The instructions sounded clear enough to me.
“Earlier today, I signed an order for a mandatory evacuation of homes and businesses in Zone A—low-lying coastal areas of the city,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Sunday.
Zone A? That would be us. An automatic email from the NYC Office of Emergency Management reiterated the point. A robocall from Con Ed said the company might have to shut off electricity to our building. Even the parking garage sent out a message saying the place would shut down “at 6:30 p.m. SHARP.”
None of this seemed like an undue burden. The whole region was battening down as Hurricane Sandy approached. The Town of Islip had ordered the evacuation of Fire Island hours earlier. A mandatory evacuation order was already in place for the residents of East Island, West Island and Shore Road in Glen Cove. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority was shutting down service on the Long Island Rail Road and the New York City subway and bus system.
So I was a little surprised when I jammed into a crowded elevator in my residential building and found myself surrounded by neighbors of two distinctly different minds. Most were carrying suitcases and—with kids, pets and significant others in tow—heading for higher ground. But a few were calmly ambling over to the grocery store across the street for supplies, as if the looming storm were nothing more than a glorified snow holiday.
Some seemed slightly contemptuous about the fuss. There’s no problem staying, one woman told the rest of us—if the building staff goes door to door ordering everyone out, just don’t answer the knock. Keep plenty of water in the bathtub, and make sure you have enough food.
Our decision was already made. We would ride out the storm with our dog in a hotel room upstate. But during the drive up, I did wonder if perhaps we were overreacting.
Then came one last email from our building staff. If you choose to ignore the order and stay in the building, it said, try to avoid the elevators: “In the event of a sudden loss of power … elevators will come to a safe stop, however, there is a potential for passengers to become entrapped.”
Suddenly, all doubt vanished. Eleven-foot storm surges, 90-mile-per-hour winds and dicey electricity? That’s one thing. But to ride out the perfect storm trapped for hours or perhaps days in a pitch-black elevator car? Unthinkable.
So here we are on Monday morning, on the southern edge of the Adirondacks, waiting for … whatever. And then we’ll go back to … whatever. There are many choices—but very few certainties—in life. This choice seems to beat the alternatives.