So close, so far: watching Sandy Sydney-side
New York University student Haleigh Kent-Bryant was studying at the university’s Sydney campus when Hurricane Sandy made landfall. Here she shares what it was like to be on the other side of the world when the biggest storm in US history hit her university’s home town.
At first, I really was not concerned about Hurricane Sandy. The US news circuit’s hype of the ‘Frankenstorm’ reminded me of Irene’s the year before.
I was in New York City during Hurricane Irene, and saw firsthand how little damage the storm caused. With that experience in the back of my mind, I shrugged Sandy off as pre-landfall.
My parents and I joked lightly about my brother and his pet kitten weathering the storm together.
Among my classmates, the atmosphere crackled with anticipation rather than fear. Some of my peers wished they were back in New York.
Others reprimanded them for those feelings. I rode the fence. Both opinions made sense to me, and at this point, I was more concerned with class and Halloween preparations. Sandy would lose its teeth, blow over the east coast, and life would carry on uninterrupted.
Then Sandy made landfall. My brother lost power. My friends back in the city kept posting Facebook status updates like: “And suddenly the wind has become loud.”
The next day, people told me how lucky I was to be on the other side of the planet. I asked my friends back at home how they were doing. They were okay, but shaken. I assumed my brother was safe too, but could not confirm with my parents due to the time difference between home and Sydney.
I did not become alarmed until I read my school’s emergency emails. “There has been an electrical shut down affecting a number of residence halls. Please do not use the elevators. Stay in place. Do not evacuate. We will update you shortly.” I later found out why New York University cut the power, when a video of a power plant explosion went up on YouTube. My friends in New York appeared online, they were safe.
My brother was still absent. I started sifting through news and weather sites for any updates on his town in New Jersey. There wasn’t much coverage to find. The underreporting only made me more nervous. For the first time since moving to Sydney, I felt distant from home. I had to sleep that night without news on my brother.
By early morning, my parents replied. My brother was safe and conserving his phone’s battery. My friends in New York, all without power, had to migrate to a handful of generator-powered buildings.
Now, lower Manhattan has started to get back electricity. Reconstruction efforts have begun, successfully or not.
As predicted, material damage to the area has been vast and with a major death toll. While the US death toll is pushing 100 (if you include the Caribbean, the count approaches 200), it thankfully does not compare to the thousands lost in other natural disasters.
That could change with global warming, though. While I have not heard much discussion linking Sandy directly to climate change, my father mentioned it. To him, it was a taste of the future. Now, Americans know New York City underwater. I do not see this risk diminishing anytime soon.
American media is back to reporting the election and how the storm may alter its outcome. New York City’s mayor, Bloomberg, cancelled the marathon. I frankly am not interested in these stories at the moment. To me, what matters is that my family and friends are safe. While the hurricane caused massive damage and people need substantial aid, Sandy could have been far worse.
Haleigh Kent-Bryant is a 20-year-old journalism student from New York University (NYU) spending a semester abroad with the NYU Sydney program.