New Yorkers prepared for fourth night of darkness

Liz Goodwin
The Lookout
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On Thursday, 250,000 Manhattanites living below 39th Street braced themselves for a fourth consecutive night without electricity.

Some walked miles to find open grocery stores to replenish dwindling food supplies; others ventured outside for the first time since the storm hit to reluctantly report to work without a functioning transportation system. Most store fronts were still shuttered, and if you peered into the windows of shops close to the waterfront, you could see that the storm surge had  moved around the merchandise, as if the stores had gone through a car wash.

Remarkably, no one seemed that cranky.

Ruven Gottlieb and Dulce Moche, a married couple in their 60s who live on the fourth floor of a public housing building in the Lower East Side, had been eating gefilte fish stew--the only thing in their fridge when the storm hit Monday night--for days. They'd also been living without electricity or hot water.

Both were looking forward to a hot bath when the power finally comes back on Friday or Saturday, the utility company's latest estimate. (Many New Yorkers in other boroughs have to wait even longer for electricity to be restored.)

"For me, the scariness is the halls are dark, the stairways are dark," Moche said. "I have a cane and that's scary. I don't go out unless my husband takes me down the stairs." Gottlieb had attached a small pen flashlight to his glasses to light up the dark stairwell for them both.

But there had also been some bright spots. Neighbors have helped each other out, checking in on the more elderly residents of the building. And the unexpected and unusual quiet and darkness in a city that never sleeps gave the couple time for reflection.

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"You don't hear any traffic noise at night," Gottlieb said. "Almost no horns honking. It really could be as quiet as if it were the 19th century. And it's dark as anything. Not even gaslights. So that part's OK."

Moche, who was born and raised in New York, was spooked by the strange weather, and now would rather live farther uptown, away from the harbor, in case such storms become more frequent. "We had a snow day now or then, but hurricanes?" Moche said in disbelief.

On Thursday, when they ventured uptown to buy batteries for their flashlights, Moche took Gottlieb by a building in the East 70s that houses elderly people. "I'd feel much better being up here," Moche said.

But Gottlieb's resistant to the idea. "It's higher ground, but there's nothing around there. Chichi little joints. Here, you can eat for nothing," he said, referring to the cheap food in Chinatown.

In Chinatown, a few enterprising grocers had opened up their stores, selling fruits and vegetables from their stands during daylight. Others hooked up noisy generators to give them some power. A few restaurants had taped up signs saying they were open during the blackout.

Still, the usually bustling area seemed eerily quiet.

Angela Zang, a 14-year-old who lives in Chinatown, said there's been "nothing to do" for days, and that she would be excited to check her Facebook page again when the power goes back on. "I'm in a building with no hot water, so we have to boil everything," she said. She had been "reading, drawing [and] playing cards" by candlelight to pass the time. And at one corner of her family's apartment, she got enough service to check her cell phone.

Josephine, a New York City school teacher who wouldn't give her last name, wore a large flashlight on a lanyard around her neck as she walked downtown near City Hall on Thursday. She said it was the first time she had left her Chinatown apartment since the storm began, and she wanted the flashlight to navigate her building's stairwell when she got back. Josephine thought the storm hadn't been so bad, since she and her mother, who lives with her, were prepared with extra food and water. "It could have been worse. You see people who lost their homes," she said.

Her friend Melissa, who also declined to have her last name used, said her ninth-floor apartment near the East River, which also lacked running water or power, was lit up only by the glow of the Williamsburg Bridge. She looked longingly at the Brooklyn side of the river, which didn't lose electricity during the storm. "If I had a boogie board, I'd paddle over," she said.