Thee view from our living room Saturday morning at left; this morning (Sunday) as the heart of Irene approaches

The pasty grey pall that has hung over New York since yesterday is now complemented by torrential rain and gusting wind. Hurricane Irene is here, the eye of the storm to pass us in the next two hours.

The ghostly roaring of the wind and pelting rain on the window woke me around 3am. After a few minutes there was an eerie silence. After a while I realized that this is from the swirling bands of the hurricane passing over. It’s a cycle of torrential rain, then wind gusts of some 75 miles per hour, then a period of quiet until the next band passes through.

In some ways, it’s a psychologically taunting type of storm, especially when you have your blinds down and are left to rely on sounds and your imagination. (Blinds act as a safety net in case something causes the windows to shatter.) Is it getting better… worse… what does it look like out there?

An ill-advised peek reveals that my view of the East River and our surrounds is either a) completely obliterated by the rain or, b) in those eerie moments of calm, simply a world of giant puddles on the ground and wind-whipped vegetation. Nothing visually exciting.

Today will be a game of patience and waiting it out, whereas yesterday was a day of unending preparedness, like it or not. We were woken before 8am by every phone in our household – that would be all four of them between two adults – ringing simultaneously. This rude awakening was the start of a series of what has now been five calls, each one an automated message from the building management requiring us to respond and confirm that we have or are in the process of undertaking various preparedness actions.

My family of three live on a low-lying island in the middle of the East River. This sliver of green is Roosevelt Island, with postcard views of Manhattan on one side, and a five minute stroll to the other side, less picturesque views of the borough of Queens.

That leaves us in an imminent, but not activated, position. Residents in the lowest lying areas, coded “Zone A”, have been under a mandatory evacuation order. An estimated 250,000 of them had left by last night. We, in ‘Zone B’ only need to be concerned if the hurricane is a category 2 or greater. Irene is now a category 1, so we’re left only being concerned about losing electricity – more than 40,000 residents of Queens over the river are without power at the moment.

So, like every other New Yorker, we’ve bought our emergency supplies to last 72 hours. It reminded me of the Y2K freneticism, when I was on the team supporting this company’s* preparedness, and baked beans became a feature in my kitchen.

On Friday, shops in Manhattan had sold out of batteries, radios, torches, bottled water and candles – despite the city warning people not to use candles. When I picked up a bottle of hand sanitizer (no water  means no way to wash your hands) and others were buying massive bottles of water, one woman was crying into her phone, “All the candles and batteries are sold out, what am I going do?”

Shops were doing good business, and after four calls and three stops, I managed to buy what seemed to be the last battery-powered radio. In the same shop was a group of men in their twenties, buying a waterproof camera. Their plan was to film themselves in the path of the hurricane and become Youtube famous. It’s to these people that Mayor Bloomberg was speaking at his Saturday morning press conference when he said, “This is not a joke!” (And also to the two people who had to be fished out of the Hudson River when they decided to go for a paddle yesterday evening. Together with being rescued, they were also fined.

For now, we plan to wait without watching, and certainly no kayaking!



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