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Trail of Superstorm Sandy's devastation

November 05, 2012 19:26 IST
New Yorker P Rajendran takes stock after Superstorm Sandy

The long cloud-shadow of Hurricane Sandy hung over the northeast long before it picked up. At one point, the wings of clouds spinning off from it stretched from Bermuda in the Caribbean to the Arctic Circle.

And despite all the precautions, this accident of nature, one of the largest of its kind despite being downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it climbed ashore, claimed at least 145 people -- 67 in the Caribbean, 76 in the United States, and two in Canada (at press time).

It was expected to gain in power as it churned through the ocean, but by some quirk of climatological chance it gained forward momentum but lost strength as it finally moved into the US over Atlantic City in New Jersey, howled its maniacal way through the state, its winds doing damage in nearby Virginia, West Virginia, upstate New York, and the clutch of northeastern states and even in Canada before finally -- and mercifully -- dissipating.

In its inexorable way up the latitudes, its eye missed New York City, but hardly left it untouched. Sandy scooped up the waters of the Atlantic and sloshed it into the cleft formed by Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The Hudson, already swollen with the rain Sandy had brought with it, raised the water level some more. And the high tide that the full moon brought along completed the mix that the media termed a 'Frankenstorm.'

Zone A, the lowest lying areas (including the financial district and the areas surrounding the beaches), were evacuated. Staten Island, to the south and east of Manhattan, which has just recovered from its encounter with Hurricane Irene last year, suffered some more, with the final indignity of having a third of a seagoing water tanker on one of its streets.

While work is on in full swing in the city, things may take far longer in Long Island. Among the 20 people killed there were two children, aged 2 and 4, who the waters plucked out of their mother's arms when their car got stuck in the floods. Their bodies were found in a marsh later.

There was far less damage in northern Queens, with only some water logging, and fallen trees snarling traffic and cutting off some neighbourhoods. The Long Island Expressway had less traffic overall, but had a great many bottlenecks as a result of damage to the road or blocks.

Sudha Acharya, executive director, South Asian Council for Social Services, said that after being shut down October 29 and 30 all the staff but one made it to work the next day.

In terms of damage, New Jersey was the worst hit.

Houses on the low-lying barrier islands were badly damaged by wind and/or water and the famed Atlantic City boardwalk was damaged. The rivers spilled over its banks and flooded basements and first floors.

Everywhere the waters rose, electrical points spurted, sizzled and blew, worsening a problem caused by downed power lines. Gas, cut off to avoid the chance of fire, was not restored in many areas of New Jersey that were badly affected. Without power and heat, there was little for people stuck at home to do. Also, provisions began running short.

The lack of Internet services -- in some cases a function of the lack of power -- may have upset some, but it was the hobbled cell phone services that affected everyone. The search for a few bars when the battery is draining forced people in areas with no electric power with no choice but to recharge their phones in their cars.

Draining their batteries hunting for some reception, people recharged their phones in their cars only to discover that because the oil refineries had shut shop in preparation for the storm and had been damaged thereafter, there was an acute shortage of gas. The lines ran long and tempers flared, necessitating the presence of the police in several cases.

The New York Times quoted the problems of Abhishek Soni, who owns an Exxon outlet in Montclair, New Jersey, and who called the police when things got out of hand.

'I've been pumping gas for 36 hours, I pumped 17,000 gallons … My nose, my mouth is bleeding from the fumes. The fighting just makes it worse.'

Image: An aerial US Coast Guard photo shows Long Island, New York on October 30

Photograph: Reuters

P Rajendran in New York