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Surviving Sandy – 74 Students from Wales in NJ

The Day After Super Storm SandySuper Storm Sandy

I have only been a guide for almost 2 years and I certainly have faced some challenges of groups in bad weather but Super Storm Sandy really gave new meaning to the word challenge…
My little company Kristin’s NY Tours booked 3 schools arriving from Wales on the weekend of the storm. The group I was touring with had never been to NY so I agreed to hold their hands throughout their time in NY… On Saturday I made my way to JFK and waited for 2 separate flights and accompanied the larger late group. The first group arrived earlier that day and were already at their hotel. I was a bit surprised that the last arrival even departed from London, didn’t they realize what was coming?! They were one of the last flight’s to arrive at JFK on Sunday evening at almost 9pm. Marcus, the guide working directly with me bravely went to the airport and got them to their hotel in the city around 10pm (1 hr before the storm hit NJ) The bus company was from Brooklyn, so he was lucky to off in Williamsburg.
My group was quite large 74 students and 8 adults. The Tour Operator (TO) sent 2 yellow buses (uggghhhh) and I picked up Marcus after staying at the hotel in Lyndhurst, NJ the night before… Something told me to bring an extra pair of pants and thank goodness because we got to the hotel after 12 and all NJ Transit buses to NY were done for the night.
We did a pretty nice MSO (general tour) of the city and in between stops I frantically moved appointments for sites that were paid for, I managed to get Bubba Gump’s move their reservation from dinner to lunch… SOMETHING USUALLY IMPOSSIBLE, but they were probably not even going to be open for dinner. I knew things were bad when I called The Empire State Building and they said they were closing at 5pm. My students were the last group to go up that day.
The mayor ordered that the subway be closed at 7pm so all shops were ordered to close by 5pm… I sent them shopping in Herald Square and went to look for some things for myself. The TO director called and sent emails begging that I stay with the group. I had a feeling I wouldn’t be getting home too soon. Our buses got us to the hotel just before dark and I arranged for a pizza party delivery for the group… The Courtyard Marriott pretty much GAVE us the conference room for 3 days straight! Exhausted, I went to my room and waited for Marcus’s call. Our group arrived safely but were upset because everything was closed and they didn’t know where to go eat… I told them to call their breakfast spot, Olympic Diner, which is where they wound up eating for 2 days straight.
There was no way out of the hotel on Sunday, we had dinner planned at The NY Deli across from the hotel, I had that moved to a late lunch and in heavy wind, 85 of us crossed the street for one of the best lunches I’ve ever seen! Ginormous NY deli sandwiches, super sized rib dishes and cakes a foot high were the highlight of the day before Sandy made landfall just a few hours later. The students and the chaperones were laughing and taking photos and for just a moment I felt like things weren’t so bad, everyone was happy.
By 8pm wind began whipping around the 4 story building so hard I could feel it shaking as if there was a mini earthquake. I called my Mom and we chatted as I looked out the window… I could no longer see New York City in the distance. Clouds were moving very quickly and it started rain very suddenly. I think that’s when I started to pray… I called the front desk and asked them to tell the lead teacher to keep the kids downstairs as long as possible. No need to have them freaking out in their rooms when they could be together and away from the windows upstairs. I took the longest hot shower possible, filled an ice bucket, for fresh water and I went to the lobby bar and tried to read. It was about 11pm, I will admit against usual practice, I had a glass of wine. Half a glass in, the lights went out.
I bolted for the front desk and we all seemed to go into some sort of synchronized action. They handed me a flashlight, and I ran up the stairs to the girl’s floor as one of the security gaurds went to the boy’s floor. Doors were popping open with girls in their pj’s, a few of them calm and a good few a bit hysterical. Two girls who were obviously already asleep, said “What’s the big deal, can everybody be quiet, so what the lights are out GO TO BED!” Another girl was trying to hold back tears in front of her door, I said, “are you ok,” she shook her head no, I said you need a hug, she shook her head yes, so I hugged her by the shoulders and whispered that everything was going to be ok. She began sobbing but said “thank you Miss, thank you for staying with us.” A girl in her room was screaming frantically into her I-Phone saying “Mummy Mummy Mummy, I’m so scared, the lights are out and we can’t see ANYTHING out of the windows. I told her to say Good Night to Mummy and stop scaring her… you’re going to be fine. Save your battery and in any event you can text her. The best line came as I exited the room, a blond girl standing calmly in the hall with her arms folded in front of her, stopped me and said “Miss, does this mean we’re not going shopping on Friday?” I swung around, shining the flashlight in her face and before I could say anything Matthew the GL said “Shopping! If you don’t get your arse in your room!” It was just the break we needed to stop the panic.
I went to my room and started pacing. I looked out of the long widow and began to see water rising as fast as one would fill a bathtub. High tide was pushing and swelling water in the street like a rushing river. The car alarm on a sedan across the street had gone off and I watched as the car was immersed in minutes above the hood… There was a bus parked in the lot as well, water covered the tires past the rims. I panicked wondering if indeed water would breech the hotel and I decided to go back down to the lobby.
I found Matthew, his wife and son staring out of the lobby bar window looking quite bewildered. We watched as huge objects began floating by. Their son asked me what it could be and I said, only God knows, trees, maybe even furniture. 2nd funny line of the night, “Wow do you think there could be alligators”?!
Just then I realized that that fast flow was going in the other direction, high tide was receding but water was still moving so fast. The front area of the hotel got smaller and smaller, I couldn’t believe it… Water arrived about 2 inches from the bags of sand and bales of hay outside the front door as water began to find it’s way around the building, we were now officially SURROUNDED by 6ft of water on every side.
I went back up around 12:30 and I called a friend in Delaware who kept me company on the phone as I continued to watch the water pushing back. I was kinda hysterical… Remember the NY Deli across the street? Well, it was part of a Comfort Inn Motel and those six feet of water that surrounded us, actually flooded them… I could see people moving in the glass window of the corridor, they were evacuating their rooms and going up to the 2nd floor of the motel. The building was actually situated 11ft lower than us and took on all that water surging past us.
I finally tried to get some sleep, and woke up shortly after when electricity was restored at about 2:30 a.m. I couldn’t resist turning in the TV and of course continued to watch BREAKING NEWS which was happening right in front of me.
The next morning at first light, I did a little film CNN style of the damages. Plants and trees strewn everywhere, a minivan that floated out of it’s parking space was sitting at the end of the street. The wheels of the bus parked across from my windows could barely be seen and the water in the middle of the street was was still, but about 3 – 4ft high. I learned that a nearby dam had burst and that’s what sent so much water at high tide, the receding water had flooded all the intersections and was taking a long time to go down.
Workman and engineers were everywhere, the owner of the hotel managed to get to the property. I heard him say that he never thought something like this could happen; he said we were very lucky! Four rooms windows crashed in, they were on the side of the hotel away from us. I then saw emergency services arriving and there were firemen outside, I went out and said “Hey Guys, Got water?” We all laughed for a minute and I told them what I was doing there and asked for a little report to give my chaperones. They explained the dam break 2 miles away and that thousands of people were without electricity. Fallen trees were floating around like ramming poles so it was important to get to those cleaned up. There were hundreds of people trapped in high water zones who needed to be evacuated. As we spoke a rope was being tied from one side of the street to the other… They were making a line for people to hold onto over the while crossing the river of water. The motel across from us was being evacuated and CONDEMNED from the damages. They said the building would never be back up to code. Tears came to my eyes as I watched Chris, the owner of the deli and about 20 people carrying luggage and garbage bags over their heads across the street. I hugged him as he stepped up and he said, “that was my life, they’re condemning it, there’s so much water damage I can’t believe it… Now they say there’ll be another water surge tonight at high tide, if it rains it could go up to 10 ft! I’m going home, but all these people are going to a nearby shelter.”
I lost my breath and could only thank the powers that be that did not happen to us…
I went in and addressed the GL’s and asked them to talk to the students, I wanted to organize some things for them to do after breakfast, find out what was happening in NY and, well, keep it moving.
The hotel manager and I organized a lunch set-up, games a couple of videos and other stuff. I tried to see if we could rent a coach to go to the local mall, but of course it was closed. We spent the day at the hotel making the best of it through Tuesday, waited and watched the weather. Not too much rain, no more flooding and I confirmed our buses for the next day.
I finally sent the group off on Wednesday for their excursion to DC and of course SHOPPPING at Woodbury Commons. They made a huge poster for the hotel staff and awarded me a UK Olympic mug and a tip directly from the students. They GL’s and teachers were super grateful and hugged me as I held back tears… It was over. We survived Super Storm Sandy.
Time to get in a cab, go home, pack a real bag and leave on Thursday morning… At 1pm in Tarrytown NY I addressed my students and chaperones… “Hi, I’m your Tour Director Kristin, everybody ready for Boston!
That’s a whole ‘nother story!… Tour Guide life goes on. 

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