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South of Power

Posted: 11/05/2012 9:45 pm

After the explosion in the Con Ed plant on Ave D, the South end of Manhattan was blanketed in darkness.

The Lower East Side was once described as a series of warren-like streets, and with the sky capping tall, dark buildings, lower Manhattan is reminiscent of underground tunnels; or the inside of a wasps' nest. Two days after the explosion, Wall Street was re-lit and the Stock Market hurriedly repaired. Residential areas were put on a waiting list, with areas lit seemingly at random. Neighborhoods spread rumors on why some areas were re-lit faster then others, with some people saying areas that generated the most commerce were lit to have business as usual as fast as possible, while others say the cops put the spotlight first on the neighborhoods most likely to dissolve in crime.

Bars along the riverfront emptied their basement lounges with buckets and restaurants served 'Sandy specials' for twice the regular menu price. If a restaurant couldn't open, they tossed everything into the street; ice cream, eggs, yogurt, bread, soup, even food that wouldn't spoil, like beans, so residents brought shopping carts and minivans to feed their friends and families.

A few family-run delis could still afford to open their doors, tired of sitting cooped in their apartment, and played the radio for their neighbors while serving luke-warm coffee and bagels. One large grocery-deli purchased a thousand-dollar generator and charged locals five dollars for coffee. At four in the afternoon on Friday the generator backfired in a spectacular way and firefighters had to be called in to take it down.

Meanwhile, the award to Biggest Generator in the Area has to go to the Houston Street Whole Foods, which bought a generator the size of a six-wheeled semi to power most of their first floor. Their beer warehouse and second-floor in-house restaurants were still left in the dark, but locals in dire need of produce could walk through the aisles even after sunset.

Newer residents called in sick to work and fled to different friends' houses in North Brooklyn. Once the neighborhood was debris-free, people began to filter back, checking on their belongings and testing the light switches.

The lights came back on in select areas of Lower Manhattan at five in the afternoon on Friday, followed by whooping and cheering and a long series of house fires when light sockets corroded by water damage sparked back to life.

The bars were open on Saturday, but the crowds were smaller and quieter than usual. It seems that whoever left for Williamsburg, stayed in Williamsburg.

Past Broadway, the lights are still off. Before the generators were fixed, the Eastern side of Lower Manhattan lived by candlelight. Soho is left huge and dark, lit up briefly by headlights and police sirens. There are no candles in windows -- the West side is nothing but abandoned storefronts. Garbage thrown out by restaurants Wednesday morning are still sitting untouched on the corner.

The NYPD instilled a 10 o'clock curfew as soon as the lights went out, but patrol vehicles don't stop to enforce it. Photographers set up tripods on every corner to document the occasion.

The National Guard came to the LES by Wednesday with blankets and rations. The Red Cross took another two days to bring MRIs to the East end of town, but by then, Loisaida residents had pumped their own basements, fixed their own lights, and gotten their own food. C-Squat had been distributing food and clothing for five days before the MRIs arrived, but no one wants them now that the grocery stores are open. NYDEP has begun taking rations from them and driving it into disaster areas. FEMA hasn't been seen at all, which worries residents with family in Brooklyn.

Very little information has come out of Brooklyn, apart from political assurance that it's business as usual in Williamsburg. There are rumors that Red Hook is in ruins and Coney Island is under marshall law, and with the pictures floating around the internet of the disaster areas, it's unlikely they have the same resources LES residents had.

Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City and Forbes' #10 richest man in America, has not yet donated any money to the city or surrounding disaster zones.

 
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