After Hurricane Sandy

New York, NY, USA

Queue at a deli

Shoppers queue outside a deli in the East Village

New York, NY, USA

08:00 Still no power, and cell service has gone too. People on the street stop to exchange what little they know, a mixture of news snippets and outright rumors. I remember this from the 2003 blackout – everyone wants to know what's going on, no one knows anything definite.

09:30 Lower New York is covered with fallen leaves and broken twigs. Here and there are fallen tree limbs or whole trees that were uprooted by the storm. A few shops are open. The owners stand at the door, allowing shoppers to enter the darkened stores one at a time to get what they need.

09:45 A small fleet of ConEd trucks is parked at the north end of Union Square. They don't seem to be doing much, but the infrastructure may have taken damage that can't be fixed with just a few trucks.

10:00 The streets are full of emergency vehicles. All the police cars have their lights on all the time, giving them priority at intersections where the signals are out and drivers have to cautiously negotiate their way across. Amongst the cruisers are an astonishing number of unmarked police vehicles, now revealed by their flashing lights. At times it seems as if one in ten of the ostensibly civilian cars on the road are actually police vehicles.

10:30 57th Street is blocked off with metal barriers and caution tape. It is raining fitfully, and the unfinished spike of One57 towers over the wet, empty streets. The damaged crane clings to its side, the broken boom dangling perilously. The wind has dropped, but occasional gusts still make the boom swing back and forth.

11:15 Times Square is packed with tourists, and the lights are on. Adverts play on the giant screens, the stores all have power. It feels like being in a different world.

12:30 In the thirties on the West Side, two men are sweeping up the remains of a giant window that seems to have exploded, scattering fragments of laminated glass over the cobbles of the street. A block further south, on a street lined with art galleries, the owners are pumping water out of their galleries using diesel pumps.

13:00 On the west side, the power comes down as far as 26th Street. You can look up the avenues and see exactly where the cutoff point is, marked by working traffic signals and lighted storefronts. On the east side, power starts north of 39th Street. There are no traffic signals below that, and drivers are engaged in a hesitant game of chicken. Crossing the avenues is more than a little frightening, although most of the drivers are respectful of pedestrians. There are many more cars and pedestrians on the streets now.

14:00 On E 10th Street, a young tree has been completely uprooted. A young guy passing tells me "Hurricane Sandy did that. You know, the hurricane we had last night?" I am momentarily tempted to feign ignorance: "Really, there was a hurricane? When did that happen?"

14:05 On Avenue B, a bodega owner sells me his last four candles for $2. None of the store owners I've seen so far seems to have yielded to the temptation to inflate their prices. Aside from the fact that all business is transacted at the door of the shop, and usually in whole numbers of dollars, it's very much business as usual.

19:15 The Lower East Side is utterly dark. A few candles show in the windows of the houses, but otherwise the only lights belong to a few cars driving through the darkened streets. The sky overhead is a strange pale-green-gray color, the low cloudbase lit from beneath by the parts of New York City that still have power.

19:30 M. and I go for a walk in the dark, staying close to home because crossing the bigger streets is even more intimidating in total darkness than during daylight. On Delancey, an Asian couple have set up a table in front of the shuttered Burger King and are selling flashlights and batteries. Again, the prices are entirely reasonable. They are entrepreneurs, not profiteers.

19:35 Motor City on Ludlow is open. They have candles, and ice, and bottled beer, and even a battery-powered boombox playing music. Everything is refreshingly normal. The bar is no darker than it normally is, the music is fine, and the beers are large and cold. The barman mixes the tail end of three or four bottles of spirits and pours everyone a free shot.

21:00 Police cars cruise down Ludlow, bathing the dark interior of the bar in blue and red light. One stops outside, and a cop comes in. "You have to close by ten," he tells the barman. "Last orders at nine-thirty. I don't want anyone stumbling out of here at one. There've been gunpoint robberies – people taking advantage of the no lights."

21:45 We walk home. The neighborhood is dark and silent. No one robs us.