After the Storm: Updates and Observations from Lower Manhattan

Whole Foods in Tribeca was closed on Wednesday, but employees stood at the entrances handing out perishables.

From efforts to clean debris to power restoration, here are briefs on what's been happening since Hurricane Sandy struck Downtown. 

We will be continuing to update our coverage, and you can help. Please let us know how you're doing and what you're seeing.



A laborious task to save rare printing type

Hurricane Sandy forced countless laborious tasks onto those affected by the storm, but few are as painstaking as the ones now confronting Ali Osborn and Gideon Finck. The two men, recently hired to catalog the museum's extensive collection of wooden and metal type—millions of pieces—are removing the historic type from water-soaked drawers, washing off the salt water, and drying each piece so they don’t  warp.

In one fateful night, their job changed from cataloging the collection to saving it.

“If they bow, they're useless,” said Osborn, surveying the wooden blocks spread across every possible flat surface inside a storefont next to Bowne & Co., the south street Seaport's 19th-century print shop on Water Street. “They need to be flat for printing.”

“We were just beginning to start to really discover the treasures in the collection,” Osborn said. “So the timing was really bad.”

To save the 100 drawers of type damaged in the storm (each containing many thousands of individual letters) the pieces must be individually cleaned, dried, and eventually placed correctly back in their wooden case. Volunteers are helping with the job.

“The jury's out,” Finck said, pondering how much of the rare type could be saved. “But just judging from what we have been seeing over the last couple of days, it looks like the majority of type is not going to warp.”

Eight printing presses in the gallery were also covered with flood water, but the two men were fairly certain they could be repaired. And metal could wait longer than wood to be tended to.

“A lot of the wood type was used for 19th century advertising,” Finck said. “It's rare, it's beautiful.”


Ships safe, but Seaport Museum not so lucky

It took hundreds of volunteer hours and careful pre-storm calculations by the South Street Seaport Museum’s waterfront director, Jonathan Boulware, but the museum’s historic ships safely rode out the storm.

“Did you see those boats? How beautifully those ships did?” said Museum president Susan Henshaw Jones on Thursday, standing in front of the museum on Fulton Street. "If  everything had been out on the ships, it would have been fine.”

Indeed, although all of the museum’s artwork and exhibits were safely on the museum’s upper floors, roughly five feet of water flooded the ground floor and its rental spaces and galleries on Water Street.

“Everything in here was just a shambles. Oh, shambles!” Jones said. Shop merchandise ruined, the cafe ruined. Look at this sad thing.”

The “oil-laced surge” damaged the museum’s electrical, heating and elevator systems as well as the museum shop merchandise, Jones wrote in a plea for donations sent out on Friday.

“Hurricane Sandy has dealt us a body blow,” Jones wrote.



Community Board 1 meeting update

Community Board 1 has scheduled an emergency meeting of its executive committee to discuss storm recovery efforts. The meeting will be held at 2 p.m. on Sunday at Trinity Church. The meeting is open to the public.

The board office has been without power since Monday night, and Chair Catherine McVay Hughes has been working long distance with the board's community liaison to stay in contact with the scattered board members—many of whom live in evacuation zones.

So far the board has had to cancel several of its November meetings, including a joint-committee meeting scheduled for Nov. 1 to discuss Howard Hughes Corporation's redevelopment plans for Pier 17. The board has also postponed its Financial District, Battery Park City and housing committee meetings scheduled for next week.

The joint-committee meeting to address Pier 17 has been rescheduled for Thursday, Nov. 8. The location of that meeting has not been announced yet.


Helping small businesses recover

While electricity and access to transportation continue to be the most pressing concerns in Lower Manhattan, Downtown Alliance President Elizabeth Berger said she expects one of the biggest tasks moving forward will be helping small businesses in the area.

"I think there is a real challenge for small business owners," Berger said in a phone interview on Thursday. "Particularly small restaurants and retailers who have had water damage from the storm. [They have to] dig out,  clean up,  evaluate the loss of inventory and figure out what the next steps are."

The Alliance, which is currently without electricity in its main office, is working in its satellite offices to reach out to residents and business owners. Berger and other staff members started walking through the area south of Chambers Street on Tuesday to assess the damage and needs Downtown. They have also been reaching out to people through social media, Berger said.

The mayor's office has announced a series of post-storm assistance programs, and the Alliance will be going through them in the coming days and helping businesses apply for aid.

Although Berger sees challenges ahead, she is also quick to emphasize that other areas of the city were hit as hard—or harder than—Lower Manhattan.

"I'm extremely grateful that there wasn't more damage," Berger said.

The Alliance has also been receiving an "overwhelming" response from people in and outside of the area offering assistance, Berger said.

"We are hearing from people saying, 'How can we help? How can we get Lower Manhattan back on track?'" Berger said. "I think everybody is really focused on recovery, and that level of spirit is important."

An unusual spot to charge cell phones

On Wednesday and Thursday, two men from Harlem brought a rare gift to the Financial District: electricity.

Angel Hernandez and Daymion Mardel had parked their car on Wall Street near William and were offering free WiFi access and cell phone charging from equipment set up in their trunk.

"We are photographers, and we go on location where we have to be self sufficient," Hernandez said of the equipment.

The men could charge three cell phones at a time. On Wednesday, they charged around 200 phones. On Thursday, they expected to do about the same.

"We've been overwhelmed," Hernandez said. "This is the first chance some people have [had] to make a phone call in days.

In particular, Hernandez remembered a girl from Moscow, whose family had seen a fake picture of sharks in the streets of New York after the storm. Using the photographers' equipment, she was able to charge up and call home to reassure them.

"They were really worried about her," Hernandez said.

Other places to charge phones or check email Downtown:

  • Duracell has set up a "Community Center" at Battery Place and Little West Street with charging stations, free WiFi and satellite TV. The station will be open until 6 p.m. on Thursday and may return Friday.

  • Free WiFi from the Poets House (which is closed) can be accessed at nearby Le Pain Quotidien at 2 River Terrace.

  • Cell phones can also be charged on the Greenwich Street side of the Citigroup Building.


Open for business

Who needs electricity? The gas for the oven was on, and pizza dough—though usually prepared these days in an electric mixer—can always be prepared the old-fashioned way.

"We are making and kneading everything by hand, which takes care of the electrical problem so far," said Portabello's Pizzeria owner Anthony Catanzaro on Wednesday after he opened his restaurant for business.

Portabello's was one of the few restaurants open in Tribeca on Wednesday, and a stream of grateful diners popped in. Most ordered the food to-go, but a few ate in the dim dining room.

Catanzaro said he came by Portabello's on Tuesday morning check the shop and to mop up. His workers walked across the Brooklyn Bridge or bicycled in to work to help him open on Wednesday.

"I bike to work anyway," Catanzaro said cheerfully. "I got here early, so here we are."

Whole Foods is also free food

As hard as it was to find food in Tribeca on Wednesday, Whole Foods was giving it away for free. Though the store at Greenwich and Warren streets was closed, with a backup generator lighting the aisles inside, employees were manning both entrances. Up for grabs was a variety of produce and frozen foods.

"We're giving away everything that's safe and perishable," said Luke DeDecker, a store manager standing at the Warren Street entrance behind a bin of apples. 

"May I?" I woman asked, perusing the fruit.

"Go for it. Take as many as you want," DeDecker told her.

"You're the guy," she said, grabbing a few.

De Decker said the store's team leader came up with the idea Tuesday night, then the giveaway began. 

"It's a lot of stuff," De Decker said. "We just like to help our community. So anybody who needs food we're happy to give it to them."

He said he could not estimate how long the offerings would last.


Lights back on in parts of Financial District

There are signs of light in the Financial District.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Community Board 1 Chair Catherine McVay Hughes said she saw streetlights and storefronts lit up in pockets of the Financial District, including the west side of Broadway and on Dey Street.

"There are Con Ed trucks everywhere," she said. "We are starting to see tangible results."

Con Edison Spokesman Allan Drury said the company was able to restore service on Wednesday to about 2,000 customers in what it calls the Cortlandt Network (the rough boundaries are described as south of Vesey, between West Street and Broadway/State Street.)

Although power is on in that area, some buildings may not have electricity because the building's equipment is damaged, Drury said.

Con Ed expects to have all power back on in Manhattan by Saturday, Drury said. The company is also working to restore steam service below 42nd Street, but does not have a timeline for when steam will be turned back on.

"System wide it was the largest storm in company history," Drury said. "And Lower Manhattan took a big hit."


Historic boats float out storm OK, but water wreaked havoc on Pier 25

Mary Habstritt of the Lilac Preservation Project reports that Pier 25's historic ships weathered the storm without damage. But the three feet of water that covered the pier during the storm wreaked havoc on the structure's pavement. 

Pier 25 was in the midst of a construction project to repair cracked concrete pavers. Pavers and gravel that had been removed as part of the project have floated across the pier, Habstritt said. The pavement at the children's playground—which was not under construction—has bucked in places, Habstritt said. 

"There are literally hills in the playground that weren't there before," Habstritt said. 

In addition to the Lilac and Tug Pegasus, Pier 25 also safely birthed the Fireboat Harvey during the storm. 


Battery Conservancy offices underwater

Although Battery Park was inundated with river water during the storm, most of the park appears to have survived relatively-unscathed. The same cannot be said for the offices of the Battery Conservancy at nearby Broad and Water streets.

"We have floor to ceiling water," said Conservancy President Warrie Price. "It will be three to four days before we can even go in."

Conservancy staff are out in Battery Park today working to clean up debris from the storm. Price said she is hoping to set up mobile offices to keep the Conservancy functioning as best as possible. 

Three large trees were knocked down in the park, including one on top of equipment in the children's playground. 

All of the gardens were flooded with saltwater, and Price said it won't be clear until next spring what plants have survived. The base for the park's new marine-themed carousel "Seaglass" was undamaged, Price said. 

"I think we showed once again the Battery can take a full force storm," Price said. 


Community Board 1 meetings postponed

Community Board 1 is postponing its November meetings until further notice— including a Nov. 1 multi-committee meeting set to address Howard Hughes Corporation's redevelopment plans for Pier 17.

CB1's offices at 49-51 Chambers St. are still closed and without electricity, but Chair Catherine McVay Hughes said she is able to communicate with the new community liaison to send out notices. 

Questions for the board should be directed to or community liaison Evan Lacher at