It is Halloween.
On the day after the night Hurricane Sandy arrived here as a rambunctious guest, New York City and much of the surrounding Tri-State area within at least a 90 mile radius was still recovering from the shock while beginning to assess the damage caused by the hazing it received from the massive storm.
Initial reports indicate that at least five Presbyterian churches here in Manhattan suffered moderate to heavy damage. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance National Response Teams are response teams are headed to the presbyteries of New York City, Long Island, Elizabeth, New Brunswick and Monmouth.
Middlesex (N.J.) Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth Presbtery -- pastored by General Assembly Moderator Neal Presa -- lost its roof .
The Stony Point Center just north of New York City ― one of the PC(USA)’s national conference centers ― is making space available for hurricane victims who need a place to stay.
Sandy didn’t just ring our doorbells and run away, she yanked the doorbells off the houses. In too many cases, she also yanked our houses off their foundations, leaving them strewn in the middle of highways, byways and waterways, especially along the Jersey Shore ― unfortunately located directly in the intersection of Sandy’s cross-hairs.
In other cases, she simply huffed and puffed and blew the house down.
Or she burned them down.
On Breezy Point in NY City’s borough of Queens, a stone’s throw from JFK Airport, dawn revealed the skeletons and foundations of 111 burned-out homes, described as the City’s “worst disaster for concentrated destruction.”
Up and down the Jersey Shore the word was not “JWow,” but simply “wow.” Nearly a dozen fires erupted in the early-morning hours in Mantoloking. The iconic amusement park in Seaside Heights was more in the sea than on the heights. In Atlantic City, even if you passed “Go” and collected your 200 dollars, you’d have a tough time landing on the legendary Boardwalk as huge sections of it have been washed away.
President Obama toured the Shore Wednesday afternoon with Governor Chris Christie. If he didn’t see them first-hand from his flyover in Marine One, he was certainly briefed about all the trees and boats and cars and downed power lines and dolls and walkers and wheelchairs and strollers and the rest of the spectrum of life’s artifacts randomly stacked and scattered across the landscape.
If the Jersey Shore’s troubadour, Bruce Springsteen, hadn’t written “My City of Ruins” for 9/11 he most would most certainly have a reason to do so now.
Upstate in New York State’s Westchester County, the beach at Rye Playland, the antique amusement park featured in the Tom Hanks’ film “Big” looks like a giant’s foot squashed it as the normally tranquil Long Island Sound roared ashore, trashing the boardwalk there, bending-back the fence atop the seawall at a 45-degree angle.
Here in New York City, much of the area below 34th street ― the neighborhood of Macy’s and the Empire State Building ― is still without power. In fact, all the area’s power companies conservatively estimate that 90% of their customers lost power.
In lower Manhattan, Sandy short-circuited the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, filling it with more than ten feet of salt water, equal to the level of its access roads on both Manhattan and Brooklyn sides.
Sandy also drowned the City’s 108 year-old subway system, filling many stations ― to quote Joe Lhota, the head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority ― “to the ceiling.” Most ironically, pictures taken in the South Ferry station showed several inches of water on its mezzanine level, located easily twelve feet above the train platforms below.
The MTA restored limited transit bus service Tuesday evening and some commuter rail service today (Wednesday). But, while they are conducting test subway runs, it may not be until after Election Day before subway service is fully restored.
The same can be said for the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Trains which carry many from Newark, Hoboken and Jersey City into lower Manhattan.
On Broadway, many of the shows were planning to be back up and running for this evening’s performances, but with no mass transit, most area schools were closed for the third-straight “storm day.”
In deference to safety concerns about the countless downed power lines, New Jersey and some other municipalities postponed trick-or-treating. Unable to spare police and other first responders from post-Sandy duties, New York City postponed the 39th annual civic Halloween Party.
Yet New York City Marathon officials were still optimistic they can successfully run the five-borough race this coming Sunday (Nov. 4).
There will be questions why the failed back-up generators at NYU-Langone Hospital were allowed to age-out of their usefulness, forcing officials to evacuate the facility. There will be questions about how to lessen the chances of the ironic situation of having to let houses burn down in the midst of a hurricane-force rainstorm. There will be questions about the logic of placing power generators in the basements and cellars of flood-prone buildings, even though many were situated above the highest-record floor stage. There will be questions about why duly-warned people refuse to evacuate flood-prone areas.
While there were reports of vandalism and price gouging by some merchants and taxi drivers, and while experts unravel the conundrum of how to safely dismantle the boom of a crane dangling some 75 stories above Carnegie Hall, the Governor of Connecticut, Dannel Molloy, and his counterparts ― New York’s Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey’s Chris Christie ― enthused about the clean-up effort. Each cited the unbowed spirit of their region’s residents in pitching in to volunteer, whether at a shelter or in the cause of an elderly neighbor or were simply “there” for someone who has lost almost everything, the three men also paused to remember the more than 50 people including, sadly, some very young children who perished during the storm.
And yet, in Somerville, N.J. today, a hopeful new chapter begins as a mother suckles her newborn baby, born during the height of Sandy’s fury.
To contribute to Hurricane Sandy relief through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, click here.
Jim Nedelka, is a frequent contributor to the Presbyterian New Service, works for a major broadcast news organization in New York. A Ruling Elder, he is a member of New York’s Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and Neighborhood House.