Alexandra Ristway, her sister Olympia, and mother Jane indulge in some American hot dogs. Photo Contributed
Alexandra Ristway, her sister Olympia, and mother Jane indulge in some American hot dogs. Photo Contributed Contributed

Hurricane aftermath was 'post-apocolyptic'

PERCHED 17 stories above the ground, in a building swaying against immense winds while half of Manhattan lies in darkness, is not quite what Alexandra Ristway expected of her trip to see the bright lights of New York City.

The Rockhampton WIN News reporter had been in the US for a week when Hurricane Sandy set it's course for the city.

On Saturday, October 27, Alexandra, her mother Jane and sister Olympia, first heard the superstorm was on its way, but distracted by Alexandra's 23rd birthday celebrations, didn't take much notice.

But the next day it all became real for the three women.

"We started to think 'okay, maybe this thing is going to actually hit us and we're actually going to be caught up in it," Alexandra said.

"That day it was all across all the TV networks and they were talking about getting prepared ... that's when they started issuing evacuation orders and they started talking about cancelling the train services and the bus services, and the transport system and all the shops.

"They also started talking about organising the electrical company to be ready to respond to the storm because it was moving closer and closer to the coast and as it was moving closer and closer it was becoming more of a threat - they didn't know where exactly it was going to hit, they just knew it was going to hit somewhere on the coast."

Rockhampton Win News journalist Alex Ristway has bee caught in New York City as it braces for Hurricane Sandy
Rockhampton Win News journalist Alex Ristway has bee caught in New York City as it braces for Hurricane Sandy Picasa

The family had spent the morning on a cruise around the Statue of Liberty, returning to Manhattan to set out on the Highline Walk from West 30th St to the Meatpacking district.

"The weather had started to get worse, to get really cold and drizzly," Alexandra said.

"As we were walking along it started to rain a bit and the wind was starting to come up and we were starting to see that change in the weather pattern, and we thought 'you can tell something is coming'.

"When we came down into the meatpacking district, it all suddenly hit because there were people sandbagging ... (and) taping the windows.

"We went into a shop and Olympia was trying on some jeans, and the ladies were sort of eager to get us out of there because they had to be shut and boarded up by 4pm."

"By this time, it was starting to look like a ghost town," her sister Olympia said.

On their way home, they were caught up in the grocery store madness that became such a familiar sight on TV broadcasts during the event. In Union Square they happened upon dozens of electrical vans ready to respond once the storm hit, and driving down Park Avenue witnessed the National Guard setting up road blocks.

Still 24 hours away from the storm hitting, they ventured out a few more times, stocking up their supplies.

Heading out for dinner on Monday evening - their ability to find an open restaurant proved New York really is the city that never sleeps.

"Monday afternoon the wind just picked up it was really strong," Alexandra said.

"I ran across the intersection. And as I was running over I was literally almost blown over by these gusts of wind.

"We went into a restaurant just next to the hotel (for dinner) - the wind was blowing open the windows, it was gusting.

"It was really eerie."

With the storm's arrival imminent they ate quickly and were back in their room by 8pm, when they started receiving panicked calls from family and work colleagues.

"That's when all hell started breaking loose," Alexandra said.

"Olympia freaked out and was huddled in the bathtub.

"We still had power at this point, and one of the last things we saw was the crane collapse, and then the power went out.

"The wind gusts, by this point, you could hear them echoing through the tops of the buildings, it was so loud.

"Mum was in bed, we still had a phone line out at this stage, it wasn't until probably 9-9.30 that we lost the phone."

Only two blocks east of the hotel, but downtown, people had been evacuated and without any power or communications the three women had no idea of what was happening beneath them.

The hotel had a generator but it was only able to power the lift, although they were encouraged to remain in their room.

Alexandra was the only one able to sleep, while her sister remained in the bathroom, and it wasn't until waking the next morning that the stories of Superstorm Sandy started coming out.

"We managed to get the lift down, the lights were so dim you couldn't see and it was still really dark and cloudy and sort of bleak outside," Alexandra said.

"So we walked about three blocks over, and there was a huge queue for coffee. They were run off their feet, I felt so sorry for them and they were running out of food too.

"People were grumpy and people were upset and you can hear people talking about what happened the night before.

"We managed to get a couple of chairs to sit down and we started talking to some other people who were in the deli with us. Mum was talking to a woman, she walked all the way from Soho with her dog, and this is when we started find out what had actually happened to everyone else because we hadn't had TV or the news.

"So we started to find out that the whole of downtown had been flooded, that everyone had lost power, that they all had to leave their homes, that it was a lot worse then they had anticipated."

And there was little reminder of the city that never sleeps - Times Square was practically deserted, even though it's iconic neon lights were still ablaze.

"Everyone was walking around dazed, that's the only way I can describe it, it was like a post-apocalyptic feeling in the streets," she said.

"It was like it was the first time they'd been outside, or been in contact with the outside world in months.

"We got to Times Square, and Times Square it was so quiet, if you've been to Times Square you know how packed it is with people - there was literally about 50 people."

"That was the first time I'd seen TV in about 24 hours and I was just glued... that was when we started finding out about Staten Island, Long Island, Queens where they lost the 110 homes.

Despite the stress of the whole ordeal there were a few funny stories that came with it.

"Our family friends came to find us and said... 'Come up to our hotel and have a shower in the morning, because you've been three days without a shower.'

"So Wednesday morning we packed up our bags, got in a cab and schlepped it across town to have a shower, and we arrived on their doorstep literally in our pyjamas."

Some stories left the three women feeling extremely grateful.

"We walked back into our hotel on Tuesday only to overhear some British tourists getting cranky about being kept in the dark, literally," Alexandra said.

"And they were having a go at this guy, Paul - he was so helpful during our stay, he really knew everything there was to know about New York - and they were getting really cranky.

"And Paul said 'Look M'am, I've been here at work for three days, I haven't been able to get home, I live on Long Island, I don't even have a home to go to because the storm has destroyed everything I own, taken it all away ... and I don't have insurance.

"And I'm still here three days later with a smile on my face, trying to help you.

"I don't know how he could still be there."

Despite the stressful ordeal Alexandra is sure she'll return to the usually bustling city. They spent their last days there, shopping, in true New York City style.

She says there is still so much she wants to see, although no one could deny she witnessed some memorable sites that the average tourist would never see on a trip to the city that never sleeps.

"It was really weird to see half of New York lit up and then you walk into the darkness," Alexandra says.

"It was just like no street lights, no neon signs, nothing, and a couple blocks over it's all bright lights, big city."

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