To outsiders, the island of Manhattan is exactly that — one island. But to New Yorkers, Manhattan is divided into many different neighborhoods. Uptown and downtown are very different from one another.
Hurricane Sandy, which hit the northeast on Oct. 29, made the distinction between uptown and downtown even more prominent. Below 30th Street was still mostly powerless as of Thursday, Nov. 1. In stark contrast, Midtown and uptown were powered, dry, warm and waiting for full subway service to return.
At NYU, patients were evacuated to several uptown hospitals when their backup generators failed. Several tourists from abroad found shelter in Hamilton Heights after they were evacuated from their hotel in midtown. But uptown, Halloween festivities carried on without a second thought.
Suddenly, northern Manhattan was experiencing an influx of downtowners trying to escape their cold, dark and in many cases still wet apartments.
“It felt like a completely different Manhattan,” said Maria Alegre, 27, a Chinatown resident who was spending the coming days with her boyfriend’s family in the Upper East Side.
“As soon as we crossed 40th, it was like we could see the light,” she said about their trek uptown. “There were Duane Reades open, and people in restaurants; and stores were open. We could not even conceive of how different everything was.”
Hurricane Sandy knocked out power for a large portion of Manhattan, but most uptown power grids remained largely untouched. On Wednesday, Oct. 31, ConEd estimated that 159,500 Manhattan residents who live south of 40th Street still experienced power outages. At the same time, only 1,400 uptown residents had power outages.
After the hurricane-turned-nor’easter moved out of the tri-state area, the NYPD and FDNY were overwhelmed with phone calls.
One FDNY lieutenant in NoLita, who spoke without giving his name, said his company was very busy, but “with the limited resources we have, we’re doing the best we can.”
With the weather shifting toward cool, autumn temperatures, the 161,000 Manhattan residents in a state of blackout had an added worry: keeping warm.
“Now that it’s getting cold, we just don’t know,” said the FDNY lieutenant. “The weather is just now getting here.”
Wednesday’s high was 51 degrees. It is not expected to warm up in the coming days.
While keeping warm was mainly a downtown concern, there were patches of Lower Manhattan where power has returned; the New York Stock Exchange was open for trading on Thursday. It seems the powerhouses of wealth are back online.
The rest of downtown remained in the dark. Alegre joined many Lower Manhattan residents venturing downtown on Wednesday to check on her apartment.
“Dark!” she texted. “Leak from the fridge, and a spooky walk up, but good otherwise.”
In Alegre’s trek to her boyfriend’s family apartment on East 75th Street, she said she asked a police officer if power was out for the entire city, but she recalled him telling them everything above 40th Street was fine.
She said they almost didn’t believe the officer.
“We had no idea that they were completely untouched by it,” Alegre said. “When we ended up at his family’s place in the Upper East Side, they had no idea what we had gone through.”
Uptown became a whole new world. “We felt like refugees,” she said. On Tuesday, downtown became a whole new world for many uptowners too as Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood residents tried to get to work or just see the hurricane’s impact.
Many uptowners are venturing downtown to check out the damage for themselves.
“Everyone uptown is coming downtown, and everyone downtown is going uptown,” said Tom Smalls, a Verizon employee working near One New York Plaza on Wednesday.
“It’s all relative, how miserable you are on this island,” said John Lajoie, another Verizon employee.
Also downtown, the Battery Park underpass was still flooded from floor to ceiling; the tunnel clearance is 12 feet 7 inches.
While there are always major differences between these two Manhattans, there was one thing uniting them in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy: transportation. Getting uptown from the Financial District took nearly two hours on the M5 on Wednesday. In several instances, buses were so full they could not stop to pick up a single passenger. On Riverside Drive, four people who had never met one other shared a cab to get downtown after three buses passed them but did not stop.
New Yorkers want subway service to return. And it did on Thursday morning, but not downtown. All service ceased by West 34th Street with only two lines reaching that far south. Uptown was experiencing mass transit delays too. Several lines, like the B, C and 3 trains, were still out of service. Downtown tunnels and stations still needed major work and repairs from the water damage, and several stretches of track in Brooklyn and Queens need major repairs. The New York City subways that are in service can be found here.