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On the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, New Yorkers share their storm stories

The North Shore of Staten Island, the day after Hurricane Sandy.

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Five years have passed since Hurricane Sandy slammed into our shores, costing the city $19 billion and upending the lives of thousands of New Yorkers, particularly those in the waterfront neighborhoods of lower Manhattan, Red Hook, southern Brooklyn, the Rockaways, and Staten Island. Swaths of the city were left in the dark for days, and in some cases weeks, and miles of the subway system were flooded. 

For some New Yorkers, the storm is now just a memory. For others, though, the disaster remains all too present in their lives: 1,000 New York City residents are still contending with construction on their Sandy-damaged homes, according to the New York Post. And those who weren't directly victimized by the storm are still dealing with the fallout in the form of transit disruptions such as the looming year-and-a-half shutdown of the L train to repair the flooded East River tunnel, and work on the F train tunnels beyond that.

Wherever New Yorkers were that night, Hurricane Sandy was one of those pivotal moments—like the blackout of 2003—that provoked not only panic, but also a very New York-specific brand of camaraderie. We asked New Yorkers for their Sandy stories, and learned about the highs and lows of a city of millions coping with a surprisingly severe natural disaster. 

A chance celebrity encounter 

"As the storm rolled in, I went to an Italian restaurant in the East Village with two friends. There was one other diner there: Elvis Costello, in a purple suit. [We didn't say hello because] we didn't want to ruin the super surreal moment, and figured it was probably the only time he could go out to eat and be left alone! I was living in Astoria at the time and managed to get home before the subways stopped."—Lilly Dancyger, Upper East Side 

Flooding on Avenue C at 15th Street during Sandy.

Matthew Kraus/Flickr

A Hurricane Sandy honeymoon 

"I got married just before Sandy and live in the evac zone. My building had a moat and my wedding venue was underwater a day after. We called it our 'Sandy-moon.'

"We stayed when it hit, and we were prepared to go a day without electricity, but when it was clear there wouldn't be hot water for a while, we headed uptown to stay with a friend, on their very uncomfortable pull-out.  My husband was lucky: He had a conference right after, so he only had one night on that thing. I work from home, so I mostly tried to work up at my friend's place, and constantly, frantically checked for updates on the hot water/power situation. 

"Our co-op had a big email chain going, filled with updates and madness. I remember being incredulous it was taking so long. Even after seeing the water surround the building, I felt like this was just a silly thing.  

"I took a cab back when the hot water was supposed to come back. I remember when you hit 14th Street, all the power was still out, and my cab driver said it was like the Wild West down there. No traffic lights, so everyone was trying to figure out who went when at intersections. 

"The building didn't flood, exactly, but our basement storage area was apparently right over a sewage pipe which backed up and geyse-red up through the concrete, ruining everything. They had people come in and take everything that had been left down there and trash it. I lost a lot of books. Should have taken it more seriously, I guess. The basement had to be totally redone. And we still feel little aftershocks. Something goes wrong with the hot water mechanism in the basement, and it was probably damaged in Sandy. Something goes weird with the power, or the security cameras: probably damaged in Sandy.  

"It was long enough ago that now it's more of a fun story than anything else, a cute 'Oh yes, we got married before Sandy and then we had to hole up in our apartment with candles for the night after our wedding.' Sounds romantic, but looking back on it, it was also a serious pain."—Lev A.C. Rosen, author of Depth, a novel about New York City in the future after the ice caps melt, Financial District

Biking while pregnant

"I was pregnant with my first son and the subways weren't running, so I couldn't get to my office in Midtown. I was living in Bed-Stuy at the time, so my husband and I rode our bicycles about 10 miles each way to work (which was closed but we still had stuff there to do). I didn't lose power but I was worried whether there would be any problems at the hospital where I was getting my first scans. My doctor told me to stop riding my bike, which I did, and by that time the trains were running again."—Susan Kang, Jackson Heights (previously Bed-Stuy) 

Playing reluctant hostess to an evacuee 

"We had power and no flooding. I had gone on two dates with this guy [from Long Island City] and was pretty lukewarm. I was about to leave town after Sandy for a few days and he wanted to hang. So I thought if he had to evacuate and I wouldn't see him before my trip, then it would make sense to offer him to stay at my place? LIC didn't actually flood where he lived, [but he ended up staying] for 36 hours. I counted."—Wudan Yan, Upper East Side

Trash lines a street in Brighton Beach after Sandy.

drpavloff/Flickr

Dealing with Sandy right after the birth of a baby—and a restaurant

"Our son was born October 21st and we opened S'MAC in Murray Hill in the beginning of October that year. When Sandy hit, we took what precautions we could at both restaurants (the other location was on East 12th Street) and in our home.

"When Irene passed us by there was this sense of, why did we have to go through all that, and so when Sandy came along I think that a lot of people, including me, didn't take it quite that seriously. I remember riding in a taxi on the FDR and seeing moms with jogging strollers running along the East River boardwalk while water had started to lap onto the boardwalk!

"So we shut down both S'MAC locations, not because we anticipated trouble, but because the MTA was scheduled to shut down later that day and so we couldn't get employees into the city. We thought this would be a one day event and come Tuesday morning the MTA would start up again and life would go on as normal. Having had a busy few weeks with a new baby and a new store, we just welcomed it as a forced time for relaxation. Evacuation and flooding was the furthest thing in our minds.

"That night Sandy hit, and not with the full force that it could have but still pretty rough. When we woke up, we still felt good because our building wasn't flooded, we had food and water, and we expected the power to be back on sometime later that day. But as the day went on, we found out that the anticipated repair time was going to be over a week and we realized that wasn't going to be a good option for us given the new baby in the house. Thankfully we had a friend who was happy to take us in on the Upper East Side and so we packed a suitcase and walked down 10 floors.

"We stayed a full six days on the Upper East Side—me, Sarita, her mom, a newborn and a very sick (strep throat) 3-year-old—until I could come back to the apartment and confirm that the power was indeed back on.

"Since both S'MAC locations were downtown below 41st Street, neither of them had power and we couldn't cook anything. One of our managers managed to drive into the city on Tuesday, loaded up his car with as much meat and cheese as he could, and took it all to his church. The rest was trash.

"After the power was restored and we started cleaning out and preparing to open again, there were huge piles of garbage bags in front of all the restaurants in the East Village. I have photos of the neighborhood's sidewalks with their hillocks of rotten food. Such a waste! Thankfully neither of our restaurants was flooded or sustained any direct damage, but along with everyone else we lost eight days of business and thousands of dollars of inventory.

"For S'MAC it started a spiral that we never fully exited and has just resulted in us closing that ill-fated Murray Hill location just this past Sunday. Our son Dershan, on the other hand, is a beautiful 5-year-old and makes it all worth it (along with his brother Puran of course).”—Caesar Ekya, co-owner, S’MAC, Lower East Side

A street in New Dorp, Staten Island shortly after the storm.

John de Guzmán/Flickr

Losing everything on Staten Island

"During Sandy, I lived in Midland Beach on Staten Island, about seven blocks from the ocean. In 2011, when Hurricane Irene hit, we evacuated our house because that’s what government officials were saying we should do. We didn’t even lose power. So when Sandy rolled around, we were skeptical. The day seemed fine and it wasn’t even raining much so we had no intention of leaving. At the time, I lived in a small bungalow on my parents' property. Around 7:30, my best friend called to tell me the water had passed Father Capodanno Boulevard. My dad and I drove up Midland Avenue and saw the water coming down the street.

"At 8 pm, I called my uncle in Bay Terrace to see if we could crash at his place if need be. We packed some bags and moved some furniture off the floor just in case and then the power went out.

"The rest of the night happened really quickly. There was literally a tidal wave crashing down the street toward our house. We had already moved all the sedans to higher grounds and left behind my Jeep, my dad’s pickup, and my mom’s SUV. By the time we saw the water, grabbed our things and ran outside, the water was already above my three foot tires. While driving to my uncle’s house, water was pouring over the hood of my Jeep and the engine started to seize. Thankfully, that car was a tank and got us to dryer ground.

"We made it to my uncle’s safely and spent the next few days there. It took two full days for the water to recede enough to get into our houses. It was complete devastation. Literally everything I owned was gone. My house was actually my late grandparents’ house. When my gram was alive, we used to snack on Reese’s together all the time. The first thing I noticed after getting into my house was a Reese’s cup on the dining room table. I think that was her visiting to let me know everything would be okay.

"My brothers stayed in my parents' house for the next few nights because we had heard stories of looters. But despite a few crappy people trying to take advantage of a lousy situation, the next few weeks restored my faith in humanity. The first to arrive were our friends and family who used to live in Midland Beach. Growing up, it was a very tight-knit community. Then came the swarms of beautiful strangers, armed with shovels, gloves, and garbage bags to help us clean out our houses. I wish I had thought to get all of their names so I could thank them someday. 

"My parents rebuilt their house fairly quickly. My dad is a retired cop but he’s very handy. Between him, my brothers, uncles, cousins, and friends, we were actually able to celebrate Christmas at home. We were one of the few houses with power but we didn’t think it was appropriate to put lights up. My parents’ house was kind of a live-in construction zone for the coming years. My bungalow was much smaller than my parents’ house so it didn’t survive as well. I couch-hopped for a few weeks and then lived with my cousin and her husband for three months until I found a new place. 

"Midland Beach doesn’t really look the same. A lot of smaller houses were knocked down and a lot are being rebuilt through Build It Back, which is taking far longer than promised. I hope the neighborhood makes a full comeback someday. Living through Sandy was scary, but humbling. I’m incredibly grateful for the people in my life who helped my family during that time. And I live a fairly minimalist lifestyle now. Because after all, it’s just stuff."—Trish Rollins, Staten Island

 

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