Cajun Tomato’s NYC 100: “A Surreal Storm”

Wash Heights' silent streets

This is the 17th installment of Cajun Tomato’s NYC 100, a daily series chronicling my experiences and observations as a new New Yorker. Click here to read more about my “Frankenstorm” experiences.

This morning I’d consider Hurricane Sandy a dud if I had no TV or Internet. The so-called “Frankenstorm” delivered a minimal amount of mayhem in Washington Heights, the neighborhood I live in on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I waited 16 hours for a jarring wind gust or buckets of rain to alert me a serious weather event had arrived. None came. My apartment never lost power, unlike millions of Americans along the Atlantic coast. The lights flickered two or three times. It was all painless, distant.

Ironically, I know Sandy rocked the East Coast because I have power, and thus TV and Internet. I watched video of rising waters in lower Manhattan, Brooklyn, and New Jersey. I also witnessed a collapsed four-story apartment building on the news. People across the country saw these same images Monday. The images were real, though they seemed otherwise.

It’s a weird feeling to live in a place hit with devastation, yet to feel like an outsider to said devastation. I mean, I can relate to the images on the TV screen because I grew up in south Louisiana, but in terms of this storm I have a sense of survivor’s guilt – or the equivalent in a scenario like the one that played out Monday.

Don’t get me wrong: I feel fortunate my neighborhood escaped the storm’s brunt. It’s hard to cheer one’s good luck in a time like this though.

Where New York City goes from here I am unsure. The subways received flooding, and thus will be out of service for an undetermined length. On Monday night, I heard a newscaster call Sandy New York City’s biggest event since 9/11. From where I sat it seemed like an amazing statement, perhaps even a leap. The photos of a great city in the dark and underwater didn’t lie.

WATERS RISING

I walked down the hill toward the Hudson River banks around 11 Monday night. My roommates had received a text message earlier that night to stay inside. But seeing as how we had little rain or wind I convinced them to walk to the river. I wanted to observe how the area differed from earlier in the day when we observed rising waters, feeder bands of rain, and an eerie grayness.

As we walked down the stairs under the Henry Hudson Parkway, we realized we would not be able to walk to the banks, as we had seven hours earlier. The Hudson River not only overtopped its banks but had pushed its way more than 100 feet toward the parkway, producing standing water on a court at the base of the stairs. The water produced no threat to our neighborhood – since we are on a hill – but it was incredible to witness how the situation had changed.

One mile, two at the most had separated Washington Heights from the storm’s wrath. Surreal.

I will write more about the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy later today

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