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Wendy Reuer, Published October 29 2012

North Dakota, Minnesota natives getting firsthand look at East Coast devastation

NEW YORK – As a crane dangles off the side of an upscale 65-story condominium here, Diane and Scott Marthaler are glued to the windows of their 43rd floor hotel room, where they have a clear view of the precariously positioned construction equipment.

Meteorologists on the local news tell the Marthalers that Hurricane Sandy’s winds are an estimated 95 mph at the crane’s altitude and will soon whip at near that speed on the ground.

It’s a surreal afternoon for the Breckenridge, Minn., couple and their two children, who were in New York City on vacation. Their flight home was among the roughly 12,000 canceled flights as the East Coast prepared for the Category I Hurricane Sandy to hit landfall Monday evening.

“We just wanted a memorable vacation, and then we got stuck in a hurricane that makes history,” said Diane “Toot” Marthaler, 41. “It will be memorable, I can say that.”

Marthaler was named this month’s “Beautiful Woman” by The Forum. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer on Aug. 27.

Like the Marthalers, newlyweds Tyler and Annie Schlecht, of Wimbledon, N.D., were expecting a once-in-a-lifetime vacation this week. Instead, their honeymoon at a Sandal’s resort in Nassau, Bahamas, was cut short.

The storm struck the islands last weekend, forcing the resort and local businesses to close, said Anna Schlect’s mother, Wendy Thompson, of Buchanan, N.D.

Zach Sowler, a Minot, N.D., native who graduated from North Dakota State University in May, now lives less than a mile from the Atlantic coastline in New York City.

He said the city was bustling Sunday as residents prepared for the storm.

Monday was a different story.

“I went outside and my neighborhood feels like a ghost town,” he said. “There’s not really anybody out.”

Sowler said his apartment lies in an elevated area that doesn’t expect a lot of flooding. For now, he will wait out the storm at home.

Like Sowler, Sam Kalar, a second-year law student at New York University Law School and a 2005 Fergus Falls, Minn., graduate, stocked up on water, groceries and scary movies Monday.

He agreed with Sowler that the city was “eerily quiet” Monday. Nearly all public business and travel were halted.

Kalar, who survived 2010’s “Snowmageddon” in Washington, D.C., said New Yorkers seem to have a calmer air about them.

Fargo native Travis Beauchene is a graduate student at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and lives in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of the city.

He said the Metro subway system shut down for the day, a rare occurrence because it is the main mode of transportation in Washington.

The rain began Sunday night with a drizzle, but by Monday, temperatures had dropped and the wind picked up, Beauchene said.

“The apartment complex that my fiancee and I live in has sent numerous memos regarding safety information and warnings about power outages and ‘the potential for balcony furniture to turn into flying missiles.’ ”

The hurricane was expected to collide with a winter storm over New Jersey on Monday night.

There, Bottineau, N.D., native Thomas Wettlaufer works for an independent power producer in Pennington, N.J. Just last year, he and his wife survived Hurricane Irene, which battered the East Coast, killing 56 and leaving about $15.6 billion in damage.

Wettlaufer said Monday he spent Sunday securing outside objects to lower the risk of flying objects.

“I cannot believe I get to experience a hurricane in consecutive years,” he said in an email to The Forum.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530

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