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November 02, 2012

For Storm-Struck New York City Residents, Finding Necessities is Becoming More Challenging

By Tracey E. Schelmetic, TMCnet Contributor

Being without electricity in a small town is bad enough: finding food, batteries, ice, gas for generators and other necessities from stores with limited stocks can be challenging.

In New York City, frustration is mounting as millions of storm-hit city residents camping out in dark apartments with no gas or water are struggle to find necessities, or to travel more than short distances as many mass transit systems are non-functional thanks to power outages and flooding.

In Manhattan, the lights are on uptown but off downtown, which has led to discussions of “the dark side” and the “light side.” (The Colbert Report offered a wry skit on Wednesday, showing residents downtown selling “free-range” rats on sticks to survive, while residents uptown bemoaned the lack of mocha sprinkles at popular ice cream shop Serendipity.)

The demarcation line is bizarre sometimes, with buildings alight on one side of a street and dark on the other. Life was remarkably normal uptown, albeit slower and quieter without public transportation. (The lines for buses to fill in the gaps where the subway remains closed, in some case, ran for nearly 20 blocks.) But downtown was a different matter entirely, according to an Associated Press (News - Alert) story yesterday.

Street corners are reportedly chaotic below 30th Street as people tried in vain to catch taxis. Without traffic lights or police officers to maintain some semblance of order, most intersections were treacherous for pedestrians.

Lower Manhattan, which took the brunt of Hurricane Sandy’s record-breaking storm surge, is particularly stricken. Many stores and restaurants are closed due to damage or lack of power, and residents are running out of already meager food supplies. Even something so simple but vital as recharging a cell phone or tablet has become complex, and many residents are using power plugs where they can – in the front ATM kiosks of banks, and the apartments of neighbors lucky enough to have power, and off power strips offered by generous businesses that do have electricity.

One of the most misery-inducing shortages in the dark parts of New York City is apparently coffee, which is becoming harder to find. The Associated Press spoke with NY architect Peter Pelsinski, who was waiting in line with about a dozen other people at a cappuccino-and-espresso truck parked next to the still-closed Wall Street subway station.

"This is my first cup of coffee in a couple of days," Pelsinkski told the AP. "It will make my wife very happy."

South Ferry Subway Station attempts to repel flooding. Image via Shutterstock

Former TMC (News - Alert) employee Ann Reilly, who lives near Madison & 32nd Street, noted that the Madison side of the street had power, while the 32nd Street side remained dark and cold. She noted that as the power outage drags on, the mood in the city between the “haves” (those with power) and the “have nots” has changed.

“Tuesday everyone was cordial and figuring it all out,” said Reilly. “On Wednesday, once the "haves" came into contact with the "have nots,” the unspoken tension was palpable.”

New Yorkers have seen some unusual scenes this week as everyone tried to find ways to meet their telecom needs.

“The scenes of crowds charging their phones on power strips in banks [were] unreal,” said Reilly. “On Tuesday, people hovered outside of a closed Starbucks to take advantage of the store’s Wi-Fi.”

In the meantime, coffee isn’t the only urgent need in the city. Gasoline, beer and even bottled water are getting harder to find. (Many “have not” residents not only lack power, they lack clean water.) While most of Manhattan may have power back by today (according to promises by ConEd), the other crippled parts of New York City, notably Staten Island, which still looks like a warzone, may take months to get back to normal.

Edited by Braden Becker
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