See also: Timeline.
At about noon on November 8th, 2006, a bomb exploded in Kirby Plaza, Midtown, Manhattan.
It was estimated to be a 10-kiloton nuclear explosion. Effects from the blast stretched the width of the island, north through half of Central Park, and south to Madison Square Garden.
A crater 300 feet in diameter now fills the space between what used to be 57th and 42nd streets, centered along Broadway. For half a mile in all directions from ground zero, buildings were largely obliterated. Some battered structures still stand on the edges of this range, broken and unstable. At this half-mile point, 50% of those present on the day of the explosion died from the blast or shrapnel thrown by it. Closer to ground zero, few to none survived the explosion.
Those who survived were badly burned by the blast. Many, many more died from extensive burns, or burns that could not be treated in time, the city's hospitals being filled to overflowing and beyond with those needing aid. Of those who were rescued from zones near ground zero, many were blinded by the flash accompanying the explosion.
Prevailing winds at the time of the blast carried the fallout plume southwest from ground zero. Midtown West, Chelsea, Garment District, western portions of Greenwich Village and SoHo, and points beyond Jersey City and Hoboken all received doses of radiation. From Times Square to Chelsea, as many as 35% of those who survived the blast died within a month from radiation sickness. Others, both there and as far away as Jersey City and Communipaw, fell ill but did not die from the radiation directly — those who died were killed by secondary, opportunistic infections.
The casualties cannot be accurately estimated; even a ballpark number is really beyond the capability of any 'expert'. The most common numbers given are 150,000 dead and another 150,000 injured in the blast, with who knows how many people affected by the radiation in either short- or long-term.
New York's economy and infrastructure also took a serious blow. Much of Midtown West, Times Square, and Garment District were uninhabitable for months after the explosion; even the salvageable regions are still shunned by most, for fear of lingering radiation. The southern half of Central Park, the lower part of Upper West Side, and parts of Midtown East, Murray Hill, Gramercy, Chelsea, and Greenwich Village were similarly abandoned for the first few weeks and months after the bomb. People have returned to them since, but none of these neighborhoods are quite what they used to be.
The Lincoln Tunnel was closed for months; its entire eastern end had to be rebuilt. The major roads within the blast area, including Broadway, have been recreated. Buildings that were not destroyed have been repaired, and some rebuilt — but many others were not. Times Square, Rockefeller Plaza — these icons of the Big Apple, among many others, simply no longer exist. Perhaps someday they will be rebuilt, but for now, the heart of the city is a crater, a scar on the landscape surrounded by piles of debris and the twisted skeletons of broken buildings.
The First Month (November 2006)
The simultaneous attempts to rescue any survivors within the explosion and fallout zones and to evacuate surrounding areas (Chelsea, Garment District, western portions of Gramercy, Greenwich Village, Murray Hill, SoHo, eastern regions in Hoboken, Jersey City, and Communipaw) take over all routes into or out of Manhattan. Street traffic is impossible to navigate; the subway lines are shut down. Very little moves, very slowly. But over the course of several days, a substantial portion of the city's population is evacuated.
Volunteers — police officers, firefighters, soldiers, brave citizens — pin radiation-detector badges on their sleeves and try to search for survivors without incurring a lethal dose of radiation themselves; both efforts are all too often in vain. Even those who are rescued don't necessarily survive; many die for lack of medical attention, others simply could not have been saved even under the best circumstances.
The remaining hospitals in Manhattan (and others in nearby cities) are rapidly overrun with patients, beyond numbers they could cope with even in ideal times; as the island is without major utilities (electricity, gas, water, sewage), conditions are much less than ideal. Medicines and bandages run short within a matter of hours, and they stay that way; while the armed forces and various non-profit organizations bring in all the supplies they can into Manhattan, it just doesn't equal the demand represented by the many, many injured. Never mind the fact that most modern procedures depend upon technology and computers, which in turn depend upon the electricity hospitals don't have; the death toll continues to climb for days.
Shelters are established in community centers, schools, anywhere that can accommodate a large number of people. Those in the shelters receive minimal handouts from the stressed federal and nonprofit agencies — food, water, blankets, a simple change of clothes. Boxes of things like food and basic supplies are also left around the edges of the damage zone, for those now homeless who haven't made it to a shelter yet — but looting runs rampant, especially in the evacuated areas, both refugees and opportunists taking advantage of the chaos. So does vandalism. What businesses still operate over the next weeks and months accept only cash — no credit, no checks, and generally return no change. Some are willing to take goods or services in trade, but the universal law is "pay up front or purchase nothing". All banks are closed, and many investments (chiefly property and buildings) are lost forever.
The landlines don't work, and many cellphone towers are physically destroyed or their electronics fried; the mail doesn't run. Communication is a major problem, both within Manhattan and between the island and anywhere else; radios become the standard, at least for a while and for those who have no access to satellite phones. Public transportation stops cold; there is no subway, there are no cabs.
All fishing and swimming are banned in southern Hudson River and in the Upper and Lower New York Bays. Even boat traffic is rerouted from those areas for the first few weeks, leaving the waters to Coast Guard ships and ferries helping with the evacuation and provision of supplies.
The US and other nations go on high alert. All civilian air traffic across the nation (and in several other countries) is frozen for a week after the bomb. Hate crimes against people of apparent Middle Eastern ethnicity run rampant nationwide, but especially in the shelters full of refugees; the public and the government both assume some Islamic faction is behind the bomb. Most publicized is the brutal beating of a Sikh man at one northern Harlem refugee center; while he survives his injuries, and the perpetrators are quickly tried and found guilty, the incident receives both national and global notice.
The stock exchanges remain closed for two weeks, crashing badly the day they reopen. New York's economy, the USA economy, and the global economy all suffer from the shutdown, and the loss of New York City. Many businesses in Manhattan remain closed for weeks on end; those that are open struggle to get and keep their employees. Even those that operate almost as normal do so with few to no customers; the people who still have money and can spend it are stuck for the lack of public transportation. On the other hand, this is perhaps the first time that drivers have been able to get much of anywhere around New York without ever being totally stuck in traffic.
By the end of November, key utilities have been routed around the damaged areas, and services are fully restored to everywhere in NYC except Manhattan. Within Manhattan, the Bronx, northern Central Park, East Harlem, Harlem, Morningside Heights, northern Upper East Side, and northern Upper West Side are also turned back on. However, supply is not always reliable and consistent, especially for electricity; power outages in particular remain common and unpredictable.
Rock Bottom (December 2006)
Everything costs too much, even for New York. The prices of materials for rebuilding shoot through the roof. The cost of housing, already notoriously high, reaches an all-time peak as those who want to stay in the city compete for the remaining apartments, and landlords try to raise the money both to cover increased insurance premiums and to rebuild other properties they have lost. Even expenses for basic things like food spike, as transport in is difficult at best and the businesses that normally redistribute or sell foodstufs struggle in the shattered economy. Niceties like garbage removal and recycling services remain just as disordered as public transportation.
Employers who can afford it — national chains like McDonald's, and other large businesses — raise their wages in an attempt to entice employees back to living and working in the open areas of the city. But housing and transportation remain bottlenecks — along with the fact that only so many jobs are available to go around. Many New Yorkers are still living out of shelters, or the small trailers donated by federal agencies; they rely on federal and non-profit organizations for their day-to-day supplies. Those who can move away to live with relatives elsewhere, or just to live elsewhere. Small business owners especially choose to pack up and relocate; lacking the resources to rebuild, and with loans being very difficult to obtain, they just can't afford to start over, especially when few have money to spend.
Crime runs rampant. While the initial flush of looting, vandalism, and intolerance has passed with time, the police force suffers just as much as the rest of the city from the repercussions of the bomb. In addition, many officers were among the volunteers who dared search for survivors; while their heroism is applauded and appreciated, the number who sickened and/or died from radiation poisoning thinned the ranks further still. There are not enough police to keep up with the opportunists and the desperate. Theft in all its variations remains especially common; there are also many instances where unscrupulous employers cheat their employees of wages, especially if the employees are unskilled labor.
On Christmas Day, 2006, power is officially restored to the remaining undamaged sections of Manhattan Island: East Village, Financial District, Little Italy, Stuyvesant Town, and Tribeca. To celebrate the occasion,all of those neighborhoods are decked out in Christmas lights, and the lights are left on continuously until New Year's Day. Barring power outages, that is; the grid remains somewhat unstable, and the addition of these regions to its load cause more fluctuations and reveal weak points.
The First Year (2007)
New Year's comes and goes, marking relatively little progress in the struggle to rebuild New York. It also highlights the series of dead ends which seems to be all investigators can turn up. No witnesses to the event can come forward, as none (are willing to publicly admit they) survived. While many extremist factions around the world are willing to claim responsibility, the truth is that none of those who did so were actually capable of delivering the bomb. The government can't figure it out, but the public badly wants to point fingers at someone.
In a press conference on February 18, 2007, New York Senator Nathan Petrelli gives them that someone: Sylar. In so doing, he reveals the existence of the Evolved to both the public and the government. Several Evolved individuals, including members of the NYPD, step forward and display their own abilities as corroborating evidence, leaving the world no realistic choice but to believe.
The world, or at least this corner of it, responds by turning on them. The Evolved become the witches of the new millennium, and New York especially has its own brand of witch hunts. Those who are suspected of possessing powers are often whispered about, watched suspiciously, and finally mobbed and beaten until they either die or display their abilities — in which case, if the attackers survive, they finish the kill. Unlike the notorious witch hunts of colonial days, there are no trials, not even the pretense of law; just the fearful lashing out, all too often in error.
Law enforcement struggles to maintain order, but can't do so successfully any more than they could control the chaos immediately following the explosion. The much-publicized introduction of the Linderman Act into Congress is the first thing which begins to allay public fears. The bill also serves to motivate opposing voices, but the many debates which follow on all levels provide a less destructive outlet for the general fear and anger. In July, the Linderman Act is signed into law, requiring the developments of tests to identify Evolved individuals, the registration of their identities and abilities, and the confinement of any deemed too dangerous to be left free. Enforcement of the Linderman Act becomes primarily the responsibility of Homeland Security.
In many respects, New York's recovery seems to stall during this year. Little can be restored within the irradiated zones until the radiation has dropped to tolerable levels; surrounding areas are intact but crowded with refugees and crippled by the loss of Manhattan's center. The bans on fishing and swimming are lifted at the beginning of summer, causing many to flock to the bays (the better to forget their troubles, at least for a while). On the anniversary of the explosion, cleanup begins within the more lightly contaminated areas, but reconstruction remains a very long ways away.
The Last Six Months (January to July 2008)
On New Year's Day, in echo of the previous year and celebration of the new year to come, Communipaw, Greenwich Village, eastern Jersey City, and SoHo are reopened to the public. A great deal of controversy surrounds this decision, both before and after the official announcement, because these areas were all hit by the fallout plume. Exactly what level of radiation is acceptable to live around, no two people can agree. Nonetheless, many refugees return home — but many more do not, or only long enough to reclaim what possessions were not looted from their houses. Many properties are placed on the market in short order, causing real estate values in those neighborhoods to plummet through the floor — until they start getting snapped up by less picky occupants, at any rate.
Pursuant with the Linderman Act, the holding facilities which have been carefully designed to hold the more dangerous Evolved finally go into construction. Where previously opposition to the Act was mostly political in nature, the holding facilities provide a prime target for more militant sorts. In March, one such building is destroyed by PARIAH, putting the organization on the sociopolitical map as terrorists.
In May, southern Chelsea and Garment District are reopened to the public. The arguments are if anything even louder than they were for the New Year's-reopened neighborhoods, because the original levels of contamination in Chelsea and Garment District were so much greater. But people come home anyway. Many sell their homes, businesses, and buildings almost immediately, causing another temporary crash in local real estate values, but there always seems to be more people eager to fill in those holes.
July is marked by the opening of West Side Highway and Park Avenue, now punched through either side of Midtown and serving to link the two halves of Manhattan. Despite the need for travel between one side of the city and the other, the relative few who have cars are very slow to take advantage of the roads — the radiation in Midtown has not been cleaned up at all. The few taxis that dare the route charge exorbitant fees, but they do have customers nonetheless.
Present Day (Game Opening — August 2008)
With the second anniversary of the explosion approaching, the only true reconstruction that has taken place is the establishment of two roads through Midtown, again providing easy access between the north and south parts of Manhattan. In theory.
In actuality, public transport remains at much at a standstill as the rest of New York's economy. A few subway lines continue to run short distances, between one neighborhood and the next over, but those running beneath Midtown are still unrepaired. The multitude of small businesses which are the lifeblood of any city have faded and diminished; most have closed up and moved away, including a large number of taxi drivers. Those who remain are like everyone else — at the bottom, struggling just to make ends meet. The unemployment level is still terribly high; although the shelters have been broken up and reverted to their previous functions, a very large number of people still live in federal-issue trailers, for good or ill.
Housing prices have returned to absurdly high values, even for New York, although they are not as high as they once were. The most expensive places to live are the ones with the healthiest economies — Morningside Heights, Upper East Side, Upper West Side; East Village and Stuyvesant Town are not far behind. Chelsea, Garment District, and SoHo are among the cheapest because of the radiation threat, but find no shortage of desperate renters, mostly refugees seeking to get out of their trailers, people who are too stubborn or have no means by which to relocate.
Newspaper delivery, magazine stands, postal service, gas stations, convenience stores — all the things that depend on local operators are still slowly but not very surely being restored. While basic utilities (mostly) work wherever there are intact buildings, the coverage of extras like cellphones, cable, and any internet service but dial-up or satellite remains spotty at best within Manhattan — more often lacking than not. Crime remains an ever-present fact of life — theft and burglary, assault, even murder.
Any additional reconstruction is stalled by the fact that the city simply doesn't have any more money to spare. An inconceivable amount was spent just to restore the irradiated neighborhoods to an arguably livable state; the city and the nation are both deeply in debt for it, and the federal government has turned its attention upon the Evolved.