This is the view from Union Square, Oct 31, 2012, not long after Sandy’s tidal surge receded from lower Manhattan.
“This was stupid,” Matt said.
“Yes, keep the doors locked,” I agreed, jittery with adrenaline as we inched our way through each blackened intersection, hoping we wouldn’t get broadsided by a yellow car, or worse, hit a pedestrian. Everything above 34th Street was the usual Start-Spreadin’-the-News Big Apple. Below 34th was like stepping back in time 100 years. One window out of a thousand flickered with candlelight. The Empire State building shone like a lighthouse on the shore of a great, dark sea.
It was Halloween night, 2a.m., not long after the tidal surge receded from lower Manhattan. As we crept from block to block, rescue workers in Staten Island searched for two young brothers who were swept away from their frantic mother by a large wave. Their tiny bodies wouldn’t be found until the following day.
As we crept from block to block, 320 residents of the Kenmore– elderly and infirm people who could not evacuate– huddled in their rooms or in the lobby downstairs, unaware that three men have finally managed to get a truck-load of supplies within blocks of where they sit and wait.
It was Halloween night, 2a.m., and as we crept from block to block, I saw something moving in the inky darkness between buildings.
A young couple dressed as zombies rode bicycles, apparently peddling off to a party somewhere, their pale, fake-bloodied faces gleaming in our headlights.
We had managed to get to a Sam’s Club in New Jersey earlier that day and loaded the truck with peanuts, granola bars, apples– anything that didn’t require preparation– and also D Batteries for flashlights and 2-cycle gas for the generator. We cruised through the pitch blackness along the Hudson River and coasted back into Manhattan on fumes. There was no power at the gas stations, and the shortages had begun.
We rented a Zipcar that had 3/4 a tank and waited for midnight. Earlier, the Twitterverse had exploded with complaints: “Took me 4 hrs to go 15 blocks!!! #sandy” During the day, lower Manhattan was a snarl of honking horns. We hoped for smoother sailing after dark, and we got it, but it was creepy sliding through those blackened streets.
After we stacked the supplies in the lobby and exchanged “thank you”‘s and “you’re welcome”‘s, we drove through Alphabet City and silently observed the salty film on the insides of car windows and the strange drifts of debris.
“This is going to take months.” We all nodded.
We circled back around and parked right in front of Union Square, like we owned the place– a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. That’s where I took the picture above.
Our part of Manhattan and the participants of Everyday Church came through this thing unscathed. We were helping the Kenmore through our sister church, Forefront Church, who have been scrambling– it’s really not an overstatement to say “scrambling”– to get aid to vulnerable residents. Trinity Grace Church has been going nuts on the lower Eastside. I can’t even name all the NY churches who have leapt into action and stayed in action– new, hip churches and mature, stable churches and churches I’ve never heard of. This town has one of the lowest church-to-resident ratios in the country, but you wouldn’t guess that from the vantage point of these damaged streets. And fortunately, other churches came to our aid as well. Mountain Christian Church in Baltimore started loading and driving truck after truck of much-needed supplies. Churches all over the country are sending help to victims through funds like the one Orchard Group set up, and we’re gonna need every penny.
I think officials and emergency workers have responded admirably to this disaster. Truly, it would have been much worse without their effort. This is just the beginning, of course. There’s a lot of cleaning yet to do. There’s a lot of healing. I thank God that, as media coverage and national attention moves on to the latest, the churches in New York City aren’t going anywhere.