It was late Sunday, Oct. 28th, most New Yorkers were just beginning to think about what the Halloween costume we were going to try and rig together, on the way home from watching the game. The announcer on the radio said something about a major storm coming the following day, and most folks figured, “I hope he’s right, maybe if it’s bad enough, I’ll have off work on Tuesday …” Having weathered the effects of Hurricane Irene just over a year earlier, and being jaded to the weathermen predicting catastrophic events every other week, it was brushed off as “No big deal.” A few folks headed out to fill their cars with gas if they had a long commute, some bought water and other supplies, much to the chagrin of the masses, those preparing were deemed worrywarts. As the night went on, the winds kept picking up. Then it was calm. Overnight, calm. Even early in the day on Monday, public facilities were preemptively closed for the storm and it was a beautiful and calm. As the morning became the afternoon and the winds never gave a hint of slowing, it started to become clear that this was not an average storm heading our way. Reports started coming in over the television that parts of West Virginia and Virginia were being blanketed with snow. Outside, the clouds overhead were rushing by as if they were running late for a subway during peak hours. Radio stations began advising folks that they should fill up with gas and then stay in for the night. Little did anyone know how important a full tank would be over the next few days. Hardware and home improvement stores had sold out of generators. As day turned to night, the darkness outside swiftly gave way to darkness indoors, as the winds picked up and trees began falling on power lines, taking out the electricity in most neighborhoods. Once the power companies saw that poles and power stations were in harm’s way, they began preemptively shutting down the power to the bulk of the island. Then the water came …
Sandy was officially only a Category One Storm, and what it lacked in force, it made up for in sheer size and more effectively, timing. Had Sandy come through during the middle of the day, in the middle of the lunar cycle, it would have been handled. But Sandy was a Superstorm, and it hit New York and New Jersey at high tide, during a full moon and had a footprint of roughly 1.8 million square miles, from the Mid-Atlantic to Ohio and up into Canada. This was no ordinary, average storm. Couple the massive size and effect of the storm with the complacency that had been brewing ever since New York had “handled” Hurricane Irene just 15 months prior, and what you get is a state of shocked emergency and unprepared terror.
At its peak, the new record high tide rose a full nine-feet above average, nearly three-feet higher than the previous record set in 1821. Sustained winds reached 90 miles per hour and gusted up over 110 miles per hour. Any free-standing structure was under duress and anything not tied down became a projectile. Homes and businesses near the water were especially jeopardized due to the extreme high tide pouring water into the ground floor of many buildings. Particularly susceptible were any outdoor tennis facilities that had recently raised its bubble to insulate the courts. The newly-raised tennis bubbles, with penetrable outer linings and delicate footing, were left standing in a few cases, however most were not so fortunate, including, Sportime at Randalls Island, West Side Tennis Club and the Tennis Club of Riverdale.
Once the wind jostled the bubble off its base, and with the power down, backup generators could not push the amount of air needed to keep the bubble standing. At 3:00 a.m. during the worst stretch of the storm, 100-plus mile per hour winds were pushing the inflatable structures off their foundations and most would not make it through the night. At West Side Tennis Club, one of their bubbles went down, but luckily, the larger of the two stayed up and they were able to keep programming going through the week while repairs were made. Due to the initial power outages, the influx of out of town help coming to the area and the inability for fuel tankers and trucks to get to their original destinations, fuel and particularly gas were in very low supply. Rationing began one week after the storm as gas lines grew from minutes to hours. Coordinating the rebuilding effort became increasingly difficult with a new premium on the necessity of such a vital element as fuel.
The Tennis Club of Riverdale saw this event as an opportunity to take one of the best clubs in New York and make it even better. After losing its inflatable structure in the storm, Tennis Club of Riverdale has improved their facilities with a brand new bubble structure boasting the brightest tennis courts in New York City.
The Sportime complex at Randalls Island also lost its bubble temporarily due to the high winds and tidal swells. Luckily, they have a number of other indoor facilities and were able to continue programming unhindered for the five days it took to repair the inflatable structure and get the club back to full operation.
Those who were lucky enough to make it through the devastation relatively unscathed, poured out to volunteer and donate what they could. People from all over the continent flooded our streets with electric repair vans and construction trucks. Many local tennis clubs have used the devastation as an opportunity to upgrade their facilities.
That sentiment is a very common one among effected communities. Although we were battered, and in some cases, broken, the strength of the New York tennis community will move forward and rebuild these impacted facilities.