Labelled a superstorm, Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc in the Caribbean before moving towards the East Coast of the United States. New York was situated directly in the storm’s path and expecting the worst. Government and city officials were placed on high alert. Flights were cancelled, the city’s subway system was shut down and operations in New York’s financial district ground to a halt as the city’s residents braced themselves for the impending storm.
A sattelite image of Hurrican Sandy appraoching the US east coast
Hundreds of thousands of people were ordered to leave their homes in low-lying areas, including Justin and Sue who had jetted into the city to attend a conference and for Justin to take part in the New York Marathon.
“We had no idea before we left South Africa that a major storm was headed towards the US,” said Sue. “It was only when we were attending an Internet Conference that we started hearing about the potential of a hurricane hitting the New Jersey shoreline. Unfortunately, we had booked into a hotel in Long Branch just outside Manhattan which is pretty near to the landfall of the hurricane. We had to evacuate and relocated to a hotel on New York’s 39th street, which thanks to its location, was largely unaffected by the storm and the ensuing power outages that affected millions across the city.”
Sue says that New York was transformed into a virtual ghost town. Times Square was practically empty, Central Park was closed to the public and most of the shops were shut because staff were unable to get into the city.
What impressed the couple the most was just how well the city coped with the scale of the disaster. “The government was very organised and had teams in place immediately. Rescue parties from all over America were diverted to New Jersey and the East Coast to assist. The government felt it was their duty to assist each and every individual. President Obama flew to the devastated areas and embraced the people and made them feel safe. The Mayors and Governors were everywhere, in the streets, at shelters and on TV, constantly reassuring people they would be taken care of. The team work and reaction time was remarkable.“
Unfortunately, the New York Marathon was cancelled at the 11th hour, much to the disappointed of some 30 000 able-bodied and disabled athletes who had come to the city to take part in the event. Although it was initially decided that the marathon would go ahead, city officials bowed to social media pressure. Many people felt that there were more important issues at stake. However, the decision to cancel, while understandable, meant that many who had spent their life savings to do this once-in-a-lifetime race were extremely disappointed.
“The SA Achilles Team, a sporting club for disabled people, landed in New York on Thursday, the day before the announcement came through that the event had been cancelled,” said Sue.
“In a show of charity, a number of athletes went to the disaster areas and helped in any way they could. In addition, all the food, blankets, water, and resources for the marathon were re-routed to the hurricane victims. Large numbers of athletes donated money, food and clothing at the various points where collections were taking place in Central Park, at the New York Marathon finishing line. On the day that the race would have been run, everyone congregated unofficially in Central Park and completed the 42km race either in the park or along the Hudson River and around the unaffected parts of the city. All the Achilles members from South Africa completed the 42 km.”
The city that never sleeps was forced to take a nap during a storm that is reportedly the fourth-costliest disaster in the US behind Hurricane Katrina, the attacks of 9/11 and Hurricane Andrew. However, if the pundits of global warming are correct, New York should perhaps hunker down for the next hurricane season.