A Tale of Two States
June 24, 2016
On June 24th I took a train to New York to meet Don Cheney. Don teaches marine biology at Northeastern University and our plan was to investigate how much the East Coast had recovered from Hurricane Sandy; a busman’s holiday if you will.
But I soon discovered that it is impossible to flag down a cab in New York traffic, especially if you are wearing a Patriots hat. But I also discovered the best way to see how the city has recovered from both Hurricane Sandy and 9/11 is to walk from the Penn Station past the World Trade Center Memorial to the World Financial Center ferry terminal on the Hudson River. The streets were jam packed with a colorful mélange of people speaking a dozen different languages and sporting the latest in fashionable street attire.
Above me were the trees, grass and playgrounds of the Battery Park Esplanade and Highline Park that replaced the elevated railroad that used to run freight down the west side of Manhattan. The railroad hired men called West Side Cowboys to ride horses and wave red flags to keep people off the tracks. Apparently it didn’t work very well. People called the West Side’s Tenth Avenue Death Avenue.
Now adults, children and hipsters were all enjoying the park’s post storm ambience; unaware that it was also designed to provide vegetation and a barrier to soak up the storm surge of future hurricanes.
I caught one of the brightly painted yellow ferries across the Hudson to Liberty landing where you catch the ferries to the Statue of Liberty and Staten Island. Staten Island took the brunt of the incoming storm. It was where 24 people died during the night. Most of them drowned when the water rose to the ceilings of their basement apartments, probably the last thing you expect to happen to you in a major metropolitan city.
The Storm Surge under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge at Fort Hamilton had been close to 16 feet. Water from the storm had surged through this narrow gap between Brooklyn and Staten Island to slam into Manhattan. It would be the ideal place to build a storm surge barrier to prevent future storms from inundating the city.
Instead the state and federal government bought out hundreds of Staten Island’s damaged bungalows and reshaped the coast with dunes and swales to absorb the floodwaters of future storms, a wise strategic retreat from this coast which had been hit many times.
A hipster mentioned that he used to work near Wall Street but now lived in the far Rockaways considered to be the next up and coming neighborhood like Brooklyn. After the storm the state had bought out damaged houses in the Rockaways area of Queens and also replaced them with primary and secondary dunes.
They had even created a seaside park designed especially for New York’s nascent surfing culture. Hipsters would keep their surfboards in the rafters of their favorite chowder restaurant and when the word spread that the surf was up, they would grab their boards and jump on the subway to the Far Rockaways.
The ferry landed me in Jersey at the Liberty Landing marina. I found Don and we boarded The Smitten, his 43-foot East Bay motor cruiser. It would be our home as we explored the coast on the 4th anniversary of the storm of the Century.
Our first dinner in New Jersey was like one of the good scene from the Godfather with families enjoying their daughters’ weddings, kids enjoying the live bands and Don and I enjoying lots of extra helpings of excellent seafood.
The following day we would head toward what people were calling the epicenter of the storm. Our first stop would be New Jersey’s iconic barrier spit called Sandy Hook.
William Sargent’s latest book, Plum Island; 4,000 Years on a Barrier Beach, is available in local bookstores and at http://www.ingram.content.com.