What Not To Do In A Huge Storm

Wondering what it was like in New York when Sandy made landfall? Popular Science senior editor Martha Harbison took to the streets (and now totally regrets it).
Martha Harbison

I wish I could blame the following stupidity on booze, but I don’t even have that crutch. I’ll blame it instead on being cooped up in the house for hours on end watching horrible things unfold on the internet and outside my window. See, right when that hurricane made landfall last night, my friends and I were wandering the streets of Brooklyn.

We left the apartment at about 7 p.m., walked north a few blocks and then headed west into an industrial area of Brooklyn. My goal was to check out the storm surge on Newtown Creek. Mind you, Newtown Creek is not the world’s most pleasant place. It is reputed to be one of the most polluted industrial sites in America–a cesspool of toxins, spilled oil, and raw sewage. But it’s only a mile from the apartment, and we really wanted to see the storm in action.

Within minutes, we were passing damaged buildings–in some cases, all of the siding of the structure had been ripped off, and building debris was strewn around the asphalt and gutters. That was a bit unnerving but nothing like what we found when we got to East Williamsburg. Sheet metal littered the sidewalk and smaller pieces of metal cartwheeled through the streets. A giant metal and wood For Sale sign had sprung loose from a building and was swinging and spinning wildly in the wind, held to the structure by a single wire. Metal roll-up doors failed and buckled, or pulled free entirely from buildings.

The wind was howling and the rain was coming down in sheets, which made it pretty difficult to see (and therefore dodge flying debris). Close to our destination, floodwaters stymied us. It was too deep to forde without hip waders. So we decided to go up a block further to see if we could get closer from there. That street was like a filmmaker’s post-apocalyptic fever dream: totally desolate, save the metal flying through the air. The wind was so bad I could hardly stay standing.

We managed to get about two blocks down this street when the storm somehow intensified. I didn’t think it was possible, but the wind gusted even more violently, and the rain hitting my face felt like I was being sprayed with small pebbles. Retrospectively, it was right around then that the storm made landfall in Southern New Jersey. My friends and I looked at each other with a “do we really want to go on?”

We turned once more into the storm. We didn’t know it at the time (it was pretty hard to see anything at that point), but we were 500 feet from our destination. Right then, the wind gusts peaked, and suddenly, my face felt moist and sticky. That’s when I realized: I’d gotten hit with Newtown Creek poo-mist.

Being smacked full in the face with sewage-laced creek spray was the final insult. We turned around and pretty much ran the entire way back. I kept my mouth closed and did not open it again until we got back to the apartment. Then I immediately hopped in the shower.