Sandy In New York and Kingston
My Weekend With Sandy by Kejan Haynes
New Yorkers are not built like Trinidadians. They don't believe God is a New Yorker, they believe New Yorkers are Gods.
During Sandy, they squared off in what was one of the most catastrophic natural disasters ever to hit the city.
When the smoke cleared on 29 October, the day after Sandy hit, New Yorkers awoke to two completely different cities.
Half remained submerged, both in darkness, and literally, under water.
The other half escaped almost completely unscathed, save for a fallen tree here and there.
In the untouched areas, bars opened during the storm. People partied and Chinese restaurants delivered.
Life went on
My neighbourhood in Brooklyn fell into the latter category. We only lost power for three hours, the day after the storm.
Falling trees the night before sidestepped any cars with a Caribbean flag displayed in the window, but obliterated the neighbours’.
People cleaned. Shops opened. Life went on.
That was until the next day, when people had to go to work. With the subway lines under water, Brooklyn was completely cut off from Manhattan.
Most people who lived in Brooklyn, even those who had been there for many years, had never learned the bus routes.
People new to the city and veterans alike joined the lines at bus stops that snaked around the corner, clutching smartphones, desperately trying to understand routes and plot the journey into the city.
The buses, when they did arrive, were usually already completely packed, and the drivers could only signal to the angry pedestrians to take the next one.
I was lucky enough to get a seat on the bus that stopped directly in front of my apartment.
Lost in New York
It should have taken me to 57th Street, where I could transfer to another bus that would take me straight to Columbia University on 116th Street.
Except that once the bus reached the apocalyptic-looking Chinatown, it overheated, forcing everyone into the deserted, powerless streets.
Throughout the city, reports emerged of buses either overheating or blowing tyres because of overcrowding and overworking.
No power in Chinatown meant no cellphone signal. The city catapulted us back to an archaic time when people had to ask for directions!
I took whatever bus I could find going uptown and crammed myself in, nestled under the armpit of the burly old man with a faint Guyanese accent who complained about his boss not allowing him time off.
Police guarded intersections and directed traffic as best they could. Crowds gathered at every bus stop, with a mix of frustrated commuters getting to work and rich old ladies clutching bags of their purchases from Louis Vuitton and Abercrombie & Fitch on 5th Ave.
Clearly the storm hadn’t affected them.
After another bus transfer and a 15-minute walk crosstown, I made it to school.
Total time: four hours.
The next day, thousands were corralled around the billion-dollar Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn as the city shuttled them three buses at a time, with police escort, into the city.
That night, on my three-hour trip back to Brooklyn, I passed through a blackened downtown.
It was the third day without power. Those who stayed in their home areas walked from the grocery stores, powered by generators, using cellphones as flashlights.
Both cars and people holding containers lined up for miles at gas stations in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Despite the insanity, I couldn’t help but marvel at how orderly everything was running. The city had a plan. The cops made rules; and people obeyed them. They waited in line, and they entered buses in an orderly fashion.
I couldn’t help but cast my mind back to every time Port of Spain descended into anarchy at the slightest hint of a storm, or a downpour that flooded the city for an hour or two.
There was no panic here, no sense of the “every man for himself” mentality; people knew they’d get home eventually.
They pulled out their iPhones and entertained themselves until their batteries died.
No power for three days, yet no-one looted. No one was afraid of getting robbed if they had to walk either five or 50 blocks in darkness.
A week after the storm, the subways still have some way to go before getting back to 100%.
Service advisories come frequently on every media available. It’s just a matter of planning your route every morning. You know it will take a while, but you’ll get there.
I wondered why this wasn’t the America we emulated.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar offered her sympathy and whatever other help she could.
Were our officials taking notes on how New York managed to run a successful evacuation, clean up, and return to normalcy all at the same time?
Probably not, but one can hope.
Life in Kingston by Dania Bogle
The rain pounded on the metal louvre windows as if demanding that I open up and let it in.
Through the transparent glass of my firmly closed front door, I could see trees rocking dangerously back and forth, while the sound of the howling wind was reminiscent of a scene from an American-made psychological thriller.
The electricity went out and returned and went out again - this time for good.
In my little corner of St Andrew, buffered by the surrounding Blue Mountains, even that didn't seem so bad. I had been through worse - category three Gilbert in 1988.
I joked to some friends that I would be making a home movie entitled: "How to go to your bed early."
Without electricity, we're left with little choice.
Bringing up baby
Even reading seems difficult when what light you could get from a flashlight has to be preserved for more pressing matters, such as not stubbing your toe against protruding furniture in pitch darkness.
With a seven-month-old baby, having running water is essential.
Having to store water in tubs to wash baby bottles and cook small meals is sometimes challenging.
You learn new methods to entertain a baby who is tired and sticky when you're sitting in the heat in the dark of night.
The effects of the storm go beyond the inability to take a shower and watching television, however.
The price of produce at the local markets has already increased, because the storm damaged crops in some parishes.
At the local meat markets where electricity is a must, although some had generators to power their freezers, some meat had already gone bad within a day of the storm after being off the ice for too long.
I encountered a piece of chicken gone bad during Sunday dinner.
While Sandy may have seemed like a light storm, the downed electric poles and trees all over the city tell a different story.
A helicopter flight over the eastern parishes of Portland and St Mary showed the extent of the damage.
Some family houses made of wood were shredded to bits and looked like crumpled pieces of paper after being destroyed by the passing winds.
The local shelters, which were fairly empty, have started to fill up with people cut off by the lack of power and running water.
Reporter Ricardo Chambers, who visited the St Andrew community of August Town after the storm, remembered being scared of falling boulders.
A boulder accounted for the death of at least one man during the storm.
"It was frightening. I remember looking up time after time, wondering if it was going to roll down the hill as well. Thank God it didn't," he told Caribbean Intelligence©.
Oliver Mair, who lives in Kingston with his wife and daughter, was also thankful.
"The hurricane was not as bad as expected. Though it was difficult without light, we had water, so it wasn't too bad. It was a good bonding time for the family," he stated.
One family in the Mona community of St Andrew was not so fortunate. Having lost power, they resorted to the use of a gas-powered generator.
The instrument malfunctioned and a resulting explosion resulted in the two-storey dwelling going up in flames.