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Tuesday 06 November 2012 Updated: 07/11 12:15
A week on from Superstorm Sandy, Dave Griffin writes for The Observer on the aftermath of the wind and rain which ripped through New York. He moved to Hoboken on the banks of the Hudson River across the water from Manhattan last year with his wife Jen, both of whom graduated from Warwick University, and their children Lily, four, and two-year-old Joe.
It seems a very peculiar statement to say, but last year’s hurricane lulled not only us but it felt like the whole community into a false sense of security. Irene was the big bad storm that was bearing down on the Big Apple and had led us to flee for the other side of the border.
We watched and waited for civilisation to end as predicted by the well-sponsored local news, but the sum total damage to our immediate vicinity was no worse than say a previous Nor’easter, and the only visible result of the whole ordeal had been the increase in share price of Poland Spring.
Sandy, they said, would be different. Sandy would strike hundreds of miles away and still cause havoc and destruction, they said. We needed to heed more of this warning, they said, and not think it was a “ploy to sell more ad space”, they (actually) said.
The trouble is no-one seemed to believe it. Whether it was the disaster movie music that started every new bulletin, or the “heard it all before” inconvenience many parents and colleagues were talking about, this time it did not seem to strike a chord in the collective fear.
We were wrong.
Hoboken is now firmly our family home and we have come to love this mile-square city. Although we sit on the Hudson and much of the city sits under sea level, the fact Irene gave us a bloody nose with a direct hit, the ‘Boken collective spirit braced for some interesting weather and perhaps the start of the week spent working from home, but not much else.
Some folks would see lines down and lose power, others would spend the next few days wishing they were not ground floor tenants and pumping the smelly drain overrun out of their dwellings. The winds came early on the Monday and rain followed, no-one expected most of the Hudson to take a tour through our streets that night.
Tuesday began with no power, a look outside, and the scream from our frightened daughter at 3am had confirmed that. It was eased with the relief that the gas was still on, that the fridge was at least still cold, and there would at least be tea that morning before we went outside.
The atmosphere was still bruised when I finally took the decision to venture out. The bottom of town is so famous in its ability to hold water that I would not be surprised if tenancy in those buildings came with life jackets and snorkels as standard.
But the sight of 2ft of water lapping at the corner of the hospital ran the blood cold. As I ventured further, and spoke to more people the worst fears of us all would be realised. The pictures in the press do not exaggerate the destruction we saw on the ground that day, and I only got so far. Perhaps the Mail’s ‘Hell in Hoboken’ poked at the more hyperbolic end of the spectrum but it was not far off, this was the stuff of nightmares for many.
Power is a curious thing: I write this on my well charged iPad connected to my wifi, in my well lit and warm apartment. Not so a few days before.
You see what Sandy did that Irene did not in Hoboken was send a small ocean into our power grid. In a light display of exploding transformers and substations, the town and it’s residents were cast into darkness.
Suddenly the necessities of the modern world are snatched away from you as a charged smartphone becomes a more precious commodity than heat and light as you crave news, communication to the outside world. You realise that no shops are open, they have no power either, and that means no food, especially fresh food is available.
Tuesday was all about assessment. What had been broken? What had been saved? Where was everyone? Was everyone safe? Wednesday was about consolidation, trying to bring routine back, get the kids to the park, contact work.
What Wednesday did do was in the space of 24 hours really show me what true community really looks like. Jen took the kids to the park whilst I tried to catch up with my boss and attempt to find somewhere with enough power to get a hot drink and some free wifi.
Uptown supposedly had got juice on and so I headed there to se what I could find. Sitting out in front of a building using an unsecured wifi connection can only last so long, so I took myself back thinking that at least contact had been made and I could try again tomorrow.
Walking back down Hudson Street I stumbled upon the definition of selflessness. A guy, Ralph, had put two extension cables out with a simple message “we have power”.
His only agenda was to share his luck in Sandy not paying his street as much of a visit as the rest of us and to selflessly give as much as he could in a way he felt was really useful to us all.
To me, his response summed up how this community has responded, it has looked after its own in a way I don’t think I ever expected. News of his kindness spread. Either separately or through word of mouth at least another 20 unofficial charging stations sprung up.
The city is returning to normal, lights are on in many homes now but not all. Sandy may have only glanced at our shores from afar, but she left a lasting memory on us all.
Read what Dave wife's Jen wrote last week as the storm bore down on the Big Apple: www.coventryobserver.co.uk/2012/11/06/news-A-family-reports-from-the-eye-of-Hurricane-Sandy-54184.html
A fund has been set up to help the people of Hoboken. More information can be found at www.rebuildhoboken.org.
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