HURRICANE SANDY: The superstorm that tore out the Big Apple’s core

Out-of-service taxis inundated by floodwater in a street in Hoboken, New York City. (c) KeystoneUSA-ZUMA/Rex Features via The Telegraph

The hurricane that has brought death and destruction to large parts of the North American continent has finally succumbed to the forces of nature. In little over a week, Hurricane Sandy tore her way through the Caribbean islands of Jamaica and Cuba, before making a quick turn over the North Atlantic Ocean and making landfall in Atlantic City, on America’s east coast. Within three days, Sandy destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses, killed more than 70 people and created desolate ‘Third World’ disaster conditions in two of the world’s richest nations. The centre of New York became a virtual ghost town, as power supplies to the island of Manhattan were cut off, plunging the skyscrapers of the financial district into darkness.

A map showing the route Hurricane Sandy took as it left a trail of destruction through continental North America. (c)BBC News US & Canada

Apocalyptic conditions saw the city’s streets perennially lashed with driving rain and strong winds. Fifty residences in the nearby town of Oysters’ Creek were consumed by fire, rapidly spread by those winds. Hundreds of thousands of residents over a coastal zone stretching from the New England region to the state of Maine were served with mandatory evacuation notices – officials warned that those who refused to leave were putting their own and their rescuers’ lives in grave risk.

Back in New York, the city’s distinctive yellow cabs soon became little more than yellow metal ducks floating on the deluge of floodwater. The subway system, which serves millions of public transport users every day, succumbed to flooding and electrical damage.

Subterranean floodwater poses a challenge to the few commuters prepared to face down Sandy's wrath. (c) International Business Times
Subterranean floodwater poses a challenge to the few commuters prepared to face down Sandy’s wrath. (c) International Business Times

At the height of what many mainstream media commentators dubbed ‘Frankenstorm’, US president Barack Obama declared a state of emergency for the New York region as the hurricane began its orgy of wholesale destruction.

A tidal wave measuring 4 metres (13 feet) – twice the height of an adult human – poured seawater into New York’s subway network, flooding many tunnels. Fishing boats were swept inland and one found itself deposited inside the lobby of an apartment complex. In neighbouring New Jersey, railway carriages were swept from their tracks and pushed onto the flyovers of the New Jersey Turnpike, a major road running through the state.

A trawler weighing several tonnes was washed aground in the district of Staten Island. It was abandoned on a local street, giving locals a very real representation of the hurricane’s unbridled power.

The trawler John B. Caddell was one of the vessels dumped on US roads as tidewater surged onto the east coast. (c) BBC News US & Canada

The gush of water from the Atlantic not only brought in maritime vessels but also a wall of debris believed to be as much as 2.25 metres (7 feet) high, coating fields and streets with mud and vegetation. The East and Hudson rivers could not cope with the excess water and rapidly burst their banks, adding to the intensive flooding woes. Cars were swept away and underground ‘parking lots’ became giant vats of polluted water with floating vehicles.

A power station providing much of New York’s electricity exploded in strong winds, causing a power outage to large parts of the city. The Tisch Hospital was forced to rely on generators, which subsequently failed, and eventually along with another hospital, patients were completely evacuated as the electricity cut out and they became dependant on battery-powered life support. All over the disaster zone, eight million homes and workplaces lost power, and the situation had become so bad that millions of residents may not see their electricity and running water restored for several days.  The utility company, Consolidated Edison, which serviced the power station, stated in an impact assessment that 500,000 households in Manhattan alone were cut off as a result of the explosion which was believed to have been caused by flying debris or flooding of the station’s generation hub.

A nuclear power station, too, came under threat from Sandy. It was shut down amid fears of a repeat of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan when a tsunami wrecked the facility causing a radiation leak potentially harmed thousands of people.

Public transport ceased running entirely, forcing New Yorkers to flee in private cars or with literally their worldly possessions crammed into bags. Many chose to brave out the storm, remaining at home with hurriedly bought emergency food stocks and survival equipment.  New York’s airports were shut for business, along with its schools and major businesses. Thousands of air flights linking New York with the outside world were cancelled, stranding holidaymakers who found themselves being overcharged by exploitative hotels. Hundreds of desperate and homeless tourists escaped being ripped off by sleeping in camps set up at JFK and other airports.

As the New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, rushed through emergency measures for his city’s beleaguered residents, the neighbouring state of New Jersey – only the other side of the Hudson river from the city, was the next to bear the brunt of the superstorm. Speaking in a BBC News report, the state’s governor, Chris Christie stated that 2.4 million households in his state were without power, twice as many as when the last major hurricane, Irene, struck the area in August last year.

In a news conference held during the carnage, Governor Christie said that the destruction was “beyond anything I thought I’d ever see”. Not since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina on the town of New Orleans in 2005, had urban America lived with such fear and uncertainty from the forces of nature.

Atlantic City, where hurricane Sandy first made its American arrival, was left a soaked and gutted mess. Around 30,000 residents were told to leave their homes as the hurricane reached shore at 8:00 pm local time. Sandy brought with her 80 mph winds and a relatively small tsunami that turned Atlantic City’s wide streets into fast-flowing rivers. Sandy had by then fused with a local cold weather front and a smaller tempest, causing it to mutate into the devastating ‘superstorm’. A week later it had reached Canada where it has now fizzled out into an ordinary winter thunderstorm.

An aerial shot of part of Atlantic City, NJ - completedly inundated by floodwater. (c) Reuters/The New York Post
An aerial shot of part of Atlantic City, NJ – completedly inundated by floodwater. (c) Reuters/The New York Post

During its passage, Sandy crossed 12 U.S. states causing Obama to declare a state of emergency in five of them neighbouring the destruction’s epicentre in New York.

Notwithstanding the human cost to millions of people affected across the eastern and southern portions of North America, the financial costs are estimated to be hugely crippling as the United States struggles to emerge from a bleak recession. The estimation firm Eqecat states that the total costs of damage and rebuilding could run as high as US $10-20 billion.

Many thanks to Sunny Atwal for suggesting today’s article.


“Sandy: Storm-hit New York declared major disaster area” – unknown author, BBC News US & Canada LINK


“Sandy: Storm-hit New York declared major disaster area” – unknown author, BBC News US & Canada LINK

“Expat blogs roundup: here comes Hurricane Sandy” – Sophie Pitman, The Telegraph LINK

“Hurricane Sandy Devastates New York City Subway, Long Island Rail Road And Metro-North According To MTA” – Tom Herrmann, International Business Times Inc. LINK

“Drowntown, NJ: Utter havoc throughout state” – Jeane Macintosh, Post Wire Services/The New York Post LINK

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