Hurricane Sandy Photos: My Superstorm Retrospective

Damon Dahlen
Staff Photographer at AOL

Two weeks ago, I found myself in a little over three feet of rising water, fighting off the current's attempts to tug me under, all for a photo. I think it would have been a good photo had I gotten it. I was photographing an underground parking garage in Lower Manhattan as it was being flooded by Hurricane Sandy's storm surge. I had photographed the flooding garage from every angle, using varying degrees of exposure as it was extremely dark during the blackout.

However, that just wasn't good enough. There was one more shot that I really needed: up close and personal. I made my way to the mouth of the beast and tried to peer around the corner to capture my Hail Mary shot. Instead, the current sucked my leg out from under me. I was able to catch myself in between the wall and a roadside planter housing a small bush. When the planter destabilized, I retreated, knowing my plan was thwarted. What on earth was I thinking, taking that risk for just one shot?

Alas, that is what it is all about. That one shot! As photojournalists, we are always seeking that one shot. The culmination of all our artistic-storytelling-correctly-exposed-under-pressure type of image that will tell the story in such a way to evoke emotion while maintaining journalistic integrity. We take the risks necessary for that storytelling endeavor.

Hurricane Sandy was an exciting, albeit dangerous, storm to cover. I enjoyed every hair-raising moment during those initial hours where the storm made landfall and turned Lower Manhattan into its own playground. During the onslaught of Sandy, I'm unsure if I ever really felt I was in danger. In retrospect, looking at the images from that night and the week after, I see a much different storm than the one I was so excited to photograph.

It was a storm fraught with danger: Open manhole covers, flying road signs and white water rapid-type flooding. The interminable freakish valkyrie screams from the skyscrapers warned of imminent danger. The rain and water pummeled my face from every direction, like a thousand needles were stuck in my skin. It took every bit of concentration I had to focus the camera and see through the soaking wet eyepiece. I took shelter where I could when the wind took on a force so powerful that it sounded like a freight train, one capable of canceling out the sound of the valkyries.

Now that I have had time to contemplate the storm and sift through the photos of various assignments I had covered over the past week and a half, I see the massive force and power that made up the hurricane we call Sandy. The storm not only ravaged us with wind, rain and flooding that devastated homes. It eventually took away the very luxuries and necessities we take for granted. I saw people argue, scream, even tear up over gas shortages. I saw people taking advantage of others simply because they could by charging more for a taxi ride, or offering a 2.5 gallon gas can for 50 dollars (yes, I witnessed this happen).

I also saw the dominating spirit of the givers in all this. The Red Cross helping to bring food and supplies to the downtrodden in Hoboken, New Jersey even as they were ridiculed and yelled at for not giving enough. The National Guard assisting everyone from the elderly to the smallest of children at a shelter that had been set up at the Jersey City National Guard Armory. I saw companies like AT&T provide generators for people in Lower Manhattan to power their cell phones so they could speak with family members and let them know they were okay. I also saw random pedestrians push a person's vehicle a half of a mile to a gas station.

I was able to witness these stories first hand, and hope I can relay them to you via the photos you see here. In retrospect, I would not change how I covered the storm. The only thing I might have done differently is stock up on some gas!