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New York's Wall Street: Open for business, getting back to normal

November 05, 2012|By Andrew Tangel
  • Carpeting and debris pile up on the curb in New York City's financial district as crews work to repair damage caused by super storm Sandy.
Carpeting and debris pile up on the curb in New York City's financial… (Andrew Tangel / Los Angeles…)

NEW YORK — Those who work in Manhattan’s financial district faced longer commutes — if their businesses were open — but otherwise met a downtown that was lurching back to life after Sandy, however haltingly.

The symbolic heart of the city’s financial district, the New York Stock Exchange, was up and running a week after the super storm shuttered American financial markets for two days.

Floor traders, many of them from hard-hit New York’s outer boroughs or working-class neighborhoods on Long Island or New Jersey, milled about Monday on the trading floor, some enjoying the heat and power they still lacked at home. As they bought and sold stock, they traded war stories of their ordeals.

FULL COVERAGE: East Coast hit by deadly storm

Floor trader Jonathan Corpina estimated that more than 80% of his colleagues had returned Monday to the NYSE floor on Wall Street. “Little by little we’re getting more and more people back here,” he said.

It was a sharp contrast from Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, as the East Coast emerged from Sandy’s wreckage. Early Wednesday morning, when the stock exchange reopened, the nearby area was pitch-black, the smell of oil and fires hanging in the air, Corpina said.

"Businesses were closed. There were no cars on the street,” he said. “Coming out of the subway this morning, it was nice to have to wait for cars to pass to cross over Broadway.... It felt like a normal Monday.”

PHOTOS: Hurricane Sandy devastation

Outside the stock exchange, tourists holding shopping bags milled about, snapping photos as usual, as if Sandy hadn’t happened at all.

But down Broad Street, closer to the water’s edge, stores and office towers did not escape the floods’ destructive reach.

Construction crews, some from Pennsylvania and others as far away as Florida, pulled out garbage bags from the basements and first floors of high-rise office buildings and single-story restaurants, piling debris on sidewalks or in giant construction bins.

Yellow tape blocked entrances to some businesses. Giant pumping trucks pulled out water from basements. Flooding had displaced workers at the stock exchange’s parent company, NYSE Euronext, from a nearby office building on Wall Street. A Potbelly Sandwich Shop remained boarded up.

In the decade since 9/11, the foot of Manhattan has been transformed into a more residential area. The lobbies and basements of some high-rise residential towers were flooded, disabling the buildings’ electrical, water and heating systems.

Alex Verity, 22, an Oklahoma transplant who works as an advertising salesperson, has been crashing with friends around the city. Verity, who shares a studio on the 10th floor of a 32-story apartment tower on Water Street, said the building could be closed for weeks.

The building’s lobby is under 4 feet of water, though residents like her were able to climb stairs to fetch belongings, she said. She wanted to make sure no rats or bugs had invaded her apartment, either. 

“It’s really eerie down there,” she said. “People are just walking around like zombies, didn’t know what to do, didn’t know where to go.”

Phone, cellular and Internet problems persist across Lower Manhattan, whose restaurants, if they are open, were typically accepting only cash.

“In the beginning we kind of had to ‘MacGyver’ a few things,” Corpina said, referring to the old television series that followed a secret agent's exploits.

Corpina was relying on six phone lines when he usually has about 250 at his disposal.  “It’s not the most ideal, but it’s working,” he said.

The financial district was still facing power outages. The stock exchange had power restored by Consolidated Edison on Saturday. The New York Federal Reserve has remained operational and unharmed by flooding, but still apparently needed a power boost — a large Con Ed truck was feeding a line marked “high voltage” through a lower-level window. The New York Fed still lacked hot water.

More subways were working Monday, and service to Brooklyn had been restored after water was pumped from tunnels under the East River. But not all trains were working — the entrance to the JMZ line was still closed near the stock exchange.

Commuters complained of delays or it being unusually crowded on New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Railroad. Passengers on NJT were told only track into and out of New York Penn Station was operating because of flooding in tubes underneath the Hudson River.

Ferry passengers have faced two-hour waits or longer to cross the Hudson, as rail service lurches back to life.

“They’re struggling to get in but they are getting in because you got to make money,” said NYSE floor trader Peter Costa, who has been showering and shaving at his gym on Long Island because he has no power and heat at home.

andrew.tangel@latimes.com

Twitter:@AndrewTangel

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