The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 29, 2012

Silence: The scariest side-effect of Sandy

By Will Blanchard

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Some residents of Bensonhurst who live near the neighborhood’s main street, 86th, may have had some trouble getting to sleep last night.

At least this one did, as the elevated D subway train that serves as the expressway into Manhattan ceased to make its nightly rounds at the usual increment of every 10 minutes, giving off a creepy silence to accompany the screaming winds.

It has become a bizarre “calm before the storm” here in New York as the government, along with a majority of business owners, shut down the city in preparation for Hurricane Sandy. Mayor Mike Bloomberg has ordered an evacuation of coastal areas within the five boroughs (known as “Zone A”), and a complete shutdown of the city’s most essential operations, including schools and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).

The shutdown of our mass transit system has left me in a bit of a panic. New York is one of the only cities in the United States in which the majority of its residents, especially in Manhattan, do not own a vehicle. The MTA is relied upon by over 11 million people daily to shuttle them to and from their homes and meet all other general transportation needs.

Gas prices are not as much of a problem here, as the $2.25 price of a Metro card “swipe” here will take you anywhere you would like to go. You can therefore imagine my sense of impending doom when I received an e-mail stating that the city would be shutting down all MTA trains and buses by 7 p.m. Sunday.

Luckily, most places of business are not requiring employees — especially those who live across the water — to come into work, and schools and government operations will be closed until Wednesday, barring any further notice. By then the storm is projected to pass, but right now it is the quiet that is worrying me.

The sounds of footsteps, cars, people gossiping in other languages and the train pulsing across the cold steel rails has been replaced only with the sound of the wind and the thudding rain. The only people left outside are those making their last trips to Meat Supreme and the Chinese 99 Cent Store, where the shelves that once held a plentiful supply of Poland Spring water jugs, canned food and loaves of bread now sit empty.

Bloomberg has instructed residents who are not in the mandatory evacuation zones to “stay hunkered in to your home and have a sandwich out of the fridge and sit back and watch television.” That is what I am trying to do, but with the fear of a power or gas outage, residents are stocking up on supplies and preparing for the worst. My friend, Daniel Plyam, a native resident of Brooklyn’s Gravesend neighborhood not far from the Atlantic Ocean, has focused his preparation efforts on just the essentials.

“Really filled up on lots of bottles of water”, said Plyam, 22, when I called him earlier today. “Got some more food than usual. Oh, and I got candles. That’s pretty important.”

That said, Plyam — a lifelong New Yorker — is not very worried about the storm.

“I’ve been through five or six of these,” he said. “Every time it’s been a letdown. I have my hopes up that today’s going to be real but it doesn’t look like it, so I’m kind of sad.”

Plyam lives in a pre-war building that was built to withstand bombing, and takes it in good faith that it and its neighboring apartments will withstand Sandy.

“I know enough safety protocol that I’ll be fine,” he said. “I live on the sixth floor, I’m not going to get flooded in. If the windows break, that’s fine. We’ll fix them later.”

Meanwhile, in downtown Manhattan, New York University student Jessica Stolzman, 19, seems to have more concern for her new home, which she moved to from her native California in 2011.

“I’m concerned that this storm is going to cause serious damage,” Stolzman wrote in an e-mail. “I’ve seen pictures already of some other places along the coast, but it gives me peace of mind to think that the city is preparing itself and the people in it.”

Stolzman, who came from the West Coast to study journalism at NYU last August, was met at her arrival in New York City with Sandy’s predecessor, Hurricane Irene. The 2011 storm, which had minimal effect on the city amidst similar apocalyptic anticipation, has tempered her view of this storm.

“It does feel a lot like the same anticipation surrounding Hurricane Irene,” she said. “At first, I didn’t think much of the storm, because, in New York City at least, Irene didn’t cause too many problems last year. I’m already seeing some of the effects of Sandy, though.”

Stolzman says she has prepared herself with supplies and is “weighing all of the potential outcomes rather than treating this like a holiday.”

The same cannot be said of Plyam.

“I’m looking forward to reading by candlelight,” Plyam said. “I’m tired of television.”

Having been in Joplin last May during the devastating tornado, I feel prepared for whatever Sandy has to offer, although not without a healthy dose of nervousness. My hope is that by Wednesday, life will be noisy again and that I can rest at ease.


Will Blanchard is a Joplin native and graduate of Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School and New York University.