Most of Manhattan Is Running While the Battery’s Down
Three days after superstorm Sandy roared across Manhattan, Will Weinstein and his 12-year-old son biked from their home downtown to the Upper West Side for a treat: grocery shopping.
The Weinsteins traversed two Manhattans when they pedaled past 39th Street yesterday. Above 39th, traffic lights worked, subways ran, the Internet existed and diners ate by candlelight only because it’s romantic. Below the dividing line, elevators were grounded, residents queued at sidewalk generators, there was little bathing and no pizza delivery.
“We’ve got people coming from downtown buying flashlights, candles, transistor radios and even old Princess phones,” said Bob Fendell, 51, owner of University Housewares and University Hardware on 113th Street. “Some people are buying Sterno so they can heat up a can of soup.”
Hurricane Sandy, which made landfall near Atlantic City Oct. 29, was hard on Lower Manhattan. Inundated as tidal surges reached more than 13 feet, enhanced by a full moon, its streets turned into rivers. Water saturated underground power lines and filled subway tunnels. A short-circuited Consolidated Edison Inc. (ED) substation at 14th Street exploded.
Uptown at Sandy’s peak, it was more wind than rain. “It’s kind of surreal, like the storm never happened up here,” said Clare Duignan, 26, as she warmed up for a run in Riverside Park. With her classes at New York University canceled, she had a day off.
Full restoration of power is expected by tomorrow for the estimated 220,000 customers below 39th Street on the East Side and below 31st Street on the West side who will remain without power through today, said Mike Clendenin a company spokesman. The comments corrected an earlier statement this morning by Robert McGee, another spokesman, who said on Bloomberg Radio that power would be restored by today.
Full subway restoration will need more time. Although trains operated north of 34th Street on the West Side and 42nd Street on the East Side, it may be weeks before all tracks are dry. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is waiting for the U.S. Army to deliver super-pumps that will remove 43 million gallons from the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, MTA Chairman Joe Lhota said.
Authorities and New Yorkers filled transit gaps with new bus routes and cab-sharing. Ferries plied the Hudson River and bicycles streamed across the Brooklyn Bridge. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo waived fares on subways, commuter trains and buses.
Bruce Levy, 61, a sports agent who lives at 16th Street and Fifth Avenue, weighed the balance of life without electricity as he bought a battery-powered lantern from the back of a van on Sixth Avenue. On the down side, he said, there’s “no water, no phone service and nothing in the refrigerator is good except, fortunately, the vodka.”
On the other hand, he said being Internet-less was calming, and his daily walk to recharge his cell phone at the Harvard Club on 44th Street was more exercise than he’d had in years.
Susan Barnett, a media consultant whose West Village apartment building has been without electricity since the evening of Oct. 29, said that while Sandy divided north and south, it showed how New York is “a city of great kindness.”
“I’ve had so many friends check in with me to see if I need anything and offers of places to stay,” Barnett said by telephone from a buddy’s place on the Upper West Side, where she went to “juice up my phone and computer, and then to use the shower because my hair was looking like a Halloween costume.”
In a building on 36th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, residents have helped each other out and the staff has assisted older people navigate the stairs, said Linda Newmark, 70, who lives there with AJ, a Chihuahua-Jack Russell mix.
When there’s a crisis, “New York is always at its best,” she said. “People have been amazing.” She said she’ll be grateful when the heat comes back on. “It’s starting to get a little chilly in the apartment,” she said. “This coat is my robe. I sleep in it.”
At the Bed, Bath & Beyond on Sixth Avenue between 18th and 19th Streets, a sign advertised “hurricane supplies.” Mark Myer, 32, and his wife Rachel, 27, who live on 13th street, took a picture. They’d just purchased tea light candles to replace the scented candles they’d been using in their apartment.
“It smells like a Yankee Candle shop,” Rachel Myer said. “If that’s the worst of our problems, we’re doing OK.”
In the East Village, Mary and Harry Madsen took advantage of inconvenience to indulge in simple pleasures. With plenty of canned goods but no electricity, they bundled up in coats and hats and cuddled to stay warm. He said he’s almost done re- reading “Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain.
“When he starts talking about floating down the Mississippi, that reminds me of the storm,” Madsen said. “We’re just floating down the river of Manhattan.”
Across from Tompkins Square Park on the Lower East Side, locals clustered around a portable generator, charging mobile phones on a row of extension cords. Wood-fired pizza ovens kept Keith McNally’s Pulino’s open on the Bowery, while at Tertulia, a Spanish eatery on Sixth Avenue, chefs cooked on a gas range, with miner’s lamps on their heads. Chef-owner Seamus Mullen said he tapped a “black market” for dry ice to cool his fridges.
For many restaurants, the power outage was brutal. “The downtown situation is bleak,” said Drew Nieporent, estimating his losses at $100,000 a day at the restaurants Nobu, Nobu Next Door, Corton and Tribeca Grill.
Safet Kurtovic, 45, owner of Gramercy Park Pizza at 26th Street and Lexington Avenue, was working by candlelight to feed the New York Army National Guard’s 69th Infantry Regiment, based across the street.
“They’re all so happy,” Kurtovic said. “They don’t have to walk 15 blocks to get food.”
At Diamond News on 2nd Avenue between 34th and 35th streets, owner Ali Almas, 46, of Rego Park, Queens, was selling $9.95 flashlights by the glow of a candle and writing receipts with a pen. He decided to open after three days of lost sales. “I have to pay the rent,” he said.
Alice Sulit, who works as a package designer uptown and lives downtown on East 17th street, said she eased the boredom of an unplugged life with a borrowed transistor radio. “I play cards, solitaire, or I read magazines with a flashlight,” she said as a rode a bus back to her apartment.
By yesterday afternoon, not all of lower Manhattan was dark. Most of Broadway south of City Hall had power. At New York Wine Exchange, the lights came back on at about 4 p.m. Oct. 31, said owner Debbie Couto, 48, of Whitestone, Queens, who was one of about 2,000 Con Edison customers below 39th Street with electricity.
Still, Couto said she had few customers, mostly tourists who wanted to use the restroom.
At a bus stop near Penn Station, Leslie Fines, a 23-year old advertising executive, waited with her suitcase for a bus to a friend’s house in Boston. “I don’t have any power or Internet or cell service so why stay?” she said. “I still love New York -- but I never thought there’d be a hurricane.”
Uptown, it was business as usual, though the shelves were a bit bare at Acker Merrall & Condit, a wine store on West 72nd Street, because of floods at some suppliers’ warehouses. Downtown customers haven’t been ordering much, said Cliff Korn, managing director for sales, though some who’ve camped out in apartments uptown have started dropping by.
“We were prepared for the worst, and we’re grateful to be back in business,” Korn said.
At Fairway, an Upper West Side supermarket, Will Weinstein and his son, Ben, filled their bags with ground beef, a baguette, strawberries, milk and Cap’n Crunch cereal before heading back home on their bikes.
After three nights of a blackout, Weinstein said the towers in their neighborhood appear deserted, devoid even of flickering candles at night. He said he thinks everyone has headed north, “looking for coffee or a charge for their cell phone.”
Downtowners are “walking uptown with a blank stare on their face,” he said. “I feel like I’m in a Zombie movie.”
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