Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

28 Hours In The Dark

The electricity here went off about 9 PM Monday night.

The building I live in has a generator for the hallways, stairwells, and common areas, so at first it wasn't too bad.

The one problem with the power going out is the water no longer works - the pump that brings it up is run by electricity.

But we had filled the bathtub with water, as well as stockpiling water in various pots and pans, so we had water to use to flush the toilet (though we wound up saving most of it, not knowing how long the water and electricity would be out.)

The water outside kept rising for a while past the high tide Monday night, submerging cars along the side streets and in a parking lot across the street from my apartment.

At first, people in the building, stunned by the flood around them, nonetheless kept spirits up by congregating in the common areas where light remained.

But as the water kept rising, and as the transformers kept exploding in the distance, it was hard to keep spirits up.

I tried to go down to the lobby to see what the water level was, but saw about three feet of water in the stair well and went back upstairs

And then the fire alarms starting go off.


They had been set off by the loss of electricity and some glitch in the system.

The man working the front door of the building was in the fire station, on the phone with the fire department to tell them that alarm system was being set off at the control panel and not by an actual fire, when somebody opened the door to the fire station and water rushed in

He told the fireman on the phone, "We're okay.  Water's coming - gotta go!" and ran up to the second floor.

The water only reached about three feet in the lobby and first floor, but as it was coming in, who knew how far it would go?

Later that night was when we noticed the smell from the building generator was becoming a problem on the lower floors. 

That was also when the carbon monoxide detectors began to go off around the building. 

The fire department came out and did a check of the building and said "You've got to shut the generator off - there's carbon monoxide in the building."

When the generator was turned off, we were plunged into total darkness.

That would last until the power went back on around 1 AM this morning.

It's one thing to live in a house without electricity. 

You can walk down the stairs and make your way through the dark without too much trouble.

Not so in a building with 30 floors and hundreds of apartments. 

The hallways and stairwells are dark, the common area becomes more of an obstacle course than a place to hang out.

 Once the lights went completely dark, most people returned to their apartments for the night.

Around 3:00 AM, I noticed that the waters around the cars outside had subsided greatly.

I went to bed, hopeful that the morning's high tide would not bring more flooding.

After a few hours sleep, I awoke to find that the waters had receded completely back to the Hudson and all that was left were some large pools of water here and there and the destruction wreaked by the water upon cars and property.

But the lights in the building were still out.

I noticed somebody coming back from Shoprite carrying a bag of groceries and decided to make my way out to see what was opened and what the streets looked like.

Things didn't look too bad, except for the remnants of the flood, the sludge, the upturned port-a-potty from the construction site across the street, the torn up lights and stop signs.

One bar had a large, garage sized window literally torn off the sides and pushed inward about four feet.

But the glass, weirdly enough, hadn't broken.

I got to Shoprite just as they were putting out some ice, grabbed a few bags, grabbed a few more bottles of seltzer - water was long gone - and a few other items and made my way back home.

The generator was still off, so up eleven flights in the dark, through two winding stair cases.

With Shoprite opened, I was hopeful that maybe other places would eventually open too.

Not that it would be a "regular work day," but at least there would maybe be a sense that things could be back as close to normal as possible within a few days.

But later in the day when I went out again, I saw that Shoprite and BJ's were the only large stores that had opened.

A few smaller bodegas had also opened.

So had two pizza places.

The lines outside these stores were very, very long.

We saw a panicky situation at a gas station by the Holland Tunnel where a motorist out of gas was trying to fill up from pumps that didn't work because the electricity was off.

A lone gas station attendant started to call one of the cops who was guarding the Holland over until the guy said "All right!  All right!" and left his car there, dead.

Everywhere we went we saw people, but nobody had any news.

When would the electricity go back on?  When would the roads open?  When would some of the larger stores open?  Would the stores be able to get deliveries?

A cop outside the Holland Tunnel said he didn't know any of the answers to those questions.  He said he knew less than we did.  He thanked us for telling him Shoprite was open, however.  Now he had a place where he could send people when they asked what was opened.

Shoprite became the town center as darkness descended.  They pulled out extra circuits and hook-ups and let people charge their phones and laptops.  People were buying prepared foods and eating it on the benches in the store.  People were buying up what little was left on the shelves.  And some people were just hanging out in the aisles, plugged into the hook-ups and reading an ebook or playing a computer game.

It was a surreal experience - Shoprite, the town square. 

You could see people making their way there, a steady stream of flashlights bobbing in the dark.

I'm not in the habit of complimenting corporations, but Shoprite really handled this thing well by not only allowing people to use the electric hook-ups but by adding additional ones to facilitate as many people as possible.

They certainly did a much better job than the city government did at responding to the storm.

The only news we had of what was happening in JC was from an NBC affiliate reporter doing a taped segment outside City Hall.

She told us the power was going to be out for a minimum of 3-4 days, that nobody could seem to find the  emergency command center the city was supposed to be running and that the mayor wasn't around either.

As the sun set last night, the feeling slowly began to sink in - we could be without power for days, the food and water had pretty much run out at Shoprite, no one seemed to know if deliveries would be coming tomorrow or if there would be electricity to open the stores, and going to the bathroom was going to be a major issue after the water ran out. 

As for showering, that was out of the question.  Towel bath or baby wipe bath - take your pick.

We passed a line outside a pizza place that stretched half way down the block and went back into our darkened building, up eleven darkened flights and into our darkened apartment.

That's when we noticed the carbon monoxide detectors were going off all over the building.

The building people told us the fire department had already been out to deal with the problem and said it was another glitch to the system caused by the power outage.

I had every window in the apartment opened, so we were well ventilated, but with the generator emitting carbon monoxide earlier and with it having been turned on for a short period in the afternoon, we weren't so sure this was just a system glitch.

And when you're in total darkness and carbon monoxide alarms are going off all over the building, it's a little scary.

The building guy told us to just unhook the alarm.

That didn't seem like a good idea to us.

We spoke to a PATH cop outside and he didn't think that was such a good idea either.

"Nope," he said, pulling out his radio.  "Better check it out."

The FD arrived a few minutes later and checked for carbon monoxide levels. 

Everything was fine.  It was a system glitch. 

Still, better to be safe then sorry. 

Carbon monoxide kills and turning off a carbon monoxide fire detector in a building without electricity where everybody is using candles didn't seem like a good solution to the problem.

The FD told me that these glitches were happening in all the big buildings in the city.

We got ready to turn in for the night as more people began to leave the building with bags.

The concern that we would be without power, without running water, and perhaps, without a source for fresh supplies that wouldn't require a Soviet-style line, had people spooked.

I knew the feeling.

We called all the car places but there were no rentals available anywhere in the area.

Amtrak was shut down.

So was Greyhound (at least for our area.)

The PATH was going to be down for days, if not weeks,

We weren't going anywhere in the short term.

And maybe the long term.

The garbage in the building was already beginning to build up.

What would it be like after a week?

As we went to bed last night, I said to my wife, "I feel like this day has been 48 hours long."

Sometime around 1 AM, the power went back on for our building.

We could flush the toilet and not have to replace the water from our bathtub supply.

Hooray for the important things!

The power is still up this morning, though it is spotty around the area. 

We can see some streets with power, some without. 

I think there may have been a street or two that never lost power at all (either that or the Marbella and the Portofino have big ass generators that powered all the apartments as well as the common areas!)

I'm thankful for little things today - like being able to flush the toilet and run the water.

This experience wasn't all that serious for us. 

People in Breezy Point and the Rockaways, people on Long Island and in Connecticut, people in Battery Park City and downtown Manhattan have had a very difficult time of it - especially Breezy Point.

Hoboken was really bad. 

So were some spots of downtown JC - especially for people on the ground floor or, worse, in basement apartments (saw one of those being pumped out - what seemed like hundreds of gallons of water!)

And of course the Jersey Shore is devastated.

And yet, by last night, after just about two days of storm and storm aftermath, I was feeling completely exhausted and drained.

We had prepared for this storm, had stocked up on water and food, gotten flashlights and batteries, candles and the like.  We were in a storm mode mindset and yet, after two days of it, we were physically and emotionally drained.

I am grateful the electricity is back on and we might be able to have some semblance of normalcy today.

We're going to finish cleaning up the house and hope for the best in the near term.

There was a rumor going around that part of JC is being evacuated because of a sewage spill.

Dunno where that is and can't seem to find any news of that.

Hoping the lights stay on and they go on for everybody else soon.

I can live without the PATH for a while, I can live without opened stores or restaurants for a while, I can live without TV and Internet for a while, but I'll tell you, fresh, clean running water is not negotiable after awhile.

I remember a movie from the 80's that ran on Cinemax back when I was in college called "The Mosquito Coast."

Harrison Ford said more than once in that movie "Ice is civilization!".

I would add, so is the ability to flush a toilet and not have to replenish the water in the tank from a stockpile you have in your bathtub.

Hope everyone else made it all right - more later.