It seemed that the vast majority of people did not immediately heed the magnitude of the approaching storm. Last year, the subways shut down and flood areas were evacuated for Hurricane Irene, and despite the damage by the storm, most people seemed to have the attitude that the government overreacted because the damage wasn't extremely severe. When warnings came for Hurricane Sandy, it appeared that much of the public had a lackadaisical attitude about storm preparation, especially after Hurricane Irene. But as it got closer and the subways shut down at 7pm Sunday night, people started to take it more seriously. Lines were out the door at supermarkets as people stocked up on essentials. There was a run on water, batteries, candles, and bread.
At this point, I noticed something unusual-- there were dozens of twitter and facebook posts about wine. Maybe this is because most of my friends are in the wine business, but what surprised me was that even my cocktail and beer brewer friends were all posting about wine. So were my non-industry friends. "Settling down with some ramen and a bottle of wine to ride out the storm," one friend writes. Several others posted photos of what bottles they'd drink as they were confined indoors. And why shouldn't they? Wine is a useful, portable, and shelf-stable beverage that does not require short-term refrigeration. This aspect of wine, I think, is something that we overlook when we have instant and virtually unlimited access to every beverage we could possibly want. In times of emergency, wine's dependability and usefulness is highlighted: the beer may get too warm if the electricity goes out, there may be no ice to make the cocktail, the water may shut off, but the wine.... the wine is there and waiting. It's a ready source of hydration and nutrients. It's enjoyability does not directly depend on the functioning of the city's infrastructure.
As the storm approached Sunday night and my friends hunkered down with their bottles, many restaurants stayed open, though most of the employees would have no way of getting home without public transportation or access to many of the bridges. To solve this, most people who lived in non-Manhattan boroughs were encouraged to leave early, and I heard about several restaurants that offered cab reimbursements or arranged/paid for service cars to drop off all of their employees at the end of the night-- bravo to these places.
The storm started off slow. My neighborhood in the Bronx usually has a boistrous soundscape that includes trucks honking down 95, the 6 train rumbling every 5 minutes or so, planes flying into La Guardia, dogs barking, and neighbors chatting to one another on stoops. Sunday night, things fell eerily silent as traffic stopped, airports suspended service, and everyone settled in. Light winds picked up, a drizzle began. On satellite images we could see Sandy spinning right toward us, just off the coast. After hours of build-up the winds reached top speeds, ripping branches off trunks, pulling trees out by their roots, and blowing anything not tied down hundreds of feet away. Out my own back window the trees whipped back and forth, down my block the awnings on many businesses fell off and blew down the street. Trashcans were flying and slamming into houses, and electrical wires snapped to and fro like plucked strings. Sirens echoed in the distance.
Eater kept a running list of which restaurants were staying open through the storm, calling it 'The Ultimate Hurricane Sandy Dining Guide." To those outside Manhattan, this may seem crazy, but keep in mind that many New Yorkers do not have kitchens, or have incredibly tiny kitchens in their tiny apartments. Lots of people here depend on restaurants as their main food supply, and so the stakes are higher when they all start shutting down.
It seemed that everyone kept tabs on their friends through facebook and twitter. At first the posts were festive, with most people writing about how they were drinking that great bottle of wine and watching a movie as #Sandy whipped by. But the mood changed in an instant. Suddenly one friend wrote "Went out for a cigarette and watched the water rise to above the fire hydrants in less than 5 minutes!" "Power just went out...." Another mentions flooding in the lobby of their apartment building. Then this pops up: "30 windows in my building just blew out!" The NYTimes flashed updates about several fires around the city. Photos began to circulate of flooded cars in the Financial District.
Lower Manhattan went dark in the power outage, and our familiar skyline could barely be seen against the stormy skies-- the Empire State Building the only beacon.
Subways remained shut down with police tape.
The MTA published this message:
Statement from MTA Chairman Joseph J. Lhota on Service Recovery
The New York City subway system is 108 years old, but it has never faced a disaster as devastating as what we experienced last night. Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on our entire transportation system, in every borough and county of the region. It has brought down trees, ripped out power and inundated tunnels, rail yards and bus depots. As of last night, seven subway tunnels under the East River flooded. Metro-North Railroad lost power from 59th Street to Croton-Harmon on the Hudson Line and to New Haven on the New Haven Line. The Long Island Rail Road evacuated its West Side Yards and suffered flooding in one East River tunnel. The Hugh L. Carey Tunnel is flooded from end to end and the Queens Midtown Tunnel also took on water and was closed. Six bus garages were disabled by high water. We are assessing the extent of the damage and beginning the process of recovery. Our employees have shown remarkable dedication over the past few days, and I thank them on behalf of every New Yorker. In 108 years, our employees have never faced a challenge like the one that confronts us now. All of us at the MTA are committed to restoring the system as quickly as we can to help bring New York back to normal.
In the restaurant sector, Eater started publishing reports of restaurant damage almost instantly. The damages run the gamut of downed awnings, flooding, fires, and completely destroyed venues.
Then the emails and texts began.
"Are you ok?"
"Everything all right up there? The news is painting a horrible picture of New York."
"I have no water or electricity and haven't been able to even shower; not sure I can make it to work for another few days."
"I walked 40 blocks uptown to get wi-fi to send this email."
"I just walked over the bridge to Brooklyn so I could charge my phone."
"I'm sleeping at the office because there is water and electricity here."
"If anyone needs a couch to sleep on, I have one, and I have power/water!"
With no power or wi-fi, communication began to break down as the batteries in phones and computers began to run out in the areas affected by the power outage. At my work (in the no power/water zone), the managers worked out a communication system where they would call someone in a wi-fi area from a pay phone. The person receiving the pay phone call in the wi-fi area would then email status reports on the space to the rest of the staff.
To the left is a great photo (by Erin Winebark) of the dangling crane that has us all worried and is a constant reminder that there is still much to do to get back on our feet after this storm.
Though the storm has passed, the restaurant industry-- especially those venues in lower Manhattan-- has so much clean up to do. Unfortunately, none of this can really get underway until we have power. The situation is worse for the kitchen staff than it is for the FOH & beverage teams (most beverage products such as wine/beer/spirits are shelf stable). Entire fridges of product in pretty much every lower-Manhattan restaurant have spoiled in the power outage. Restaurants will have to order massive amounts of food to get their par levels back to normal, which is difficult to do given the restricted delivery status of many of the food suppliers. This could cause many places to offer partial menus in the meantime. Kitchen staffs usually have 50-80% of pre-prepped food in their fridges, so a day's work involves preparing only 20-50% of food for service. But with empty walk-in fridges due to the mass purge of spoiled food, kitchen staffs will need to work overtime to prep enough product for service.
The lack of water in lower Manhattan has left many restaurants unable to function (no water: no dishwasher, no hand-washing, no restroom use, etc.). The lack of hot water above midtown makes it difficult to run dishwashers.
It's not just the restaurants that have to recover. Some wine warehouses and storage facilities were flooded, which damaged a lot of product and will cause a huge delay in getting product to venues. Wine delivery systems shut down for several days when the trucking lines that usually deliver to restaurants took several days of suspension due to flooded roads and closed bridges, and today they are having trouble delivering with the insane traffic. Many trucks are delivering product that was ordered last week, but are arriving to find that the restaurant still has not opened for business.
The wineries on Long Island have also felt the brunt. Luckily, most of them have finished harvesting by now, but many wineries, especially those with young vineyards, have damage from uprooted vines and cellar flooding.
Through it all though, the team spirit is amazing, especially in the hospitality industry sector. Everyone I know with an extra couch has offered up their space to friends and co-workers. Restaurants in midtown & above are allowing restaurants in lower Manhattan to use their freezer space. Ice companies are at the ready to send truckloads of ice down to lower Manhattan to help prevent food spoilage. Volunteer clean-up crews are forming to help clean up destroyed restaurants. Restaurant employees that live in Manhattan have taken on tons of responsibility to scout out the damage and plan clean ups, while many of their coworkers remain stranded in the boroughs. Some restaurants in midtown and above are offering the use of electrical outlets for phone charging and free drinks to those living in lower Manhattan. Several spaces have even offered up vacant areas for chefs in lower Manhattan to cook at pop-ups in the recovery time.
This will take weeks of recovery, but we are well on our way.