Hurricane Sandy from the 55th floor

I’ve lived through hurricanes before, so I thought I was ready for Sandy. I had matches for lighting candles and the stove. I had filled pots of water, put the flashlights in easy-to-find-in-the-dark places and stocked up on essentials. I knew to do this because sometime ago I battled a hurricane alone in a big house. The eye passed overhead and the driving rain came right over the threshold and into the house. I made do without electricity or running water in the heat of August for four days. Wrestling with a hurricane insistent on blowing through the doors and windows makes a good story now, but at the time it was a nightmare.

So I awaited Sandy calmly, with more nervous anticipation than fear of the coming adventure. I felt relatively safe, high above any rising water. I’d been following Sandy, mesmerized by its awesome size, and I knew New York City’s particular vulnerabilities. But we were warm and dry and felt snug as two bugs in a rug as the innocuously named Sandy approached.

The phone rang. It was my good friend and neighbor inviting us to an impromptu hurricane dinner party. Sitting out the furious peak of the storm with good friends as it made the dreaded landfall was a very appealing idea. Our friends live 20 stories above us on the 55th floor. We have a good view on 35, but 55 would give us an even better vantage point.  

The hours passed in the afternoon. Eventually Sandy became visible across the river as it blustered over New Jersey. It wasn’t long before our building began to crack and groan. We’d heard the building straining many times in high winds. This time the noises grew louder, more frequent and more insistent. They began to unnerve us. And then it was time to go upstairs. The elevators were still working.

We walked, as usual, into the kitchen and Lilly immediately pointed to the light swinging from the ceiling. The building was complaining ever more loudly. It added an occasional screech to the discordance of deep rumbles and incessant creaking. The wind’s bluster and the rain’s beating joined the cacophony.

We live in a glass tower. I love the wall-to-wall windows and the fantastic floor-to-ceiling views. But my enthusiasm flagged as Sandy’s wind-driven rain beat against the windows, relentlessly seeking an unsuspected crack— any aperture to force its way in. We could see the infamous crane dangling from its perch. Glass is brittle. I saw the windows tremble and vibrate. I tried not to think of what could happen if one shattered under the stress.

Until that night, I had never felt the tower sway, though others assured me that it did. I was standing, feet planted firmly on the floor. And then all of a sudden I realized that I was rocking back and forth. I seemed to remain perpendicular to the ground while my feet rolled with the floor.

After nine, we noticed the background noise was lessening, the chandelier swaying a little less and the building beginning to calm down. After some more talking, laughing and cleaning up, we were ready to let go of the fellowship that had held the six of us together and made our anxiety bearable, even funny at times. We didn’t need the flashlight I’d brought to find our way down in the dark. The only elevator still in service lowered us down.

Soon enough we’d see and hear of the misery and desolation of dislocated families, their homes inundated or burned out, boats tossed onto railroad tracks, cars submerged in the tide, stately trees rudely truncated, only to fall on a house or a car— the ruin and devastation are unimaginable. How very lucky we are.

If you’d like to help Sandy’s victims by volunteering and/or donating, here’s a place to start.

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Filed under Hurricane Sandy, Personal

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