Ashley Nelson, founder of Knstrct.com, gives her first person account of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy from the Financial District in Manhattan.
Currently, I am positioning rectangular panels of foil upright behind candles to reflect light throughout the room. We have four candles left. It is day five without power and water in Manhattan’s Blackout Zone. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to get back to basics in a city that is anything but basic, but with no choice, I am writing this article in a barely lit room with a pencil on lined paper, a medium of communication that has been deemed archaic in our tech-ruled world.
[Photo credit: Jackie Hart]
The power shut down in our Financial District apartment at 7pm on Monday, one hour before Hurricane Sandy hit landfall. I scrambled to download the new iHurricane HD app to track Sandy as it barreled towards us. I consistently tapped into Twitter for emergency news and kept folks updated on Facebook. The crashing sounds of debris and continuous scream of sirens didn’t seem so bad when I was comfortably connected to friends and family. Unfortunately, the connection didn’t last long. An hour into Sandy’s chaos, all service was lost; a service gap that would last two days into the six-day blackout.
[Photo credit: Don Drohan]
The morning after the hurricane hit, I navigated down the pitch-black stairwell into my deserted lobby and out to the street. It was a scene out of I Am Legend. My neighborhood, once bursting at the seams, was left desolate and ravaged. Shattered storefronts, floating cars, broken tree limbs, and ashes from small explosions painted the streets as a few brave residents filtered out to observe the destruction. I searched the neighborhood for a command post, FEMA vehicles, or a place to get solid information about what to do next. Yet there was nothing. Everything was boarded up and even the hospital had closed its doors. I was completely off the grid in one of the most bustling cities in the world.
[Photo credit: Ken Jones]
I overheard a distraught shop owner mention that there was power uptown. With that I turned and started walking north, checking my phone for service along the way. At the south end of Union Square my phone (as well as my heart) lit up. I had a scant amount of cell service, yet the signal was too weak to make a phone call. Luckily, it was strong enough to jump onto Twitter for an official update of the destruction and power outages. The first tweet under #Sandy was a celebrity. The next ‘top tweet’ had been posted an hour prior. Old news, but still at the top? And with that, my battery died. In my frustration I began to think of the limitations of Twitter. It’s fair to say that Twitter has to monetize itself, but in the case of an emergency should top paying tweets take priority over informative ones? Certainly something to think about.
Turning onto 33rd street was not unlike walking onto a movie set – there were flashing billboards, power and crowds of people flooding the streets. My long walk was rewarded with full cell phone service. I quickly plugged in, said a silent prayer, and called home. After scrolling past Twitter’s top tweets I was able to get quality information about the hurricane relief efforts, although little to no relief was directed to lower Manhattan, with the exception of the fire crews that were already stretched thin. I downloaded the FEMA app that quickly provided useful information on shelters and relief centers, but none were located in lower Manhattan. It was clear we were on our own. As daylight began to fade I started my long trek back downtown through the ink black city streets – scared out of my mind.
With no official word on when power would be restored, I knew I needed to get resourceful and start to channel my inner Bear Grylls – and quick. I got lucky when I stumbled upon a Black & Decker car battery charger in the flooded gutter near my apartment. I noticed an outlet on the side of the charger, scooped it up, and lugged it up the seemingly endless dark stairs to the apartment. I plugged my phone in and began to charge. Small victory. Feeling confident, I switched from Bear to MacGyver and grabbed some oranges, (which can be rigged to produce electricity) cracked open the tool box and pulled out some nails and wire to power a light bulb. My citrus circuit ended up lasting two nights. Then I was back to candles.
So how did our daily communication and tech gadgets weather the storm? The hurricane tracking apps and FEMA apps were helpful, and they were located conveniently on the homepage of the App Store. Twitter, is a highly instrumental platform for filtering information during an emergency, but it seems informative tweets should take priority over celebrity tweets in moments of crisis and I learned first hand that there are definitely more ways to power a light bulb and an iPhone than a lamp or that dinky white cord. In my experience it was a clever mix of hi-tech methods and scrappy ingenuity that got me safely through New York City’s six day black out.
And with that I put the pencil down, kick my feet up on my “upcycled” car battery and crack into an orange slice, feeling rather proud of my survival tactics. I have to admit, my third grade Girl Scout troop leader would be proud. It was definitely a badge-winning performance.
[Top image courtesy of Don Drohan]
Ashley Nelson is an NYC based designer and the founder of Knstrct.com, a daily design news source that delivers carefully curated projects in architecture, interior design, fashion, product design, and transportation design to readers around the globe. KNSTRCT [Construct] Is curated to be a museum of design news, created to captivate lovers of design in all of its many forms. As a global hub of design and innovation, KNSTRCT is an online destination for art, interiors, architecture, fashion, travel and all other limitless definitions of ‘design’. This culmination of design ingenuity is intended to share the stories of creative happenings, keep readers relevant, and inspire creative minds everywhere with visual stimuli and cutting edge conceptual ideas. You can follow her on Twitter @KNSTRCT.