New York Beseiged

10.29.12

Manhattan Faces Sandy With a Mixture of Concern and Carefree Spirits

Some New Yorkers seek shelter while others blithely brave the wind and rain—and ignore police tape—to get in one more jog or stroll, or just a keepsake photo of the rising tide, Matthew DeLuca reports.

Come hell, high water, or both, in shelters and at home, New Yorkers are ready.

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A jogger runs as a police car closes down an area along the East River Drive near the 59th Street Bridge in New York City, Oct. 29, 2012. (Timothy A Clary / AFP / Getty Images)

But in Evacuation Zone A along the city’s Lower East Side, some curious Manhattanites decided to take in the view before Hurricane Sandy forced them indoors. Roving police vehicles with their lights flashing reminded them that this was an area that residents and casual onlookers were supposed to have vacated yesterday.

Along the East River Park early on Monday afternoon, joggers getting in one more lap and couples strolling on what otherwise resembled a typical rainy day ducked under police tape to get a view of the surging water.

Parks Department officers tooted their trucks’ horns, but P.J. Duncan, a 36-year-old information technology worker from Vancouver, was going to get his smartphone photograph of what may turn out to be historic weather.

“I’m here on holiday, and I didn’t want to stay in the hostel all day,” Duncan said. He has friends in Brooklyn, but with the subways and buses shut down since Sunday evening, he decided it’s probably not worth trying to trek out to their Bushwick apartment.

“I think I can walk across the bridge,” Duncan said, eyeing the nearby Williamsburg Bridge. “But I don’t know if I should.”

Pat Arnow and Steve Giles, a couple who have lived on Grand Street on the Lower East Side for 12 years, didn’t seem too disturbed by the looming super storm either.

Giles said he thought the East River water was already higher than he remembered from Hurricane Irene. He had come back from a trip to the local grocery store to stock up with nothing but a bottle of Paul Newman’s salad dressing and some tomato sauce. That wasn’t dampening his spirits, however.

“There are unique days in the history of this town and this is one,” Giles said. And the threat of a raging storm has its peculiar advantages in New York City. “One of my neighbors walked by, and he said it’s great out there,” Giles said. “It’s quiet.”

It was not quiet in Seward Park High School on Grand Street, where evacuation-center manager Rich Gorgoglione has been since Friday. The 51-year-old engineer for the Department of Education said he got about four hours of sleep over the weekend.

It’s been “a little hectic,” said Gorgoglione, a resident of Staten Island.

By 1 p.m. Monday about 500 people—along with eight dogs, one cat, and one rabbit—had arrived at the hurricane shelter, where they were assisted by a crew of about 30 city employees and 10 volunteers. It’s about the same number as showed up for Irene, Gorgoglione said, though in a real pinch he could take in up to 3,500.

Arrivals at the shelter were provided with a green cot and a blue fleece blanket, both stamped in gold with the seal of the City of New York, and given a spot on one of the high school’s six floors. The hallways were lined with cots. Mothers with children kept a close eye as their little ones bounced balls off the walls in the gymnasium turned dormitory on the school’s first floor.

By 1 p.m. Monday about 500 people—along with eight dogs, one cat, and one rabbit—had arrived at the hurricane shelter.

On the third floor, Gilberto Escalona had carved out a bit of privacy for himself and his two small children at the end of a hallway. The 46-year-old chef at the Conrad Hotel in Battery Park City said he left his apartment in the nearby Jacob Riis housing project with his children, his niece, and his wife when the New York City Housing Authority came through and knocked on their door.

Most of his neighbors decided to stick out the storm in their apartments, he said.

“I didn’t see that many people getting out of the building,” Escalona said.

Mike Hall sat by himself in the school’s auditorium, working his way through a book of Sudoku puzzles. A civil engineer who moved from his home in England to an apartment on Water Street only two weeks ago, Hall was getting his first real introduction to the municipal services of New York City.

Everyone in his building got an email telling them to evacuate, Hall said. “But I didn’t get it.” By the time he found out he had to evacuate his 21st floor apartment at 6 p.m. Sunday, the shelter was his only option.

“I’m certainly used to the wind and the rain,” Hall said of his home in the United Kingdom. “But nothing on this scale.”

Gorgoglione said he and the shelter’s workers were ready for whatever the storm may bring. But he was hoping for an anti-climax, like with Irene.

“We’ll accept as many people as come,” he said.

After two days on his feet, Gorgoglione said he was running on adrenaline.

“You got to keep it going, you know,” he said. “We’re in a state of emergency here.”