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November 2, 2012

After Hurricane Sandy: Power-Hungry Refugees and the New Reality

By Spear's

Everyone is talking about the ’new reality’ in which running water and electricity are no longer certainties. The post-Sandy mess is worse than anyone prepared for or imagined

Since my last blog on Wednesday morning, the death toll has risen from 10 to 37 and 6,800 people are living in evacuation shelters. Mayor Bloomberg has announced that 400 members of the National Guard will deliver meals while downtown New Yorkers will not have power till Sunday at the earliest. 

Everyone is talking about the ‘new reality’ in which running water and electricity are no longer certainties. The post-Sandy mess is worse than anyone prepared for or imagined.

The two-bedroom flat I am staying in with my daughter on the Upper West Side was home to eight of us on Wednesday night as people moved uptown in search of a shower and a power socket. Gail, my friend who’s marrying on Saturday, finally made her way into Manhattan – she’d been stuck in Brooklyn since I arrived here on Sunday. Gail shared a bed with my eight-year-old and me; a young Russian financier slept on a sofa; and a couple and their friend bedded down in the den.

Pictured above: Firemen assess the damage to an apartment building whose front came off in Hurricane Sandy (The Atlantic)

Wednesday night was Hallowe’en. The big annual parade in the Village was cancelled but my daughter, dressed in a black cloak and painted with fake vampire blood, spent an hour of total happiness running up and down the backstairs of the apartment block trick-or-treating with a dozen other children.

We arrived home to very grumpy refugees. I had inadvertently signed our apartment up to welcome trick-or-treaters, thinking I was registering my daughter for a Hallowe’en party. They had not appreciated gangs of little ghouls banging on the door and demanding candy.
YESTERDAY MORNING GAIL and I went to pick up her wedding dress from 22nd Street. The designer had come in specially to open her shop. Many of the traffic lights downtown were not working. A 7/11 store by the designer’s studio was supplying power and people were queuing to recharge their cell phones and laptops. ‘Power hungry refugees’ is the new phrase to describe the masses roaming Manhattan in search of a connection to the Internet.

Read about how the art world in New York is responding to Hurricane Sandy

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Every coffee shop is festooned with cables and full of people, even sitting on the floor, gratefully scrolling and typing. AT&T have started delivering charging pods, so dependent are New York’s residents on technology.

Carrying the voluminous wedding dress and train between us, like a big cream inflatable snake, Gail and I waited for a taxi to go back uptown. Every few minutes another cousin or close friend telephoned her to say they were still stuck and so would not be at the wedding. Gail had to walk across Brooklyn Bridge to reach home yesterday afternoon.

Despite Hurricane Sandy laying waste to her plans, she has not once lost her sense of humour. ‘It could be worse,’ she keeps saying. ‘It’s really quite liberating,’ said one of the refugees in my apartment, describing how his home and business of 30 years have been destroyed by floodwater. I keep wondering if Londoners would be so stalwart in the face of such devastation.

Read more by Charlotte Metcalf

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