Superstorm hits home in Austin

Published 11:28 am Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Seawater floods the Ground Zero construction site Monday in New York. Sandy continued on its path Tuesday, as the storm forced the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds and soaking rain. -- John Minchillo/Associated Press

People with local ties feel effects of Sandy

Anthony Hernandez didn’t have to get ready for school today.

Anthony Hernandez

The former Austin resident is a teacher at a charter school in Washington D.C., his first job out of college. On a normal week, he would be busy teaching first-graders. This week, he and millions of others are waiting out what experts say is one of the most dangerous hurricanes in recent history, as superstorm Sandy made landfall Monday afternoon.

“D.C. Public Schools canceled last night for Monday and called for no school Tuesday,” Hernandez said Monday.

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As Sandy marched slowly inland, millions along the East Coast awoke Tuesday without power or mass transit, with huge swaths of the nation’s largest city, New York City, unusually vacant and dark.

New York was among the hardest hit, with its financial heart in Lower Manhattan shuttered for a second day and seawater cascading into the still-gaping construction pit at the World Trade Center. President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in the city and Long Island.

Water floods a beach and climbs up a wall early Monday on the coast of Rye, N.Y. The photo was taken by Bill and Linda Eisenberg, parents of Larry Eisenberg, general manager of the Austin Perkins.

The storm that made landfall in New Jersey on Monday evening with 80 mph sustained winds killed at least 17 people in seven states, cut power to more than 7.4 million homes and businesses from the Carolinas to Ohio, caused scares at two nuclear power plants and stopped the presidential campaign cold.

In D.C., Hernandez said, federal employees were also called out of work, and the city’s subway system shut down. He wasn’t concerned with evacuating the area, as he doesn’t have a car and the area where he lives, in the northwest part of city, has electric lines running underground. Still, he picked up some water and non-perishable food items over the weekend just in case the storm knocked its way through the D.C.

“My mom called me on Saturday and wanted to make sure I was prepared,” Hernandez said.

He believes people are taking the hurricane seriously, as he hasn’t heard of many people out and about.

“The city’s pretty dead right now,” he said.

Hernandez obviously isn’t the only person with Austin ties affected by the storm.

Larry Eisenberg, general manager at the Austin Perkins Restaurant and Bakery, said Monday his parents Bill and Linda had chosen to weather the storm in Rye, N.Y., about 25 miles north of New York City.

“My dad just called me before and said they lost power,” Eisenberg said. “They have to run power from the car battery to the sump pump to keep the water out of the basement.”

His parents made sure the car was full of gas before the storm hit, knowing it might prove their only source of power. It also powers their cellphones so they can communicate outside the storm area. Eisenberg has received cellphone pictures from his parents, whose house is only two blocks from the water. The pictures show water covering the beach and coming up the walls.

While his parents have weathered storms before in their home, he said he was worried the high tide would likely align with the worst of the hurricane, and that might stir up the “perfect storm.”

When Tuesday morning came around, Eisenberg said his parents were still doing fine, and their property had not been damaged. Others in their neighborhood were less fortunate.

“My dad said he [looked around] and there’s a lot of trees down on houses,” he said.

Other parts of the city have fared better. Stephanie Carver, a 1994 Austin High School graduate who now lives in Manhattan, said her neighborhood has done well holding out against the storm.

“We’re actually in pretty good shape,” she said. “We in this neighborhood have been really, really fortunate.”

Carver lives on Manhattan’s highest point of natural elevation, which could explain why she has faced no water damage. Unlike other neighborhoods, the area did not lose power and no one was asked to evacuate.

Still, there are lots of trees down in the neighborhood and most people have had to work from home because their offices are closed.

Carver and her neighbors have stocked up on supplies, and are helping one another out, especially her elderly neighbor.

“Everybody’s been checking on her,” she said.

The storm is expected to continue wreaking havoc today.

After lashing coastal cities and inundating parts of New York City with 13 feet of water, the core of the hybrid storm is beginning a long slog across Pennsylvania and upstate New York, with its effects spreading as far west as Wisconsin and Illinois.

The big storm, which has caused wind warnings from Chicago to Maine and Canada to Florida, will continue to be a problem for a couple more days with heavy rainfall, snow and local flooding.

The once-tropical system has merged with a wintry cold front and is likely to produce heavy rain in the East for the next two or three days — adding up to more flooding.

On the western shore of Lake Michigan, it’s kicking up near record-high waves of 20 feet. The National Weather Service calls this unusual, as it isn’t a winter storm, but the outskirts of the former tropical system that is so large it’s producing storm conditions on Lake Michigan.

For D.C. residents like Hernandez, this superstorm will be something to remember.

“Growing up in Minnesota, we obviously don’t have much experience with hurricanes,” he said. “Hurricane Sandy is my first so far. It’s going to be a pretty memorable one.”

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.