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Sandy leaves scars of division in New York

November 01, 2012

A commuter runs for the first Metro North train at Grand Central Station in White Plains, New York after the MTA opened up the railroad on a limited schedule, October 31, 2012 as New Yorkers cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The storm left large parts of York City without power and transportation . - AFP Photo

NEW YORK: It is a tale of two cities. In one, there is light, restaurants are open and the elevators work. In the other, there is darkness, hardly any water and not even a one dollar slice of pizza.

This is the divide in Manhattan left by superstorm Sandy. The have-nots are the hundreds of thousands of people south of 39th Street, who lost electricity when a power sub-station exploded in the middle of Monday's storm.

No showers, no toilets, hardly any mobile phone signal and an Everest climb for those who live on the upper floors of apartment blocks.

The only light in the chic streets of Greenwich Village and the East Village at night comes from police cars on patrol.

The privileged in northern Manhattan enjoy warm showers, watch American Idol on television and go to the bistro as if Sandy was a distant memory.

Traffic lights work, the iPad remains a permanent fixture, the Metropolitan Opera reopened on Wednesday and the gloved doorman still opens the door.

To add insult to injury, when the New York metro restarts its limited operation on Thursday, it will be in northern Manhattan.

Mike Shannon works in Wall Street and lives in the East Village, both on the dark side. He has to go north to get food and other essentials. “Nothing is open where I live,” he said. Shannon has two dogs he has to carry down to street level to do what all dogs do.

Clement Bodmer, a French tourist, sat in a cafe on the light side of Lexington Avenue using a plug to recharge his laptop.

The apartment that Bodmer and his family have rented for the week is on the ninth floor and has neither power nor water. The family has a daughter in a wheelchair who has to be carried down. They go to the north for the toilets and to eat.

Many people in the south have tried to get hotel rooms in the north or sought a room with a friend, or at least to take a shower. Hotels are now all full, except those without electricity which are now cutting prices.

At one 25-storey building on Sixth Avenue, three quarters of the residents have left, according to doorman Nick.

The building managers have given out pocket lamps and bottles of water and set up portable toilets. A member of the staff will accompany any resident who is too scared to climb the darkened stairs alone. Nick has warned those who leave that there is no point returning before Saturday.

On the west side of Manhattan, the light starts again at the Empire State Building on 34th Street. Life is at its neon-normal with traffic jams and crowded restaurants.

But there are still reminders of the crisis and division.

Sonja Kazma, a German tourist, said there was neither electricity nor hot water in her hotel. “Everything is dark,” she said.

“I wonder why Americans can fly to the moon but they cannot fix electricity problems within a couple of days. This is incredible. I never expected it to be like that,” she said.

“I want to get out of here as quickly as possible, I am really fed up with this,” said Kazma.