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Post-storm, New Yorkers huddle 'round the power outlet

The city's manic pace powers down thanks to Sandy, providing time to take in the capriciousness of the destruction.

November 01, 2012|By Tina Susman and Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times
  • People fill a bank lobby in Manhattan where a working power outlet allowed them to recharge their gadgets.
People fill a bank lobby in Manhattan where a working power outlet allowed… (Andrew Burton, Getty Images )

NEW YORK — A doughnut shop proved to be a haven for Andrew Jacoby, and not because of its glazed old-fashioneds.

Jacoby, whose Manhattan neighborhood was without electricity Wednesday, had trekked north in search of that most precious of conveniences: a working power outlet.

He found one in a Dunkin' Donuts near Penn Station. Jacoby plugged in a power strip — "so multiple people can get charged up," he said — and watched his cellphone light up with messages and calls from friends who hadn't been able to reach him since Sandy tore through New York on Monday night.

Twenty blocks south, outside the closed W Hotel, a crowd with phones and tablets huddled on the street to tap the working Internet signal. With no electric cash registers, shopkeepers tallied purchases by hand and guided customers through dark aisles with flashlights. Commuters invited strangers to share cabs, and subway riders quickly learned the routes of the B57, the M15 and other bus lines that crawled back into service.

With no word on when power and full transit service would return, New Yorkers accustomed to their rapid-fire way of life, where everything is one subway ride or a few computer clicks away, were adjusting to their new reality.

"We've gone back to an old-fashioned way of living," said Jacoby, a design engineer. "Last night I read a book by candlelight and played solitaire with actual cards. I didn't even know I had a deck of cards."

As the city recuperated enough to get a clearer look at the storm's damage, the extent and the capriciousness of it became clear.

Some neighborhoods appeared barely touched. People walked dogs past open coffee shops and delis, children scampered in Halloween costumes, and pubs drew in customers with specials. "Hurricane Rum Punch — Get Blown Away!" read the offer outside one Brooklyn bar.

Less than three miles away, in the neighborhood of Red Hook, the smell of diesel fuel wafted down the main drag as droning generators powered pumps churning inky water out of flooded basements. Workers at the Home Made cafe dragged soaked sofas onto the sidewalk. The manager of a corner market stood dolefully behind a freezer box filled with pints of melted ice cream. A wine store called Dry Dock was anything but.

All along the avenue, toys, appliances, trinkets, mattresses and other remnants of people's lives sat in sad, muddy piles, some cloaked in black plastic sacks but others out for the world to see.

"I'm really heartbroken," said John Rivera, who had discarded some of his and his wife, Nersida's, collection of dolls and holiday ornaments.

There was Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, a once-fuzzy red-nosed reindeer and assorted elves and dolls, all draped in Christmas decorations. But he, his family and the dozens of street cats he feeds daily were safe.

At least 30 people in the city and surrounding suburbs were dead, some drowned in submerged vehicles, some crushed by trees while out walking the dog, some electrocuted while trying to snap a picture of sparking wires. They included a police officer who died in his basement after helping his family to higher floors as water engulfed their neighborhood, and a father and son found dead beneath debris in their basement.

"The best we can do for those who did die is to make sure the city recovers," said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

And so it began to do so, from the opening bell clanging at the New York Stock Exchange after two days of closure to the search for rides, a hot shower, power and water — even if it meant trudging up 24 flights carrying a five-gallon drum of water that weighed 40 pounds.

"This is more than I do in the gym," said Tarun Chhichhia, an information technology specialist. He has been training for Sunday's New York City marathon. His building in the Financial District lost both power and water Monday night, so Chhichhia's plan to rest up before the big run quickly changed.

Nicolas Gonzalez and Agustina Cattaneo also had to adjust. The visitors from Buenos Aires were stranded when their flight home was canceled, and they were trying to get to a relative's home in Brooklyn. So they dragged their four suitcases across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan, moving slowly with hordes of others on foot, bicycle and roller-blades.

They had tried to hail a cab, but the drivers had demanded $70 to $100 to cross the bridge. "It's an adventure," Gonzalez said with a resigned grin.

Bloomberg announced that to ease traffic, vehicles entering Manhattan would be required to carry at least three people. Limited subway service and some commuter rail service, linking New York City to Long Island and Westchester County, was to start Wednesday evening.

It was welcome news for subway riders, who enjoy making fun of the underground system but who suddenly found themselves yearning for the sound of squealing brakes and scratchy service announcements.

"I don't have the patience to sit on the bus," said Marie Constant, as she made her way — slooooowly — to work on the far western edge of Brooklyn from the East Flatbush section. The hour commute by subway had taken more than two hours by bus, and she still wasn't there.

"I know going home will be a lot worse," she said.

tina.susman@latimes.com

shashank.bengali@latimes.com

Times special correspondent Joseph Serna in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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