Between the explosion at a Con Ed facility and the utility's decision to cut power, a huge chunk of Manhattan went black last night. Yet thanks to cell phones and social media, messages still kept us connected during the worst of Hurricane Sandy.
Social media updates the old saying, "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness" with a more contemporary take: it's better to post a status than to curse the darkness. And judging from what I saw on Facebook, that's exactly what happened. The power may have been abruptly cut but the online voices of friends endured, gradually blinking off last night and returning hours later as blackouts came and went.
From coastal New Jersey Debbie kept in touch with wry weather updates and Sandy photos from the internet including three ducks swimming down a suburban street and a trampoline caught in power lines -- all this as her house shook in high winds. But the party ended when her mother posted at 10 pm, "Debbie lost power! No more comments today at least."
From Brooklyn Lauren described the precautions she was taking just in case her lower level apartment flooded. When at 9 pm she posted, "You know it's bad when the [building] super[intendent] runs by and says, THE WATER IS COMING," it was clear it was just a matter of time.
From lower Manhattan Alice called me just past 9 pm with the news that Con Ed had called all her neighbors to say they'd be cutting power, but she hadn't received any notice. I was talking her through conserving her laptop battery to charge her cell phone when she gasped, "The lights went out!" Following the lead of Debbie's mother, I went onto Alice's page to post that she was off the grid.
Mainstream media gave us the larger picture of Sandy's destructive force, but short brief messages described what it was like to live in the aftermath and not curse that darkness. Some used cell phones, others stayed silent and conserved battery power not knowing how long they'd need it.
This morning, the moment I got up I made a beeline to my laptop. Before breakfast, before coffee even, I checked to see how everybody was doing.
From coastal New Jersey Debbie posted, "No power. No water. No heat. Neighbors lost some trees. Outside kitties ok. Cell phone service sketchy. Salvaging what we can from fridge, already warm inside."
From Brooklyn Lauren typed, "Well...[my neighborhood] is not under water any more. Plenty of downed trees. Plenty of wires loose in the street...cars this way and that, floated into one another....Worst of all, there's a slick of some kind of oil all over the streets....pretty much from our front door, all the way into the neighborhood. The smell is very strong all outdoors, through the whole hood. We're getting head achey....Nevertheless... we have power. We have warm dry clothes, and clean dry sheets I'm looking forward to getting back into pretty soon. We're so unbelievably lucky and blessed and safe. I'm grateful to tears."
In lower Manhattan Alice is still silent. But last night, an hour after I posted for her she added, "My phone is still working!! Just want to get through the next few hours and I believe all will settle down." That was 15 hours ago and I trust she's all right.
I'm watching CNN as I type this, grateful that I have hot water and coffee and power and cable TV. I'm even more grateful that modern technology has given me a way to stay in touch with friends and offer strength and solidarity during one dark night in their lives.
What's amazing is that every woman I know who stood in the path of Hurricane Sandy faced the superstorm with good spirits, humor, and concern for everyone else around her. There was no "poor me" sentiment expressed or vocalized fears about what they might lose. Maybe that was because they knew they weren't alone. I was one of dozens of friends following what was happening and offering emotional support.
Sandy knocked out a lot of the essentials last night, but she couldn't lay a finger on the power of friendship. The infrastructure may be shaky today in New York, New Jersey and many other communities across the East Coast. But with the long-distance backing and concern of friends cheering them on with simple words of encouragement and help, Debbie, Lauren and Alice are going to be all right.
Photo © Spencer Platt/Getty Images
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