When the City Died at Sea


One year ago, so called Superstorm Sandy struck the NewYork Bight, a nearly right angle bend at the mouth of the Hudson River that extends  from Cape May inlet to Montauk Point. The New York Bight  is considered to be a high danger zone for a tropical storm generated ocean-water surges. Every hurricane season, forecasters warn of the destruction a mega-storm would bring. On October 25, 2012 this threat became a reality.

Pick your place of dreams, Rockaway, Staten Island, Long Beach, or the Jersey Shore. A place of quiet and charm, on the water, away from the noise, the clutter, the things that make Gotham intolerable to ever consider living there. Sure, the Big Apple provides the infrastructure, money, the halls of commerce inviting people to come on board, make a good living, succeed and have the opportunity to grow, to prosper and seek to achieve the American Dream. But who wants to live there?

These places of refuge provided safe alternative to leave it all behind when the work day, or, more importantly, the work week ends. Places where people let their burdens go, as their pressures and the frustrations drift away. When the ferry touches shore at St. George, or a c, bus or train crosses a bridge and reaches Broad Channel, Rockaway, Long Beach or towns along the Shore, escape is at hand. Soon these people will be home, safe, happy and in their own element.

But, there is a trade off. By choosing to live by the beach, the water dwellers accept the challenge of the unforgiving sea. This, their ultimate fear is subsumed by the challenges of every day life, relegated to the background, rarely discussed, even when state and City fathers need to drum up “Armageddon” scenarios at the start of each hurricane season. Poor garbage collection, ordinary post-storms power restoration and slow snow removal after a typical City snow storm are enough to worry about.

But this time, it all went wrong. The enemy was the sea. The one they always warned about, the one that was the unthinkable, the “what if,” doomsday storm. This time the jet stream left the coast unprotected. A combination of a full moon, high tide and Sandy slamming into southern New Jersey produced winds and a surge that drove the Atlantic west back into the Jersey Shore, through the Narrows into New York Harbor up the Hudson and East Rivers flooding coastal Staten Island, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

It clobbered the historic islands in the Upper Harbor, Liberty, Ellis and Governor’s flooding all of the low-lying buildings. Fortunately, the Statue of Liberty, Castle Clinton, Fort Jay and the Grand Hall did not suffer water damage, but the infrastructure was severely damaged.

Next, it flooded Lower Manhattan, the East Side, claimed office buildings, the WorldTradeCenter memorial, NYU and Bellevue hospitals, inundated most of the subway tubes and the two automobile tunnels under the East River. Eighty-six million gallons of the Hudson River poured into the Hugh Carey-Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. The surge covered runways at LaGuardia and JFK.

The engineers on duty that night at Penn Station saved their charge. When they received word of how high the surge would be, they made a conscience decision to open the flood gates protecting the two Hudson River tunnels to funnel the inundation into the tubes across to New Jersey and away from the station. As a result of their action, these tunnels were closed for three days. If not, the station with all of its signals, electrical equipment and switches would have been out for weeks.

The surge swept the auto receiving yards and container docks at Port Newark and Port Elizabeth, raced up the Hudson River flooding trendy Hoboken wrecking PATH, the old Hudson and Manhattan Tubes. Still, further north, the Hudson topped Metro North’s Hudson Division flinging boats and debris onto tracks and flooding nearby factories and warehouses in Westchester.

Sandy sent a monstrous wall of water into shore communities along the length of Long Island crushing its barrier islands. Starting in the west at Sea Gate, it spread across Coney Island and Sheepshead Bay, east along the entire Rockaway peninsular striking vulnerable Breezy Point where wind, rain and fire conspired to incinerate more than one hundred homes and water damage the rest: R.I.P. Breezy Point.

Long Beach, JonesBeach and Fire Island were clobbered. Waterfront communities along Jamaica Bay and the Great South Bay were not spared; Broad Channel, IslandPark, Freeport, Amityville, etc. The life that these folks signed onto ceased to exist. Even the train line to Long Beach and the subway line that stretched across JamaicaBay weren’t spared. The surge destroyed electrical sub-stations, tore up the tracks and washed away the fill that supported them.

The beach communities along the NorthShore and Connecticut received their dose of Sandy as the tide rose in Long Island Sound and winds pushed the surge west back towards the City drowning coastal sections of towns like Port Jefferson, Bayville and Fairfield.

Thousands of homes were wrecked, a plethora of cars destroyed and those beach life-styles, carefully planned, cultivated and developed are gone, gone as if they never existed. The shore communities will never be the same. Homes may be rebuilt but minds cannot be and the daunting question will remain for all who live near the water and survived: “Do I stay, do I rebuild? And what will happen the next time something this evil comes my way?”