We ended up at a gas station. People were still filling up their tanks. At the time I thought this was stupid (which it was, because who fills up their tank in the middle of a hurricane?) but later I realized that they would have the last laugh during the gas crisis that followed Sandy.
The wind had gotten to be so intense that even a mile from the shore I felt like it could knock me over.
We went up to people in their cars and started interviewing them about why they were getting gas. I could feel the camera shaking. When we got back in the truck and replayed the feed, the reporter yelled at me about how shaky it was. I didn’t say anything, because I was altogether too terrified of what was happening to fight with him.
A few days later, he later had me retell the story to a coworker. When I mentioned the conditions, he softened up, and noted that maybe he shouldn’t have yelled at me, considering I was filming handheld during the worst hurricane to ever hit New York City.
Anyway, back to my story. The weirdest part of Sandy was that there was no rain. In my experience, hurricanes meant rain. A lot of rain. During Irene we had seen significant flooding–all caused by rainwater.
But there was no rain. Just strong winds, which picked up surrounding debris and made you feel like you were being pelted and pricked with tiny rocks.
Nearby, there must have been a major transformer. Every few seconds we’d hear a loud pop that made all of us jump. And following the pop, we could see power in nearby stores going out.
Then there was a loud bang, and the carwash in front of us lost power.
That’s when we decided to move again.
We drove down local streets, turning when we’d reach flooding. It was dark out, and the street lights had gone out. But I could still see cars submerged in water…sometimes reaching up to the windows.
I’d point them out with detached wonder. It was if I didn’t realize that these cars belonged to actual people. Or that if the flooding had taken out cars, that it would surely have infiltrated houses as well.
But it all came crashing down on me when we drove by a local hospital. There were fire trucks stationed in the road, blocking any cars from driving down from where the water was edging up towards Hylan Boulevard–the main drag about a mile inland.
That’s when a man came up to us, frantically screaming about his uncle, who was trapped inside his house. He was in a wheelchair and couldn’t get out. He begged with us to help him.
There was nothing we could do. We told him that. We told him to talk to the firefighters and EMS workers who were just feet from us. He said they told him there was nothing they could do.
As we drove away, we all made excuses as to why we couldn’t have helped him. And we were right. If we had done anything, we probably would have died as well. But there was an unspoken thought on all of our minds–that the man who was trapped inside his house would probably die.
A few days later, we heard reports of divers finding the body of a 67-year-old paraplegic in the neighborhood. When we heard, the reporter and I looked at each other, knowing that while we couldn’t have saved him, we both felt somewhat responsible.
Shaken, we headed inland once again. We parked next to a small puddle in a deserted parking lot. We were trying to figure out what to do next when we heard the crash.
A power line had been severed by the strength of the wind. It came down, hitting the puddle. Even through the sound of the truck, which was still running, you could hear it sizzle.
In that moment, I decided to leave my last mark on humanity, as I was sure that I was about to die. I sent out a goodbye tweet.
It said, “I love you all. Goodbye.”
Later, I found out one of my friends read it, and she was sure I was dead.
While I was tweeting, the reporter was shouting to the truck op, “Get us out of here!”
And to his credit, he did what he was told.
We raced up Todt Hill, to the safety of my boss’s house. Suddenly, I felt okay again.