The Floods

I took my bike off the ferry and headed southwest across the island. After passing through a beautiful meadow of tall grass that lined either side of the road, I hit one of the main strips in Midland, a neighborhood in Staten Island that was absolutely ravaged by flooding from Hurricane Sandy. Instead of tall grass, piles of people’s belongings lined the street, waterlogged and arbitrarily discarded. That’s when I realized how naive my view of the storm had been. Shamefully, I found riding through Manhattan in the dark a bit novel. I found braving the winds exhilarating. But seeing devastation on this scale was downright heartbreaking.

I was there to photograph the homes and neighbors of people who lost their lives during the storm for a story in WSJ. Some people just didn’t evacuate and drowned in their beds. Jack Paterno had cerebral palsy and couldn’t wheel himself to safety. Charlotte Breuers stayed home and died with her pets including a cockatoo. Jim Rossi, a WWII veteran, told his neighbors he was evacuating and not to worry. They found him face down in his backyard.

New York City is resilient. There’s no doubt about that. But this storm wreaked havoc in ways from which some of us will never recover.

A Hurricane Called Sandy

We started at the Brooklyn waterfront just hours before the storm was to make landfall. A brave few hopped police barriers to see how powerful the winds would be on a pier in the middle of the East River. But walking across the Williamsburg Bridge in the middle of the storm was really experiencing the power of nature. You could feel the bridge ripple in the wind. We ventured back out the morning after the floods. Manhattanites were leaving in exodus. The bridge was more crowded than I’d ever seen it. At night, it was even more surreal. A city that never sleeps was abruptly put down — no power below 34th Street. We rode through canyons of darkness as these monolithic buildings carved out black rectangles against the sky. There were signs of life here and there but mostly just the headlights of cars navigating the dark streets without traffic lights. After four days, the power was restored last night. New York City is slowly returning to normal, but the unfortunate residents along Jersey’s shore, Staten Island, Red Hook, and Rockaway have a long way to go.