Smiles as a city counts its losses - and its blessings
Boys in New York's financial district marvel at cars left underwater by the ravages of Hurricane Sandy. Photo: Bloomberg
The water has subsided and the clean up has begun. I wasn't quite ready for the extent of the damage that I saw after I walked out of my financial-district apartment building in New York this morning.
This is Zone A – what was the mandatory evacuation zone. Having lived through Hurricane Sandy last night I can say that officials weren't exaggerating when they said it would bear the brunt of the storm.
As I walk around with my friend Melissa and her dad, Steve, we see window panes hanging by a thread overhead, debris scattered all over the road and the lingering smell of petrol and oil that has been washed across the streets from the piers.
The water that was surrounding my building last night has returned to the East River. I see the doorman to my building in the street, throwing out garbage bags full of rubbish and debris. He had a lucky escape himself last night as the water filled our lobby and he was forced to climb up about 4 or 5 metres and sleep on a ledge to escape the rising water.
The eight sandbags that the building's management had put at the front door were obviously not enough.
My doorman says power is going to be out for a few days so rather than continue to climb up and down 25 flights of stairs I make an extremely belated decision to evacuate and go stay with my friend Raphael on 157th street. He has power, a spare bed and a bowl of pasta ready for me. He says he barely noticed the storm and I wonder how it could be that Sandy was so ferocious downtown while uptown all I see is one felled tree.
It takes me more than two hours of walking uptown until I can find a cab to take me the rest of the way. But I am glad because I get to see firsthand the damage Sandy has done.
I walk past a building on 8th avenue and 15th street that now looks like an open-air doll's house, with the side blown away and furniture still inside.
There are basements that are still entirely filled with water, steel awnings that have been crumpled like they were made of paper and mud caked along the footpaths.
Despite Mayor Michael Bloomberg's instructions that people stay inside, scores of New Yorkers have come outside to see the damage for themselves.
They smile at each other as they pass on the streets, perhaps one of the biggest differences I notice on this day compared to any other in this city. I think the smiles are borne out of relief that we have all made it through. This is a new day and I feel confident that New Yorkers know exactly what needs to be done to put a city back together.