I am very grateful that my neighborhood, in southeast Queens, mostly was spared. Hurricane Sandy seems to have been worse in terms of wind speed than last year's hurricane Irene, but the destruction was less severe.
The reason it was less severe is that the main cause of damage in both hurricanes was the toppling of old trees, and so many weak, old trees fell last year that there were fewer to fall this year. Nevertheless, there were small clusters of extremely severe destruction -- and I'll post some pictures below.
From mostly listening to public radio and reading the newspaper, let me tell you what we need a lot of and that you can help provide. We need information. Accurate, timely and useful. That's because during this kind of disaster, many modes of communication are shut down. During the storm, there was no telephone, cell phone or internet access. Two public radio stations, based in lower Manhattan went silent. No newspapers were delivered the day after the storm. The most remarkable thing to me in the days since is how slowly the nature of what happened is taking shape and needs are being communicated. WNYC, the local public radio station has been very helpful in this.
For example, the day after the storm, most media was focused on the unprecedented blackout of lower Manhattan and the flooding of the mass transit tunnels. That certainly is an important story. But it seemed only to sink into collective consciousness 48 hours later that New Jersey was the most hard hit. That's because when people aren't in the center of the media universe and don't have telecommunications, their story doesn't get out. That has changed.
Yesterday, on WNYC a new angle of the big story was being shaped by call-ins. It's that people in lower Manhattan without power for days, are running out of food and water. Tall buildings in New York generally don't rely on system water pressure to get water to upper floors because the pressure isn't great enough. They pump water into tanks on the roof -- hence the iconic image of New York residential skylines dotted with old wooden tanks. As the water level falls, the pumps kick in. But after a few days without power the water runs out. People are having to walk down many flights of stairs to fire hydrants to fill buckets and walk back up for drinking water, to cook (if the gas oven isn't electrically ignited) and even to flush the toilet. Today we're realizing that fuel is going to be a big problem for the next few days.
In my neighborhood, I was very moved by talking to some neighbors who suffered the most damage. We overall were spared severe damage, but as I said there were clusters of severe damage. These neighbors felt that because there is a sense that we dodged the bullet, their particular devastation isn't known and therefore isn't being addressed. This is an old working class neighborhood lined with very, very old trees that are stressed and dying and topple over even during regular storms. On this particular block, 201st Street between 104th and 100th Avenue in Hollis, Queens, three oak trees fell around the same time cutting power, telephone, cable, internet and apparently cracking a water main. They asked me and other passersby to contact the city councilman. They are huddled in the cold and dark with their kids. ConEd says it can't restore power until the trees are cut down and the Parks Department says it can't get to the trees until ConEd inspects the downed power lines. Everything they are being told is circular.
What we don't need right now is speculation, misinformation and conspiracy theories, such as that there are thousands of dead people floating in the flooded subways being covered up by FEMA. We need a high signal to noise ratio right now, and that means refraining from contributing speculative noise.
On edit: I can only check in on this diary intermittently because internet access is still iffy. Thanks!