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Nina In New York: Now What, Sandy?

Superstorm Sandy Slams Tri-State Area
Superstorm Sandy

A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York.

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By Nina Pajak

As New Yorkers, while we’ve been forced to endure trials of other sorts, we’ve mainly been spared from the worst of the merciless wrath of Mother Nature. The occasional blizzard, a handful of bad storms, sure. But for as long as I can remember, we were the geographical region that didn’t have to worry about massive disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes.

Why live anywhere else?

On top of being the greatest city in the world, the Tri-State area was immune to major weather events, or so I always allowed myself to believe.

The past year has obviously taught us otherwise.

But Hurricane Irene, while devastating to some areas, was a lot of bluster for those around these parts. We were all terrified out of our wits by fear-mongering local news outlets, and then our gratitude for a surprising minimum of damage was mingled with resentment at having been duped by the 24-hour ever-fomenting news cycle.

So when the warnings came around again earlier this week, many of us didn’t know how to deal—and our steps to prepare and the social media posts and conversations and news coverage show betrayed just how little we understood what would happen or how to prepare. People were out buying all sorts of junk all over again, prioritizing booze over water and chips and candy over real food.

My husband and I were no different.  I was devastated when my husband came home from Fairway with three cans of chicken soup and absolutely zero bags of mini Kit Kats. Facebook was filled with photos of people’s wine stores and fancy cocktails, and Twitter was rolling with snarky, cavalier jokes about what they were watching on Netflix and reporters flapping in the wind.

But I think that we all knew there was something different about this storm, something far more foreboding in the ever-threatening tones from local weathermen. Last year, I understood when lower Manhattan and coastal Queens and Brooklyn residents proudly declared they were ignoring evacuation orders. This year, I felt a sense of dread when I watched people taking photos from boardwalks with their children and dancing around in the already flooding streets. Maybe I’m just susceptible to all the aforementioned fear-mongering, but a part of my brain knew this was real, even as I nervously cracked jokes online and stuffed my face with Double-Stuf Oreos in some sort of panicked survival instinct.

Must . . . eat . . . feelings . . . and . . . bulk up for potential hibernation.

Soon enough, two things became clear. One that our neighborhood, the Upper West Side, would be spared from the worst of the damage. Our power would not go out. We could go to sleep feeling relatively safe. And the other, that the city and surrounding areas were totally destroyed. The extent of the flooding and the power outages and building facades fallen (what?!) and trees down is still difficult to process, even as I enter hour 30 of post-storm aftermath coverage.

Walking around the city in the storm’s aftermath was strange, knowing that while our area was relatively unaffected, just a few miles south the scene was much different. It seemed like everyone was out walking around, toting groceries home and giving dogs some much-needed exercise. Everyone was looking around for downed trees and signs of Sandy, and feeling almost guilty to find mostly branches and leaves.

At least, I was.

The question marks are too many to manage right now. My whole office has been cut off from communication, save for those of us who can’t stay away from Twitter. I’m not sure what happens next, when the subways will be running, how we’ll go back to our lives, when people can move back into their apartments, when all the stores will reopen, and what the ultimate impact of the storm will be. We don’t even know what we don’t know at this point.

The one thing that feels certain is that this city did a great job preempting some of the damage and responding to that which they could not have prevented or predicted.

And another is that when all is said and done, we’re pretty nice people who get a bad reputation. I’ve seen so many people offering up their fully operational apartments to anyone who still can’t find a hot cup of coffee or flush their toilets, and people on the news in hard-hit areas helping each other out.

We care about one another, and we know how to prioritize. It shouldn’t take a major disaster to remind us, but it’s good to know it all the same.

Maybe someone should let Donald Trump in on it, though.

More From Nina:

A Real Horror Story, Just In Time For Halloween

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Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.

 Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.