A Taxonomy of Hurricane Sandy

Relatively few high-rise buildings have backup generators for the pumps that keep their water tanks full. When the power goes out in the average tower, residents share one tank’s worth of gravity-fed water, and an ethical dilemma: Bathe as soon as possible and fill up every spare vessel in the house? Or be a selfless neighbor and rigorously conserve? Tuesday, one midtown father opted for a middle course, limiting himself to a 90-second A.M. shower, surrounded by pails to catch the runoff. They held enough water to flush the toilet three times. By day’s end, the buckets were empty, and the father had begun to question his priorities.

—Christopher Bonanos

On the Coney Island boardwalk on Tuesday afternoon, Florentino Bautista could be seen carrying three nine-foot-long beams of wood on his shoulders. He’d found them on the beach—Sandy’s analog to sidewalk furniture. “It looks like really good lumber!” he said. Bautista lived nearby, in a building that had been spared by the surge. “I’m going to build a closet,” he said.

—Jada Yuan

David Vargas, the general manager of Fine Fare on the Lower East Side, wasn’t planning on having his store up and running on Tuesday, but a phone call informing him that more than 100 people had lined up outside changed his mind. “I said: ‘Open one door.’” His crew ran that one door like a late-night bodega window. Armed with flashlights, they filled orders in darkened aisles, their calls for non-perishables cascading like a game of Telephone: “Tres agua de coco!” “Tres agua de coco!” “Agua de coco, tres!”

—Willy Staley

At the end of the dark hallway on St. Marks Place, music was blaring: Crif Dogs, the beery, fratty hot-dog joint was open for business thanks to its “doomsday prepper” owner, Brian Shebairo. During the blackout of 2003, he “happened to have a generator in my loft because I was building a cabin upstate. I was the only guy on the block who was open.” Lesson learned: Tuesday afternoon, he was back, with three generators powering a neon Pabst sign, video games, and satellite-fed CNN.That day, Shebairo sold somewhere between 600 and 800 dogs, twice the norm. The only problem: the neighbors, who complained about the noise.

—Carl Swanson

No subway service seems like it should be a boon to taxi drivers, but on Wednesday other post-Sandy circumstances cut into Nicolae Hent’s margins. He lost business while crawling in traffic, then had two customers jump their fares. Hent ended the day driving all over Queens looking for gas; finding none, he was out of work for Thursday.His total for the day: $187.50 in fares and $16.60 tips, well less than his usual $300 or so.

—Jillian Goodman

Illustrations by Mark Nerys

As the storm struck, New Yorkers used apps to tune in to first responders’ radio dispatches, then rebroadcast the chaos.

@shanedobies: The #FDNY/NYPD radio frequencies are absolutely insane right now 7:12

@Newyorkist: “The FDR drive northbound up to 20th is underwater.” 7:30

@SaraPantera: “Grand Street is now Grand River.” 7:31

@Newyorkist: Abandoned car on (12th and West 40th?) in about 3 feet of water. “There’s nothing we can do.” 7:42

@SuperStuben: Oh jesus …: “We heard there were children in the car …” 8:20

@TamerELG: Police scanner says NYPD 60th precinct in Brooklyn is being evacuated with numerous cops trapped. 8:33

@benleventhal: Trouble accessing southern tip of lower Manhattan. Fire fighters told not to proceed for fear of electrified water.8:38

@DianaValerie: NYPD radio reporting “unable to go any further” (to rescue a family) 8:52

@gbrockell: Firefighter: “We’re not equipped to deal w/this.” 9:13

@johnknefel: Incredibly bizarre to hear first responders over scanner talking about canoes. 9:14

—Jen Ortiz

The storm made some cell phones work like a transistor radio. Fragments of other people’s conversations flitted in. Sara Kocek, in Austin, was trying to call her mom, in Connecticut; instead she heard the voice of man, frantic and aggrieved. He was in Queens, and a tree had crashed through his house. His sister, in New Jersey, had watched her car flood. With a jolt of static, the first conversation gave way to a second. “Are you alive?” a woman was asking.

—Matthew Shaer

On the second day after Sandy, a TaskRabbit user named Sion M. put up a posting on the errand-outsourcing site with the title “See If My Dad Is Alright.” The harried description read, in part: “Because of Hurricane Sandy I can’t get in touch with my father who lives on Staten Island. Cell service in S.I. is spotty—dad has a land line but no luck getting through. I don’t have a car and all public transport to S.I. is closed; subway, ferries, buses, etc. All I need is someone to go to his address, knock on his door and lend him a phone so he can call me. Please help give me some peace of mind that my dad is OK.” The job, accepted by a TaskRabbit named Rebecca, was one of at least five like it listed in Sandy’s aftermath. Sion’s dad, it turned out, was safe and sound.

—Nate Hopper

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A Taxonomy of Hurricane Sandy