The day Sandy paid New York a visit

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - CONTENT -



Liv­ing in Amer­ica, you get used to ex­treme weather. I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced three earth­quakes in Los Angeles (one ac­tu­ally threw me out of my bed — a true ‘Did the Earth move for you, dar­ling?’ mo­ment), se­vere flood­ing in Seattle, a tor­nado in Hous­ton and a hail- storm of such vi­cious­ness in Min­neapo­lis that I thought God was hurl­ing golf balls at me.

Last win­ter I filmed a Donny Os­mond in­ter­view in Chicago, and it was so cold out­side I ac­tu­ally thought my eye­balls were freez­ing up. And, con­versely, I did an ITV spe­cial on Las Ve­gas, where it was so hot I thought my body was ac­tu­ally go­ing to boil me alive by the Hoover Dam.

But noth­ing ever quite pre­pared me for what hap­pened in New York this week with Hur­ri­cane Sandy.


The rain started around mid­day, and the clouds dark­ened rapidly. I took a cab to CNN’s bureau at the Time Warner Cen­tre, on the south­west cor­ner of Cen­tral Park in Mid­town Man­hat­tan, around 2pm and made my way to my seventh-floor of­fice. An hour af­ter I ar­rived, an enor­mous noise that sounded like a thun­der­clap boomed out.

I ran to the win­dow, and saw that an 80-tonne crane on top of a sky­scraper 500 yards away (a build­ing called One57, which will be New York’s tallest res­i­den­tial tower at 90 storeys) had buck­led, and the top of it was now dan­gling pre­car­i­ously over the densely pop­u­lated streets be­low.

In that mo­ment, it was clear that Sandy was go­ing to be on a dif­fer­ent scale to any weather-re­lated episode I’d ever been through be­fore.

As the af­ter­noon wore on, our of­fice lights be­gan to flicker, and our build­ing — one of the big­gest, new­est and sup­pos­edly strong­est multi-sky­scraper ed­i­fices in Amer­ica — was shak­ing and rat­tling like a cup­board full of steel skele­tons. Rain and wind lashed the win­dows with omi­nous ve­loc­ity, and by 9pm, when I went live on air, the full force of the hur­ri­cane had de­scended on the city.

What hap­pened in the next hour can best be de­scribed as bor­der­line apoc­a­lyp­tic. More than 14ft of wa­ter surged

‘Our build­ing — one of the strong­est in Amer­ica

— was shak­ing and rat­tling like a cup­board

full of steel skele­tons’

onto the main­land at the south­ern tip of Man­hat­tan, swamp­ing the sub­way sys­tem and flood­ing the streets so badly that cars be­gan float­ing away. House fa­cades were ripped off, fires erupted as power lines col­lapsed (100 homes in Queens were de­stroyed by one blaze alone), and 7,000 trees smashed down (in a few tragic cases, onto peo­ple). I in­ter­viewed nu­mer­ous ashen-faced gov­er­nors and may­ors from all over the east coast of Amer­ica, all of whom said it was the worst storm they’d ever seen.

Sandy was no or­di­nary hur­ri­cane. In fact, it wasn’t even that big by hur­ri­cane stan­dards, reg­is­ter­ing as only Cat­e­gory 1 for most of its ter­ri­fy­ing jour­ney. By com­par­i­son, Ka­t­rina, which rav­aged New Orleans in 2005, reached the heights of Cat­e­gory 5. But what made Sandy so dev­as­tat­ing was that it col­lided with an un­usu­ally early win­ter storm com­ing from the west and fierce Arc­tic air from the north, and it hit New York at the pre­cise mo­ment the city had a high tide and full moon.

It was a per­fect storm of hell. In fact, tonight I in­ter­viewed Se­bas­tian Junger, who wrote The Per­fect Storm, which be­came the Ge­orge Clooney movie, and he ex­plained why this was even worse than the 1991 mon­ster he drama­tised. ‘Sandy came ashore,’ he said. ‘My storm didn’t. Big dif­fer­ence.

I an­chored a sec­ond live hour for CNN at mid­night, by which time Sandy was on the ram­page through Long Is­land, the beach area of New York — wreak­ing havoc ev­ery­where it went. The sheer scale of the dam­age was al­most un­be­liev­able. (At least 30 peo­ple died in New York and sur­round­ing ar­eas alone dur­ing Sandy — and well over dou­ble that num­ber on its lethal path through the Caribbean). I left the of­fice at 1am, to walk one block to the ho­tel where I was stay­ing for the night. The wind was still strong and it was rain­ing, but there was an eerie calm to the sky now. Sandy had burst through cen­tral Man­hat­tan and was now driv­ing on to other ar­eas. From my 40th-floor hotel­room win­dow, I looked down over Man­hat­tan and saw a city of two halves — the lower half, Down­town, was plunged into al­most to­tal dark­ness. The up­per half, from 40th Street on, still had power. I turned on CNN to see shock­ing scenes from the NYU hospi­tal on the Lower East Side, where the back-up gen­er­a­tor had failed, and moth­ers with new­born ba­bies were be­ing fer­ried on makeshift res­pi­ra­tors down 10 flights of stairs to other hos­pi­tals on higher ground.

At­lantic City looked com­pletely sub­merged in parts (one of our guys was now re­port­ing from a main board­walk street, up to his waist in sea­wa­ter), and New Jersey was a mess. Power was down in over two mil­lion homes, and a des­per­ate search un­der way for sur­vivors. I fi­nally went to sleep at 3am, feel­ing shell-shocked.


Woke at 6am, and caught up with all the af­ter­math of Sandy’s ap­palling ram­page. Two mil­lion homes are with­out power on the East Coast, parts of the sub­way may be out for a week, all air­ports and schools are closed for at least two days, the Stock Ex­change is shut for a sec­ond day, and the death toll is ris­ing by the hour. But it could have been so much worse. I’ve been in­cred­i­bly im­pressed by the way the au­thor­i­ties have han­dled this dis­as­ter — be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter it. At ev­ery stage ev­ery­one was made fully aware of ex­actly what was likely to hap­pen, and what they should do about it. Politi­cians, from Pres­i­dent Obama down, rose to the oc­ca­sion, ad­mirably.

I walked home at 9am in mild con­di­tions. New York­ers were back out walk­ing their dogs, jog­ging and do­ing ev­ery­thing they’d usu­ally be do­ing on a Tues­day morn­ing, ex­cept get­ting a drink from Star­bucks, which re­mained closed. As we saw af­ter 9/11, they breed ’em tough in New York.

Be­low: A Fire Depart­ment of New York worker takes part in the

post-Sandy res­cue ef­fort

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