into blackness. Remarkably, the grim looking 24-hour Ethnic Food Mart across from our home, that only sells beer and crisps remained open throughout the whole storm. It amazed us and became our beacon of hope!

Four days later and little has improved. It's expected to be days before the subway is up and running to full capacity again. Downtown Manhattan remains without power. Shops are slowly beginning to reopen while the footpaths are lined with fallen trees and debris. I stepped out to survey my neighbourhood to come across a tree that had fallen onto a school bus.

Seeing one of the most powerful cities in the world being punched in the face and brought to its knees by Mother Nature is incredible. Searching for the cityscape last night and seeing nothing but darkness both fascinated and terrified me. It felt amazing to have been a part of something so huge, yet isolating knowing that the city that has spawned so much opportunity, that has churned out and been home to some of the greatest people the world has ever known, that holds the fury of 8 million people was now vulnerable. The city that is utterly cruel and unforgiving, that kicks you up the arse and forces you to make it on your own, that feeds you the 'if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere' saga, has been beaten by a force unimaginably fierce.

In the past year this city has taught me so much, has whipped me into shape and given me more opportunities than I could ever imagine. Sandy came, destroyed everything in her wake and then legged it to Canada. In the last four days, I have felt more homesick here than I have in one and a bit years. I suppose I could run down to the Food Mart and strike up a conversation about the weather with the Indian man behind the counter. But it wouldn't be the same. He doesn't know my name and I definitely won't be able to pronounce his.

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