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New York plunged into fearful darkness

  • A woman cries as she and others look at homes devastated by Hurricane Sandy at the Breezy Point section of the Queens borough of New York October 30, 2012. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

  • People look at a tree which fell during the storm in the Brooklyn borough of New York.

NEW YORK: The fury of “Frankenstorm” plunged New York into fearful darkness, leaving the Wall Street financial district and lower Manhattan with no power nor any firm idea when the lights would be turned on.

The streets, many waist deep in floodwater, were eerily quiet under the downpour, with the only sounds distant sirens and the only light cast by candles in apartment windows and the blue and red flashes of police cars.

“It’s kind of scary. There is no light in the street, no people in the street,” said Ilona, a 22-year-old student from Russia, as she looked out over the murky water.

From time to time an acrid smell of burning drifted by, as short circuits in the electrical grid sparked distant fires.

Even the traffic lights were out. Special generator trucks were ordered in, and authorities reopened the George Washington bridge so some could be driven in from neighboring New Jersey.

But when would the people be able to move again?

Seven subway lines and six bus stations were submerged in seawater, in what network bosses said was the worst disaster in city transport history.

“We have been sent to provide power for buildings and answer the 911 emergency calls,” the driver of one generator truck said.

Desperate owners sought to check on businesses, apartments and cars.

Olatz Schnabel, the former companion of the artist Julian Schnabel, rushed with her two sons to check whether her decoration shop had been flooded.

“The water did not get that far. We managed to get everything out of the cellar,” she said.

But there was devastation, as floodwater poured into the city from the East River, inundating road tunnels and subway stations and threatening several days of transport chaos.

On the West Side Highway, the Goldman Sachs bank was one of the few buildings still lit up, the streets and sidewalks below flooded with water.

At the 148th Street station in Harlem, a thick layer of garbage floated on the filthy water that covered the platforms. Workers stared forlornly at the devastation, hardly knowing where to start the cleanup.

“It’s disgusting, and it always seems to happen here,” said Ryan Gambill as he waited at the entrance.

Without power, news was scarce, and the final death toll was impossible to guess. One New Yorker was confirmed dead, crushed by a falling tree in the borough of Queens, but many more may have been trapped, or worse.

Rescue operations were launched on Staten Island, at Rockaway Beach and Coney Island, seafront districts where many residents had ignored pleas to move to safety, and where some houses were said to be flooded almost to their roofs.

Waves from the storm tore up the wooden beach boardwalk at Coney Island and nearby Brighton Beach, weekend resorts for New York’s working class. Cars floated in the water at Long Beach.

Police appealed for boats to conduct rescue missions in Staten Island and at Coney Island in Brooklyn.

“I am seriously concerned for people’s lives,” said Vincent Ignizio, a New York City councilman from Staten Island.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 31, 2012, on page 11.
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