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DISASTER: Water floods the Plaza Shops in Manhattan.
Allison Joyce/Getty Images
DISASTER: Water floods the Plaza Shops in Manhattan.

Unprecedented

Weather | Superstorm Sandy leaves waves of destruction and weeks of cleanup

NEW YORK—Sandy killed people from Haiti to New York City—at least 70 once it came ashore along the New Jersey coast on Oct. 29. It shut down all air travel in the Northeast—including hundreds of flights from overseas—and brought floods onto the runways of New York’s LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports. It shut down the New York Stock Exchange for the first time since the 9/11 attacks. It shut down the federal government for two days and prompted officials at the Labor Department to consider delaying the critical final jobs report before the election—all unprecedented. The massive natural disaster slammed to a halt the presidential campaigns for a day and brought President Obama off the trail and back to the Oval Office. In the critical final days of the campaign, Superstorm Sandy overwhelmed all other news.

For a period, the storm marooned Manhattan and one of the largest population centers in the United States from the rest of the world, flooding tunnels and prompting authorities to shut down all bridges into the city. For New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, one of the largest transit systems in the world, the storm was the worst in the subway’s 108-year history. The MTA shut down trains for days and at press time had no estimate of when it would be running again: “Our subway system and salt water do not mix,” said MTA chairman Joseph Lhota.

In the flooded Queens neighborhood of Breezy Point, the storm sparked a fire that wiped out at least 80 homes. It tossed a tanker on the shore of Staten Island. It brought unseasonal snow to the Appalachians.

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Sandy was 800 miles wide and cut power to at least 7.5 million people. It swallowed up Atlantic City, N.J., where it made its most direct hit, and washed away famous boardwalks in Ocean City, Md. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called it a “once-in-a-long-time storm.”

Manhattan went dark when the storm hit Oct. 29, with midtown and lower Manhattan losing power. Times Square’s outrageous lights still glared over empty streets. A power substation exploded in lower Manhattan. Battery Park was under water and water gushed into the cavity where construction continues on the new World Trade Center. With emergency personnel overwhelmed by 911 calls, they boated to stranded citizens in Staten Island and other boroughs as the floods peaked late Monday evening at the high tide, some rescues taking place via Twitter as one New York Fire Department dispatcher monitored the social network. “We don’t get a lot of rowing experience,” noted one New York policeman as a crew rowed over waterlogged streets to tie a rope to a stranded vehicle before it floated away.

At New York University’s Tisch Hospital, one of the city’s largest, backup generators failed after power went out—a nightmare scenario for patients relying on machines like ventilators. In the darkness, the staff carried babies from the neonatal intensive care unit down flights of stairs to a fleet of ambulances waiting to evacuate them to other hospitals with power. 

Relief efforts took off the next morning—and are likely to continue into the weeks ahead. Three percent of New Yorkers identify themselves as churchgoing Christians, but that makes the Christian community tight-knit. City churches worship together once a month in a service called Citywide Worship. That translated to an immediate network of churches responding to the storm, even as many of them were flooded themselves. On Oct. 30, several, including the network under Trinity Grace Church, had already set up relief funds. At Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s Upper West Side congregation, members offered their homes to those without. Hope for New York, affiliated with Redeemer, was coordinating relief efforts among churches—most of them in the city neighborhood base. In Sunnyside, Queens, Grace Fellowship pastor Jon Storck simply walked out with his congregants into that neighborhood to offer their services to any in need.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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