Photographer:Fotograaf: Laura Lenz
Maastricht student stuck by super storm Sandy
“It was the longest night of my life. I was scared as hell: the dark, the horrible noise – and I was all alone.” These are the words of Laura Lenz, a Maastricht student who is living in Manhattan while doing a four-month internship as a junior researcher at New York University. She survived Hurricane Sandy, which hit more than ten American states last week. Here, she tells us her story.
At first, Laura Lidija Lenz, a Cultures of Arts, Science and Technology (CAST) master’s student at Maastricht University, didn’t take the news about the upcoming storm seriously. After all, she was living in the middle of Manhattan, the most modern part of New York City. And how many times had she been warned in Germany – incorrectly – that horrible things would happen, only to find it was never more than a gentle rain?
On Monday morning (29 October: D-Day) she felt there was “something in the air”. Around 6 pm the wind was howling and Lenz hid herself in her bathroom, the only room without a window. She was afraid that the one in her small, 13th floor studio would break. At 8 pm, when Sandy was expected to hit, “the horror started”, she writes in her long email. “Manhattan’s skyline went off, a complete blackout. All you could hear was the wind and the stuff it was chasing around.” She wanted to call her mother, but she had lost reception on her mobile. “I was scared as hell: the dark, the horrible noise – and I was all alone. I didn’t dare to walk to my neighbours’ as there was no light in the hall and the scenario was already creepy enough. It was the longest night of my life.”
No showers, no toilet
The next morning – her window had survived – there was no water and no electricity. This could last for days, her doorman said. This meant: no cooking, no showers, no phone charging, no heating, no toilet. Luckily enough she had just enough mobile coverage to call her mother, who told her of the damage Sandy had inflicted: collapsed houses in Staten Island, Queens burning, lower Manhattan flooded.
Lenz was running out of food, and so went to the first supermarket she could find that was open, selling only basics like water and butter rolls. It was dark inside, because the electricity had been cut off here too. She didn’t dare to buy much, thinking of the people who needed it more. Then she saw that New York University was giving away free food to its students and that one of the libraries had emergency power. Back home she texted her professor, Martha Rust: “I’m fine besides the dark and a cold that’s coming up.” Rust came immediately with candles, bottles of water and medicine.
Angel of grace
On Thursday 1 November Lenz felt hungry and sick. The apartment was cold, “I felt stinky since I’d had no shower for three days. It was my personal low point”, she writes. Then Grace, a woman she had met two days earlier, saw Lenz sitting in her building’s lobby, tired, hungry, alone and unable to walk up to the 13th floor. “Come to my place, you can sleep on my couch.” After a long hot shower, a meal and 12 hours sleep, Lenz felt as though she was “in heaven”.
On Saturday the electricity and water in her flat was back on, most stores were open and food was available. In the evening her new friend Grace told her about the marathon runners – the cancelled New York Marathon was supposed to be on Sunday 4 November 4 – who planned to run to Staten Island, the area that had been worst hit by Sandy, the next day. Everyone was told to carry as much food, batteries and clothes as possible. Lenz decided to join them. “The atmosphere was impressive. A ship full of helpers. When we arrived, the things I saw were beyond my imagination: destroyed houses, cars, furniture standing around in the middle of nowhere, people trying to clean up, many were crying; the misery was indescribable.” Everybody helped for hours. “After Grace helped me so warmly, I felt that I needed to give something back now that I was better. And I think that 1200 runners carrying supplies really made a difference. Not a big one, but we gave people hope – and that’s what counts. I have to say that it was a horrible time, but I feel that the worse things got, the closer New Yorkers came together.”
Want to read the whole story about Laura Lenz? See here