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Essay: Superstorm Sandy, One Year Later

It’s weird to say that it has been a year since Superstorm Sandy hit. It doesn’t feel like it has been a year. Twelve months have indeed gone by, but the memory is still fresh.

At the time, I was fortunate enough to live in a Queens neighborhood that was largely unharmed—though we were just a mile or so from East River and the waterlogged tarmac at La Guardia Airport. A couple of downed trees and wayward garbage cans was the worst damage we endured. I spent the duration of the raging winds and rain lounging on the couch in our PJs switching between movies and the news. I never lost power. Our neighbors upstairs made cupcakes that we all shared. It wasn’t until I tried to emerge from my cozy bunker that I realized how greatly I was affected.

We’d all been through it before just 14 months earlier with Irene. Hunkered down, unable to go anywhere, with nothing but a comfy couch, a full fridge and full power. I slept through most of it. The morning after the storm passed, I went out for coffee and the neighborhood carried on as if nothing had happened. Very New York. Many others upstate and in Vermont weren’t so lucky. By the time Sandy loomed months later, my fellow New Yorkers and I felt like we had this hurricane thing down. It was an excuse to stay home from work and tweet excessively about it.

It was when public transportation didn’t come back immediately after the winds died down, that I felt the impact of the storm. I was seven months pregnant with my first child, working fulltime in Manhattan. I couldn’t get to work, nor could I get in touch with any of my coworkers, who lived in parts of the metro area that were much harder hit.

I worried when I couldn’t get a hold of one of my closest friends who lived in Hoboken. A day later, I received a text that she was trapped in her fourth floor apartment. She couldn’t get out because the first floor and the street outside were flooded above her head. She had no power and no way to charge her phone, so I knew responding to her meant wasting precious battery life. And there was no way I could get to her to help.  Fortunately, she was able to escape a few days later when the water levels receded enough so she could wade through it. We heard from another friend who had evacuated his home in Long Island before the storm, only to return and find it destroyed. Again, I could do nothing to help. He and his wife were only able to move back in this past month, almost a year after the storm. In the days afterward, I grew increasingly frustrated that I could do nothing to help anyone, even as I saw friends and neighbors getting out to devastated places like Staten Island and Long Island. I just couldn’t with the pregnancy and the lack of adequate transportation.

Two days after the storm I was supposed to go see my obstetrician in her office on 32nd Street for an ultrasound. But I had no way of getting there, no one was answering the phone and the practice’s website was down. I saw on the news that the NYU Langone Medical Center facilities, where I had planned to deliver, were devastated by the storm and all the hospital’s patients evacuated to hospitals uptown. What if I go in to labor right now, I thought? I would have no one to call and nowhere to go. It wasn’t until weeks later that I was able to get a clear answer on that. But of course, my worries paled in comparison to the ladies I encountered in the doctor’s waiting room who were hitting their due dates. Some of them were terrified because they were without power, or worse, displaced.

The Friday after Sandy, I had to fly to California for a convention. It took me hours to get to the airport. No car service would drive me due to the gas shortage, and public transportation was still spotty. I had to frantically beg a cab driver at 5 am to get me there. And as the plane took off, I looked down at the flooded city, riddled with guilt that I was leaving people and a city in need.

But 3,000 miles from home, I encountered the kindest words and most genuine concern for me and my fellow New Yorkers. People who lived thousands of miles away could physically do even less than I could to help displaced storm victims. Yet somehow the knowledge that they were there for us emotionally seemed like more than enough. Prayers and thoughts and donations. By the time I returned home, the city was still hurting, but had bounced back in that way only New York can.

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