In the Financial District after the flood

The storm shut down my offices for fully two weeks — they opened two Mondays ago at 11am. This is my narrative from that day.

The whole place was without power, and the basement levels were fully submerged — everything down there seems to have been destroyed, including our gym and a lot of computing infrastructure. For the first days after the storm I was without outgoing email, and I couldn’t authenticate for remote access. That eventually cleared up. A couple days after the crisis, with the building accessible but no elevators, some hard-working staffer trudged up the thirty floors to my office and fetched down my work laptop. (I hadn’t requested this, but it turned out to be lucky timing — my personal laptop had just developed a crippling hardware problem.)

So I finally went back to work today. Some things were different from even before I arrived. The email telling me to come in said that I should bring warm clothes — the climate control system is not running yet. I ignored this warning and it got pretty cold in my office. I’d had to take a different subway route than usual, because the R tunnel under the East River is still closed. My usual station at Whitehall street was completely filled with water and is I think still being restored.

Walking from the subway to the office, heavy machinery was strewn everywhere. Huge dumpster-sized pumps, trailers of uncertain use. I walked by a closed McDonald’s, where a teenage couple was doing something incomprehensible. Construction workers were standing around, getting lunch at the Mexicue taco truck, which seems to have chosen a good location. Our block of Broad street was so choked with machinery that cops were directing traffic around it, and the effects spilled out onto the Broad-Water intersection, stopping the regular flow of traffic. This seems to have continued all day.

But it wasn’t until dark that I really noticed how strange things were. Out my office window, where I usually see the lights of 85 Broad Street, is simply a huge black void. Not a single light is on in that building, and it blocks out the surrounding towers. Although not every building is dark, the dark bulk of 85 Broad completely changes my view.

I walked into the elevator lobby to leave. The elevators are not running normally. I’m still not sure exactly how they are running. I pushed some buttons and waited. Eventually two elevators arrived, one full and unclear which way it was headed, one almost empty, just one dude inside. The whole elevator lobby and all the elevators smell like dirty water. It’s not unpleasant. Earthy. It breaks up the feeling of being in a manmade space.

In the post-disaster I feel emboldened to make conversation with more people. I choose the elevator with just one guy, middle-aged black guy in rumpled casual clothes, I assume he is on the physical plant staff, and heading home. I say that the elevators are confusing today. A couple floors down a couple friends get on the elevator. We make smalltalk about how there is not a lot of work, probably a little forward for the now-crowded elevator. A lot of people are leaving. It is about 6.

In the lobby, to the side of the entry, employees are setting up some kind of food table. I’m not sure if it is tomorrow’s breakfast or tonight’s dinner or what. We all stream through the lobby access gates, which have not yet been reactivated.

Out the front it again smells like dirty water, and grit; smells like a construction site, which the whole downtown is right now.

The open plaza in front of our building is mostly dark. The usual spotlights are out and a couple construction-site lamps have been set up around the front, on Broad Street. If you walk across the plaza towards south street you will pass into total darkness within steps.

We walk through the partially glassed-in entry tunnel towards Broad Street. There is a big opening in the glass siding. I can’t remember whether it was always like that, or whether a big section of glass paneling was destroyed by the storm.

The sidewalk and street of our block of broad street are both crowded with heavy equipment — dumpster-sized machines that seem to be pumps, big trailers doing who knows what. A food truck was selling to construction workers earlier.

Traffic into the Water-Broad intersection is being directed by police, gingerly managed around all the huge obstacles. This has apparently been going on all day.

As we pull out of the shadow of 125 Broad, it becomes apparent how unusually dark it is down here. I had noticed out my window a big black void where 85 Broad usually is — it’s a huge brick of a building and, tonight, every light is out. Many buildings have no lit windows, and the ones that are lit have many fewer lights than usual.

Looking back at 125 broad streeet we see it is completely unlit below about the 20th floor. Only S&C is back in the office; the other offices have probably not been restored yet.

It makes sense that we would push to restore power and services especially fast, and that a lot of other local businesses still in the dark. On the commercial block across Water Street almost no lights seeem to be on; this is one of fidi’s cheaper commercial strips; lots of delis, Subway, McDonald’s, Starbucks — I don’t think any of that was open. I didn’t see any lights in the apartments(?) above.

South Ferry / Whitehall station was like destroyed, the whole lower part completely flooded. We walk to the 4, 5.
Passing through the financial district we see a lot of office towers with dark windows, and a lot of closed retail. 1 New York Plaza had scattered lights on high floors, probably whatever is most “critical” at Morgan Stanley. There was a Starbucks open somewhere.

When we got to the little 4, 5 entrance box at the edge of the park, a horde of people began pouring out of it. There are only about two turnstiles at this exit and the doors are only about 6′ wide. We stood there for several minutes as people kept forcing their way out. A few smiled at us. Apparently this is the Ferry crowd — maybe it’s always like this. The 4, 5 platform looks pretty normal — some signs of construction but that’s not unusual on the subway.

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