Sunday 18 February 2018

Apocalyptic scene like something from movies

The North Carolina 12 road is buckled
from pounding surf in Rodanthe
The North Carolina 12 road is buckled from pounding surf in Rodanthe
A statue of the Virgin Mary stands where homes in Breezy Point, Queens, were destroyed
It was across the East River in Breezy Point where Sandy left its most devastating mark. Photo: AP

Mark Hughes and Barbara McMahon New York

Looking at the smouldering remnants, twisted steel frames and corrugated iron sheets, it is perhaps difficult to tell. But before America's biggest ever storm wrought its carnage, this desolate and burning wasteland was a thriving seaside community in New York City.

This is Breezy Point, a neighbourhood of Queens where, in the early hours of yesterday morning, up to 100 homes were razed to the ground in a fire triggered by Hurricane Sandy.

The image, almost post apocalyptic in its bleakness, captures the breathtaking ferocity unleashed by a storm that has left New York, and much of America's eastern seaboard, in chaos.

"We were spared," said one Queens resident Tom de Maria as he passed by the rubble- strewn remains of Breezy Point yesterday.

As dawn broke across New York yesterday, the devastation was only just becoming clear. Streets usually teeming with millions of workers and tourists were instead littered with fallen trees, scattered debris and cars floating in water.

Large swathes of the southern tip of Manhattan and the edges of Brooklyn suffered severe flood damage following a record-breaking 13-foot storm surge. A city which has so often provided the backdrop for disaster movies was left resembling the set of one.

Some of the busiest and most iconic streets in the world -- Fifth Avenue and Broadway -- were silent and empty; millions were without power; subway tunnels were flooded; people lined the streets frantically trying to hail cabs, which were in short supply following the mayor's order to clear the streets of traffic.

But it was across the East River in Breezy Point that Sandy wrought its worst catastrophe.

Firefighters told how the storm's 80mph winds caused one house fire to spread throughout an entire neighbourhood, obliterating dozens of family homes.

Exploded

No one is yet sure what started the blaze. One theory is that a gas pipe ruptured and exploded in one house and the storm force winds blew embers from house to house. All the properties were wooden and the flames took hold without mercy.

It was unclear last night whether the fires had caused any deaths, but some in the neighbourhood had ignored mandatory evacuation calls and had to be rescued.

Tom and Kathleen Owens and their children were among those who chose to stay. When waves of water pummelled the house next door, and its foundations collapsed, they quickly changed their minds. "Suddenly I looked and the house was two feet away from ours and then it slammed into ours," Mr Owens said. Rescue and fire services got them out.

Lower Manhattan, one of the most visually recognisable areas of the city, was severely hit.

At the entrance of an underground garage, just yards from New York's financial heart of Wall Street, crowds gathered to take photographs of five cars, their roofs only just visible above the floodwater.

From their parking spots in the garage, the vehicles appeared to have been engulfed by the water surging inland from the nearby East River and later deposited in a heap.

Just a few hundred metres away is the Brooklyn-Battery tunnel, which links downtown Manhattan with Brooklyn.

The tunnel has a clearance of 12ft 7ins. Yesterday morning it was filled to the brim with floodwater. At the entrance ramp, barely visible, was the outline of a submerged van.

As crowds took pictures, a young man in a high-vis vest peered over a railing at the sunken truck. "Damn," he said, "that ain't where I parked it."

Closure

The man, whose vest identified him as a member of the city's 'Bridge Operations' unit, explained that he had parked a van at each end of the tunnel the previous evening to stop traffic entering following the closure of the tunnel.

Near the tunnel was the Franklin D Roosevelt Drive, one of the busiest roadways in New York City. Yesterday it was deserted, an eerie stretch of desolate highway.

The cobbled streets of South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan were still partly under water yesterday. The roads which were passable were slippy with oil, which had presumably leaked from the cars engulfed by water on Monday night.

Among the most pressing concern of New Yorkers is the return of the subway.

The city's transport hub was suspended on Sunday night with the hope that it would re-open by today at the latest. Last night that hope looked forlorn as many downtown subway stations were submerged.

"It just feels like we are cut off from the rest of the city," Leslie Lindsey said.

The residents of lower Manhattan have had much to contend with. The area still bears the physical and emotional scars of 9/11, which took place just a few blocks from the worst-hit area of flooding.

It is perhaps a testament to the city that yesterday morning the clean-up effort had already begun.

Refuse collectors and other city officials toured lower Manhattan clearing the streets.

Mary Burke, who lives on John Street, said: "When you've been through something like 9/11, this is crisis-light," she smiled, before joking: "But when you consider what we've been through I sometimes think maybe I should move. It seems like you pay a serious toll living here." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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