Remarkable stories from an extraordinary year

I was there... when Hurricane Sandy hit New York

Three hours before Sandy was supposed to fully arrive a window outside my apartment smashed into dozens of pieces

The east coast of the U.S. was battered by Hurricane Sandy which claimed more than 60 lives and left millions of people without power for days.

Writer Tom Latchem, from North London, was visiting New York City with friends to celebrate his 30th birthday when the hurricane smashed into the coastline leaving a trail of destruction...

Tom Latchem: Caught in the eye of a storm"I woke in my hotel on Monday morning, feeling a little worse for wear from the night before.

Outside, the wind was already high and there was torrential rain, but my friends said that was not out of the ordinary in New York.

The hurricane warnings had been running for the previous 48 hours on TV and shops were already low on supplies, as people stocked up in preparation to spend up to 24 hours locked away inside.

Yet in a way it still felt like the city wasn’t taking the incoming Hurricane Sandy seriously enough.

Because, despite ominous warnings from weather forecasters and President Barack Obama, talk among locals had been of whether Sandy would fully hit New York or whether it would be another false alarm like Irene in August 2011.

We didn't have to wait long to find out, and when it came, boy did it.

Throughout the day the storm got stronger, and by mid-afternoon howling winds and driving rain made venturing outside virtually impossible.

It was just my luck to be stuck in a hurricane on my 30th birthday trip, but there was nothing else for it. So I bunkered down at a mate’s place in Brooklyn and waited.

At 4.30pm - three hours before Sandy was supposed to fully arrive - a window outside my apartment smashed into dozens of pieces.

An hour later our lights started flickering and by 7pm the windows in our apartment - which was facing the direction of the wind - were taking a battering as we sat watching news reports of Sandy while it hit us from all sides.

It was a bizarre experience.

Eventually the internet went down as a phone cable to the flat fell in the street – though thankfully the power remained all night.

Others, in much of Manhattan and parts of New Jersey, many of whom hadn’t been evacuated, weren’t as fortunate as they were plunged into darkness – and their homes flooded.

Reports of the first New York deaths at around 9pm, as police car sirens filled the air, were a sobering reminder of the dangers of the unforgiving tempest.

And then, come midnight, after four hours, the winds started to drop as the eye of the storm passed.

It was only on Tuesday, as dawn broke, the city woke up, and the clear-up began, that New Yorkers started to reflect on the enormity of what they had just experienced.

There was an unusual calm on the normally manic streets of Manhattan as people tried to take it all in.
But if anywhere could deal with a natural disaster on the scale of Sandy, New York was that place.

Although the metro system remained closed for days, bridges into Manhattan re-opened one by one and so many shops, bars and restaurants which hadn't been affected by power cut and flooding opened their doors.

However, it was a tale of two cities as everywhere below 34th Street was without power, meaning everything there remained shut.

Mobile networks were also down, prompting the unusual sight of people queuing to use phone booths.
Driving through Lower Manhattan, as workers mopped up at the HQs of the city’s big banks, it was clear just how damaging Sandy had been.

And later, as night fell, the experience of walking through the island’s streets in pitch darkness, being guided through the streets by cops with red flares, will stay with me forever.

I was lucky - I was able to fly home to the UK the following Friday. But while I could escape, thousands of people, whose lives have been torn apart by the storm, are still struggling to recover.

And while this great city tries to get itself back to normal, it is these people - the poorer, less fortunate New Yorkers - who will be most feeling the destruction wrought by Sandy, and needing all the help they can get."
Tom Latchem was speaking to Simon Freeman

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