Evacuating Red Hook

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Boats tossed around in the Hudson River around 79th Street. (Kate Hinds/WNYC)

I have only been evacuated twice in my career as a journalist. The first time was when in a military vehicle in Iran as I got caught in a crowd of millions at the funeral of Ayatollah Khomanie back in 1989, and the second time was by boat from Kinshasa, Zaire in 1995 during a series of riots over the currency where a number of foreign diplomats were injured and reporters and diplomats were pulled out by the French and Belgians. 

It's an eerie feeling being evacuated. All time comes to a halt and you are at the mercy of the process of getting from point A, vulnerability and danger, to point B, safety and the chance to take time and pick up where you left off.

My tally of evacuations has just doubled, only this time it's from my home in Brooklyn. The first time was during Hurricane Irene 14 months ago. It was really only a technical evacuation as I was already away from New York with my family we just waited out the storm and went home to some slight water damage and a good story we had missed.

This time it is for Hurricane Sandy. My building in the neighborhood of Red-Hook Brooklyn is just a few steps from the water in the middle of the evacuation zone. Three of my children went with friends on higher ground in Brooklyn, and the other two and my wife and I are in a building in Manhattan. We text from cell phones, we surf for pictures of flooding, and we wait to see what kind of history this storm will make, for New York City, and for our family.

Red hook is a neighborhood that has seen a lot of history dating back to the pre-Civil War days of the tall ship New York harbor. My building is a cotton warehouse from the 1850s long ago abandoned then used for storage then abandoned again along with the whole neighborhood as center of drug and gang activity, one of the most dangerous in the city, then finally resettled and gentrified. My abandoned building turned into a loft building with a fancy grocery store downstairs.

Red Hook is the scene of the movie On the Waterfront, the mid-20th century film about tough longshoremen and tougher corrupt union bosses.

in all of this history the water a backdrop for shoreline Brooklyn where the tall ships gave way to steamships and then container ships and now cruise ships but mostly just fewer ships. The water is less of a presence than ever before — a nice view — for people in loft buildings.

The famous harbor winds, a reminder of the elements, an annoyance, the idea of being overrun by the ocean, a storm, the tides, that idea is out of mind. 

But now it is twice that I have been evacuated and this home, this fine view, this building from the mid-19th century that has faced every wind gust, every storm, every tidal surge up until the 21st century. This building with its huge wooden beams from trees long dead from forests long overrun with buildings and pavement. Will those beams creak with memory in this storm or will they be awakened by the force of something new?

Something more shocking even than nicely appointed residential flats looking out on a nice view in a place known for toughness. Red Hook will have to remember its toughness this week as it absorbs a left hook from a storm named Sandy. Who's betting against Red Hook this time?

Hosted by:

John Hockenberry

Comments [5]

Ankush Narula from Fort Greene, Brooklyn, NY

Actually, the film "On the Waterfront" was based on Arthur Miller's 1947 screenplay called "The Hook". Thanks for the article and the audio - and maybe I'll see you in the neighborhood - helping friends with some damage on Dikeman. In the meantime, glad you're safe.

Oct. 31 2012 11:49 PM

I listened until 11pm last evening to your special program as you invited callers to share
their experiences about the "superstorm...just wanted to say " thanks"...great job, a comforting
mosaic was indeed created. All the best returning to your home with wife and kids!

Oct. 31 2012 12:54 PM
Dan Peck from New Jersey

On The Waterfront was filmed and set in Hoboken, NJ, not Red Hook.

Oct. 30 2012 03:37 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

This storm was more than just "A Contender" in Red Hook this time...

Oct. 30 2012 02:48 PM
A friend in Boston from Sunny Boston MA

Nice reporting, today, Mr. Hockenberry. Most of us care about our homes, our commute, our neighborhood, our workplace. I have no idea how our 90-something year old parents are doing inEdgewater, NJ. Can't reach them by phone. But thanks to your reporting today, I have a sense of how profoundly changed the tri-state area is, if only temporarily, and the magnitude of our reliance on infrastructure, which we tend to ignore. May you continue to be safe and blessed in your career and family.

Oct. 30 2012 12:07 PM

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