The View From Wall Street


Survival in downtown Manhattan’s power-starved streets can mean foraging for pizza and looking for friends with electric outlets to recharge cellphones.

It was a chilly morning on Wall Street, two days after Hurricane Sandy ripped through New York City, and the only people smiling were the tourists.

Sandbags were piled against shop fronts, while entrances to the Broad Street and Wall Street subway stations were cordoned off with yellow tape.

Sandbagged store front in downtown Manhattan

People walk past a sandbagged store front in downtown Manhattan. Credit: EDIRIN OPUTU

At the corner of William and Wall Streets, Nick Chelvanayagam was outside his apartment building waiting patiently for a friend to finish a phone call. Chelvanayagam had lent the friend his phone, and he fretted about the battery level. Charged cell phone batteries are a precious commodity in lower Manhattan right now; the only sure supply of working power outlets, for recharging, is at 39th Street or further north, a nearly 70-block walk.

Chelvanayagam is a trader at Scotia Bank. The New York Stock Exchange was back up and running today for the first time since the storm, but it didn’t make him happy.  “They’re opening and trading, but we can’t get to work,” said Chelvanayagam.

As a Canadian, he is used to winter storms. Yet he said Sandy astonished him. “Blizzards or whatever, you can deal with. But this is crazy,” he said.

Pearl Street, four blocks away, was flooded, and the building Chelvanayagam lives in lost power on Monday night, along with much of downtown Manhattan. Residents have been foraging for food in nearby shops and restaurants. A man walked by with an invitingly large pizza box and was immediately mobbed by people eager to find a new food source. The pizza was from Cucina Benne Pizzeria, two blocks away. Chelvanayagam already knew it was one of the few neighborhood restaurants that was still cooking, with gas burners; he bought dinner there Tuesday night.

Many of his neighbors do not expect power to be restored until the weekend, so Chelvanayagam has decided to move. “Most of the people I know live downtown. I don’t have many options,” he laughed. “I have to find someone north of 39th Street.”

Not far away, Esther Chin and William Kustiono chatted on the steps of their office building. Chin works for Black Operations Inc., a sales and marketing firm. She was completely unfazed by the storm. She took the bus into Manhattan from Queens, but the hour-long journey was only 15 minutes longer than her usual subway commute.

Piano on Wall St

Piano on Wall St, not far from the New York Stock Exchange. Credit: EDIRIN OPUTU

“You’re not going to let the environment stop you from what you’re going to do,” said Chin. Besides, the hurricane presented a unique opportunity. “It’s a good day to do sales today, because everyone is home,” she said.

Residents at William Beaver House were equally sanguine. Lights in the lobby proclaimed that theirs was the only building in the area with electricity. Superintendent John Sarich bought a generator last year in preparation for Hurricane Irene.  Now it powers the lights and an impromptu charging station for residents’ phones and laptops. 

“Every strip extension cord we have went to powering people’s devices, so they could stay in touch. It’s more important than water, coffee and bagels,” said Sarich.

To flush their toilets (the building has no running water, either), residents are hauling buckets of water from the swimming pool to their apartments, said Sarich.

“It’s been very neighborly,” he said. “We’re all in the same boat, so to speak, and we’re all paddling together.”


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