x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Emiratis in the US all safe as Hurricane Sandy passes

Of the roughly 300 Emiratis in the area affected by Hurricane Sandy, all are reported safe by the UAE's embassy in Washington.

Emirati comedian Ali Al Sayed took this picture of a near-empty Times Square in New York ahead of Hurricane Sandy's arrival on Monday night.
Emirati comedian Ali Al Sayed took this picture of a near-empty Times Square in New York ahead of Hurricane Sandy's arrival on Monday night.

DUBAI // The roughly 300 Emiratis who were in the path of Hurricane Sandy when it began tearing up the US east coast on Monday evening are all safe according to the UAE embassy in Washington.

The hurricane was downgraded to a post-tropical storm yesterday, but not before high winds and rain had battered the densely populated coast, killing at least 38, flooding neighbourhoods and leaving millions without electricity.

The UAE ministry of foreign affairs, in coordination with its embassy in Washington, launched a 24-hour operations room to track the condition of Emiratis, communicate with them and provide them with safety instructions.

"There are less than 300 Emiratis in the affected areas, and we have been keeping in touch with them," a spokesman at the embassy said. Those 300 include more than 200 students studying at universities in the affected areas and around 60 who travelled to the US for specialist medical treatment at hospitals.

"So far we have not heard of any incidents involving UAE nationals and we hope it stays that way. The only calls we have been getting are from concerned parents in the UAE, or Emiratis calling in to say they are safe and well."

Ali Al Sayed, an Emirati comedian who was in New York to perform at the 9th New York Arab American Comedy Festival, said he followed instructions to stay indoors and was slightly disappointed he had nothing exciting to report.

"They make you go out and buy food and prepare for the worst, and you write a secret note to your family to say you love them in case something happens... 12 hours later, and you're sitting there eating pretzels and watching other people living the excitement on TV.

"Don't get me wrong: alhamdulillah, I'm glad I'm safe and nothing happened to me."

New York's preparedness for the hurricane impressed Shamma Al Mazrui, a third-year student at New York University Abu Dhabi who is currently studying in Manhattan.

"We all have been watching the news and the mayor explained everything in a clear, concise way with instructions," Ms Al Mazrui said. "New York has been an ideal example of how to operate in any kind of disaster."

Peter Ward, a former Dubai resident who is also attending university in New York and living on the Upper West Side, said he saw the sky light up when the Consolidated Edison substation on the East River exploded, leaving 750,000 without electricity.

"When I left Dubai I was excited at the prospect of varied weather, but I wasn't expecting anything like this," he said.

Mr Ward expects it will take some time before things return to normal, "The subway is flooded and everyone depends on that for transport. It may take a week to get the trains running again."

Mr Al Sayed said he ventured onto the street and walked a few blocks to see a crane dangling from the top of a skyscraper under construction on West 57th Street in Manhattan. A Fox News reporter on the scene asked him where he had found coffee.

"I saw that he was cold and tired, I said: 'You know what, I'll go get you coffee'."

When he returned 15 minutes later with steaming cups for the reporter and his crew, he was asked how much they owed. Mr Al Sayed joked: "Nothing. Just tell them an Arab Muslim was nice to you today."

Elsewhere in the US, Shahab Al Awadi, an Emirati student at North Virginia Community College, said they weren't affected by much other than some power outages.

"We received messages from the embassy about what precautionary measures to take and how to get in touch with them," he said.

Meanwhile, in Washington DC, Emirati commentator Sultan Al Qassemi said Sandy's arrival was anti-climatic. Though his conference talks were cancelled because of the storm, he saw only a few knocked-down fences, "but we were fine", he said.

Etihad Airways flights to New York are due to resume as normal today.

Emirates Airline has cancelled flights to New York but will resume its Washington flight. Etihad yesterday delayed two flights and Emirates cancelled four and delayed two.

Dubai resident Lindsay Johnston has been stuck in New Orleans because her flight home, which routes through Washington, was delayed.

The 32-year-old PR executive from Scotland was in New Orleans for a wedding and scheduled to return on Monday, but hopes to get space on a flight today.

"Being stuck in New Orleans due to a hurricane in the north is quite ironic, I suppose," she said.

All passengers are advised to contact their airline for updated information before going to the airport.


- With additional reporting by Jen Thomas