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We were there when Mother Nature unleashed her fury. A fun but hectic weekend of exploring New York’s amazing colleges with my son, Ben, was the plan for the last weekend of October 2012.

The last thing we expected to endure on our quick college tour was finding out what happens when one of the world’s busiest cities gets slammed by a superstorm. We travelled all over Manhattan the weekend before the storm via taxi, subway and foot, ignoring the weather alerts and enjoying the balmy fall breezes and sights of the bustling metropolis. On Sunday Oct. 28th, we woke early to head to LaGuardia Airport so we could make our way back to our North Carolina home. Surely, arriving at the airport four hours before our flight would provide us the security of a timely exit ahead of the storm, we thought. Unfortunately, we were wrong. The vacation was over, and the frustration and fear had just begun.

DELAYS, CLOSINGS

As we left our midtown hotel on that fateful Sunday, people were starting to get worried in the city as the mayor announced subway, bus and bridge closings. We felt safe knowing that we had plenty of time—days, in fact—before Hurricane Sandy was supposed to hit.

Our taxi sped through the thickening traffic, and our safety check through security was quick as well. As soon as we got to the gate for our 4:30 p.m. flight, things started to deteriorate, and it was only 10:30 in the morning. Despite the hurricane being a day and a half from landfall in the Northeast, the airlines were getting jittery about its path. Delays began to lengthen because pilots and staff couldn’t reach LaGuardia, then rumors started to fly that the airport was completely shutting down.

People began panicking, fighting with each other over where they could charge their electronics, frantically arguing with hostile airline employees for any information, and stockpiling beverages and food from the closing
shops. Mostly, we were all despairing due to the hopeless situation of potentially being stranded in an airport during an oncoming hurricane.

It is incredible how alliances with strangers are formed in the worst of times. Money was loaned, rides were shared, emails and numbers exchanged, and I was inspired by the humanity and kindness of others. Finally, word spread that all the airports were definitely closing. By this time, all the rental cars were gone, the buses and subways were closed and there were only a few bridges left open to get back into the city. We waited in line at the airport for two hours to reschedule our flight for Wednesday and caught a taxi at twice the normal price to go back into Manhattan. There was nowhere else to go. We were officially stuck.

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“People began panicking, fighting with each other over where they could charge their electronics, frantically arguing with hostile airline employees …”

If you fear you’ll be trapped by a storm, withdraw as much cash as you can. When the electricity fails, credit cards might not work for your purchases.

SURVIVAL 101

Because I write for American Survival Guide, being aware in times of crisis is part of my job. While everyone was fretting about cancelled flights, I booked a room at a midtown Manhattan hotel on the east side that was close to
grocery stores, restaurants and other amenities. Before leaving the airport, I had gone to an ATM and withdrew as much money as I could.

A good rule of thumb when anticipating a flood disaster is to move to higher ground and make sure you have cash. The low-lying and coastal are as will sustain the most water damage and will cause the electricity to go out, making anything but cash useless. As soon as we checked in and dropped off our bags, we ordered from room service and requested extra condiments, utensils and glasses. Stockpiling supplies should always be a priority in a disaster to ensure sanitation and sustenance.

“Tuesday and Wednesday
were a mess of chaos,
shortages and frustration.”

HURRICANE SANDY BY THE NUMBERS

$1.08 BILLION

At press time, the amount of money that had been approved by the government to assist in the recovery from Hurricane Sandy, FEMA notes.

35

The number of disaster recovery centers that were set up in New York

33

The number of disaster recovery centers that were set up in in New Jersey

6

The number of disaster recovery centers that were set up in Connecticut

6,538

The storm prompted this number of FEMA personnel to be deployed “to support response operations, including search and rescue, situational awareness, communications and logistical support in states affected by the storm,” FEMA said.

6 MILLION

The number of residents who lost power

$50 BILLION

The total estimated damage by various government sources

 

Instead of sleeping, we foraged for goods at the local all-night grocery stores. Most of the stores had been ransacked by earlier customers, but we didn’t give up. We walked several blocks, carrying bags loaded with bottled water, food and medicine. When we got back to the hotel at midnight, the lobby was packed with crazed travelers. Most people were in a state of shock, both celebrating and crying about their situations. I told my son not to worry and to keep walking through to the room. It was a 40-minute wait to use the elevators, so we walked
the six flights up to our room. As soon as we arrived, I filled our sink and ice bucket with ice to keep things cold because we didn’t have a refrigerator. After such an exhausting and frustrating day, we both collapsed.

It’s a good idea to stock up on ice if a storm is approaching. This way, if your power goes out, you can still keep your perishables cold.

“It is incredible how alliances with strangers are formed in the worst of times.”

CHAOS AND ESCAPE

I have been to New York City many times, and never have I seen it so quiet as the day Sandy hit. As we walked around the city that Monday, we saw very few people venturing out. The police presence was strong as they tried to keep citizens safe and indoor with rain pouring, debris and glass flying, and electricity out all over the city. Only small businesses and sandwich shops seemed to be open, and their supplies quickly dwindled as the day became night. We went to sleep not knowing what to expect on Tuesday. Tuesday and Wednesday were a mess of chaos, shortages and frustration. Desperately, I tried to get back to North Carolina. First, I stood in line for two hours to rent a car because the phones weren’t working. The rental cars were sold out by the time I got close to the counter because there was no way for previous renters to return them to the still closed-off city. Next, I fought for five hours on the phone to get through to the airline, only to discover that nothing was leaving New York until Thursday. I accepted that, and booked a flight for Thursday night.

Being stuck in a city during a hurricane often means that bridges will flood and roads out will be dangerous to travel.

By this time, all of the local restaurants had run out of food, spirits and energy; the grocery stores’ shelves were empty and there were no employees at the hotel to even run room service. We were lucky we’d planned ahead and stockpiled supplies prior to the storm. As we traipsed around New York City that Wednesday, shoulder to shoulder with other survivors, we planned our exit. The streets were packed with revelers, due mostly to the lack of public transportation and the need to find both food and WiFi. Things were festive in the city, and people were ready to leave and explore. We could see that a shuttle would be impossible and the bus lines were close to three hours long, so finally, when that Thursday dawned, we woke early, hired a car, and got to JFK. Luck was on our side—we were able to get an earlier flight—and despite losing our luggage on the way, we finally found our way home.

 

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in a 2013 print issue of American Survival Guide.

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