Sunday, 04 November 2012 21:09

Sandy's Manhattan - by Jenna Orkin

Update 2-19-2013:

In a minimalist AP story that lasts for all of one line, we learn that Staten Islanders bereft of their homes by Hurricane Sandy are going to be helped by Haitian Earthquake Victims.  No details are given about how the Haitians will get here but there also seems no question that fate will allow them this opportunity to repay the "debt" which they feel they incurred when their own homes were rebuilt.

 

Update 2-18-2013:

An odd movement is afoot to unite the Sandies:  A firefighters' union is planning to fund twenty-six playgrounds - one in the memory of each victim of the Sandy Hook massacre - to be placed in areas destroyed by Sandy, the hurricane.  A somewhat convoluted memorial but if the playgrounds are needed in those areas, bring on the gimmicks.

 

Update 2-12-2013

Occupy Sandy has bitten off more than it could chew - several hundred thousand dollars' worth, to be precise.  In the heyday of the disaster, Occupy collected abundant funds which were funneled into a single account.  Now no one can remember the exact intent of the original donors so the funds haven't been distributed.  Inevitably enough, a conflict has arisen between various locations.  The solution is not so simple as just divvying the money up equally or pro rata between Red Hook and the Lower East Side (the areas concerned.)  If there's a snafu, guess who's on the legal hook for misallocation.

Occupy seems to have given the authorities plenty of rope to hang them with.

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Update 2-07-2013

The latest among pop stars to contribute to Sandy relief, Madonna is donating the "gear" from her last tour to victims.  (A resident of Queens in the late 70's, she had already taken her daughter Lourdes to box provisions in the early days of the disaster.)
 
In other show-biz related news, the Automobile Film Club of America, which provided cars for New York-based films, lost its inventory courtesy of Sandy and is wondering whether to take a loan to start over.  As in the foreclosure crisis, the initial terms are tempting but the likelihood of actually revving up the business again again is slim.
 
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About 25 percent of all cell phone towers in states affected by Hurricane Sandy were temporarily knocked out by the storm. Hoboken residents and even city officials were reduced to leaving messages on an eraser board outside City Hall proving yet again that the intricacy of modern technology is precisely what renders it so fragile.
 
Yet in a hearing held today by the FCC, Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-Somerset), asserted that it would not be feasible to mandate backup generators for the towers since they could run afoul of private property rights or environmental regulations.
 
As has been noted on this page, Verizon is replacing the Sandy-damaged copper wires of its Lower Manhattan system with fiber optic cables though no one seems to know how they're paying for the upgrade.
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Irony is alive and well in Sandy-affected areas: Because some properties have yet to see repairs, those that are up and running have risen in value, inciting bidding wars.
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Riding the crest of an infamous wave, documentary film makers are using Hurricane Sandy to highlight the urgency of action on climate change. Digital technology has enabled the latest generation of documentarians to complete production of their films in the slim turn around time that fell between Sandy's arrival and the deadline for the Tribeca and other festivals in 2012.
 
But what will these documentaries accomplish in the way of impressing the public that the awe-struck news stories on the disaster haven't?
 
 

Day 69

 

The insurance companies have prevailed in their efforts to squelch ads by Jacoby and Meyers, a law firm reknowned among subway riders who didn't bring anything to read on the train. 

The ad read, "If your business lost business due to the storm, your insurance policy should cover it. If it doesn’t, your agent made an error. We’ll work to correct it."

The Professional Insurers' Agents of New York maintained the ad was deceptive since there could be other valid reasons why a claim might be denied.

 

That seems glaringly obvious, and easily remedied by a tweak of the wording ("made an error" to be replaced by, "may have made an error") but for reasons left unexplained, this was not the outcome of a telephone conversaion between the combatants.  Rather, Jacoby and Meyers caved completely. 

 

Score 1 for the 800-pound gorilla.

 

 

 

Day 70

 

As part of a series being produced by the Huffington Post and the Rockefeller Foundation on resilience, a topic being discussed at the 2013 World Economic Forum in Davos, Mayor Bloomberg published an article today on Reshaping New York City's Future After Sandy.

Bolstering his argument that we can't simply rebuild what was lost in the same place and by the same methods, the Mayor points out that over the course of the next forty years, sea levels are expected to rise up to another two and a half feet.

The good news is that rather than waiting for national governments to come to a reasonable climate change agreement, major cities have united to amend their own behavior. In the process, New York has reduced its carbon footprint by 16 percent.

 

 

 

Day 71

 

To paraphrase a song from Vietnam War days, "Where did all the money go?"

 

According to the O'Reilly factor, the big guns, such as the Red Cross, have been neither transparent concerning their outlays nor, by any available measure, generous.  The help offered Sandy victims has, as we have anecdotally reported here, come mostly from grassroots or ad hoc efforts that sprang up spontaneously in the wake of the disaster.  These entities are not in the business of charity; therefore, they have less ulterior motive to horde some of the money to maintain themselves.  Nor are they big enough to be in the sights of government agencies with agendas which may be, to put it euphemistically, "unrelated."  (Think:  The role of the Red Cross after World War Two in shepherding Nazis to the freedom of the Americas.)

 

The article also mentions the Robin Hood foundation which, after 9/11, was reportedly interested in helping Stuyvesant High School, (where my son was a student,) obtain some means to protect its population from the thousands of contaminants in the air.  (Hepa filters, if I remember correctly.)  A donation dangled in the offing for several months before inexplicably falling through.  It is interesting, though not surprising, to see that they seem to have performed scarcely any better after Sandy.

 

 

Day 68

The first wave of Sandy lawsuits is hitting the courts, brought by couples and businesses dismayed to find that their extensive insurance coverage did not include floods.  Wind, yes, and even "wind-driven rain" but when does said rain become a "flood" for purposes of litigation?  Ay, there's the rub and the bread and butter for a battalion of attorneys.

 
Here's another wrinkle:  Policies may be written in such a way that while wind damage is covered, there's an exception when it occurs at the same time as damage caused by some other force of nature which isn't covered.  Then you can spend weeks teasing out what's meant by the term "at the same time."

 

Day 67


Any jubilation at the House bill passed on Sandy recovery has to be dampened by the price tag:  Other environmental disasters.
 
 
Also excluded will be Alaskan fisheries where contaminated debris from Fukushima washed up.
 
It might be possible to incorporate those equally deserving hot spots but doing so would hold up the disbursal process, which the tri-state contingent is unwilling to do.
 
Meanwhile, Sandy victims can take solace in the FU Sandy beer developed by Flying Fish, a New Jersey brewery.  The acronym, of course, stands for "Forever Unloved."

Day 66

 

Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway braved the flak at a hearing by the New York City Council today on the city's inadequate emergency response to Hurricane Sandy.  Although twice as many operators had been deployed to man the phone banks as usual, they took an average of 5 and 1/2 minutes to pick up the phone, when they picked up at all.  It was another seven minutes before help actually arrived. 

 

Holloway argued that the city had, in fact, done as good a job as could reasonably have been expected; but that 911 got more than 100,000 calls on Oct. 29 — the most ever, more than on Sept. 11, 2001. Most of those were for downed trees, which were supposed to be reported to 311.

Day 65

The House passed another $50 billion in Sandy aid today, knocking down 81 amendments in the process.

 

Some of the proposed amendments contradicted others.  For instance, #82 "effectively prevents the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from conducting research or statistical analysis related to gun violence." while #86 prohibits "funds in this act from being used to restrict the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens."

 

#27 would have tied the aid to a Treasury study of interest in 70-99 year bonds.

 

But such amendments were eliminated as irrelevant.  Only 13 survived the ax.

 

 

 



 

Day 64

Well, at least the victims in the next weather disaster won't be so blindsided by the insurance companies.  The latter are being pressured to provide a one-page summary about what's excluded from their policies.  This is to protect consumers from the unpleasant surprises that awaited the already battered victims of Hurricane Sandy.

 

However, the insurers only signed on to this agreement after winning the concession that a proviso will also be included, stating that the summary should not be construed as a replacement for the policy.  In other words, they still intend to smuggle all sorts of mischief through in the finer, more abstruse print. 


Day 63

We have gone from an $80 billion Sandy bill, to $60 billion to $50 billion.  The latest Republican proposal is for $17 billion with "a chance to add" another $33 billion.  (Go ahead and add it; buy a couple of lotto tickets while you're there.)

Republicans are against focusing on measures which smack of prevention as opposed to strictly emergency repairs.

"A lot of the money goes to government agencies to rebuild rather than helping people actually afflicted by Sandy," Ellis [vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group] said.

In other words, it's those noisome bureaucrats again, leeching taxpayer dollars from... taxpayer victims.

But among the plans that would face the ax are projects to bolster Northeast transportation systems and jetties to protect the more exposed seaside areas.

As for the victims, they're still getting the run around: 

Daily News photographer, whose Breezy Point home was devastated by Hurricane

 

Day 62

Hurricane Sandy Victims Outraged at Insurance Company's Response

 

The couple had $184,000 worth of insurance for the house and over $90,000 for the contents.  (One wonders what they had in there that was worth $90,000 but that's not the point of this report.)  The insurance company offered $10,000 which won't even cover the demolition.

 

You have to provide evidence that you owned everything you allege you lost in addition to proof of how much you paid for each item.  Apparently, insurers don't believe you had furniture if you can't prove it.  They also expect you to keep all your receipts.  Videotape your belongings beforehand if you want to get reimbursed.

Day 61

Never before Sandy had the National Weather Service included three feet of snow in a hurricane prediction.

 

But even as the technology evolves, so do the disasters it monitors.  While the US has currently invested $3 billion in weather monitoring capability, the Washington Post argues that far more is called for.  Just consider the cost of Sandy or of the fourteen discrete billion dollar disasters in 2011 while in 2012, last summer's drought alone accounted for $25 billion in insured crop loss.


Day 60

While oysters in Maryland seem to have benefited from Hurricane Sandy because of an infusion of fresh water, the rest of the fishing industry has suffered.  Docks, fish processing plants and restaurants were damaged and a number of businesses, from fishermen to truckers, lost several weeks of work.  New Jersey's "recreational fishing industry estimates it lost $160 million from the storm."

 

Needless to say, these losses will not be covered in the bill that Congress signed on Friday.

 

Day 59

 

The victims of Hurricane Sandy are caught in a Kafkaesque paradox:  The more desperately they need help, the less likely it is that they'll be able to prove it.  Owners of small businesses, for example, may have to show the loss of inventory when the evidence itself - the inventory - has washed away.  Many such owners are ineligible for insurance reimbursement - the small print sees to that - but are forced to apply for loans which will only sink them (pun intended) further into debt.  FEMA kicks in mostly for those who don't qualify for the loans but these days, how many people fall into that category?

 

Ellen Hodgson Brown seizes this occasion to argue again for her longstanding goal:  a public bank beholden not to any shareholders but only to the people of the state or country it serves:  Political Football Over Disaster Relief: Another Argument for Public Banking.

 

 

 

Day 58

The city has spent over $154 million on overtime to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and that doesn't include "the New York City Housing Authority, because payroll data was not available, or... the Metropolitan Transportation Authority or Health and Hospitals Corporation, because they are not city agencies."  When you consider the widespread flooding of the subway system, those are some sizable omissions.

 

Nevertheless, contrast that bill with the $55 million spent on the entirety of Tropical Storm Irene, (ie not just in overtime costs) and the $62.4 million earned in overtime by sanitation workers in 2010 to clean up 61 inches of snow.

 

Yet 2 months post-Sandy, 29% of Rockaway residents still have no heat.

 

You don't hear about this unless you delve but out in the Rockaways, nothing much has improved. 

 

"Almost one in five (18 percent) of surveyed Rockaway residents still have not returned to their homes.

Nearly one in 10 (9.3 percent) still have not had their electricity restored.

Nearly one in three (29 percent) are still without heat.

More than one in five (21.9 percent) still have wet sheetrock in their homes.

Nearly four in 10 (37.1 percent) still have mold in their homes." 

However, the House passed a $9 billion bill for Sandy relief to take the edge off the fury of anyone who'd allowed himself to hope they'd take the cue from the Senate and green light $60 billion.

 Day 57

Congressman Michael Grimm of Staten Island, who evinced outrage at Speaker Boehner's back-tracking on his promise to bring the issue of Sandy aid to a vote, hascome 'round.  Once again, he's in the Speaker's corner, saying it's a tough job and the Speaker's heart was in the right place all the while that his actions weren't.

 

My experience of Grimm's office is that while other pols, such as City Councilmember Gail Brewer, were intimately involved in coordinating aid, Grimm's office blew volunteers off by telling them to call the Red Cross.


Day 56

Sandy's back in the news today because of the last-minute betrayal by House Speaker John Boehner who'd previously promised an expeditious vote after the Senate gave the go-ahead to a $60 billion relief bill.

 

This blow was followed, predictably enough, by outrage on the part of fellow Republicans from New York and New Jersey, resulting in a "compromise" promise to vote on $9 billion in emergency flood insurance on Friday followed by a vote somewhere in the nebulous future on another $50 billion.  The procrastination could result in the overturning of the Senate resolution, which was no doubt the point.

 

I guess it just doesn't look good to vote for aid the same day you're mulling going over the fiscal cliff.




Day 55

 

How was this hurricane season different from all others?  Let us count a few of the ways:

Instead of starting June 1 and getting up to speed in late summer, it started in May and lasted, off and on, for six months.
 
In place of the usual dozen named storms, there were 19, including Nadine which proved impervious to the usual hurricane-dissipating effect of wind shear (the differential in speed or direction of winds at different altitudes.)
 
Hurricane Isaac, too, behaved "abnormally."
 
But Sandy topped the others for unpredictability, turning right when it was expected to go left, morphing into a winter storm, and breaking records with a diameter of 1100 miles.
 
However, "normal" no longer means what it used to.  Since 1995, 70% of the hurricane seasons have been busier than "normal."

 

 

Day 54

This is heartening: Queensmamas.com has set up a page called Family to Family which puts volunteer families in touch with those that have been damaged by Hurricane Sandy. The impetus seems to have been the wish to help the victim families through the holidays so the initial commitment is for a week, though it can stretch out longer as desired (by both parties.)


 

Day 53

You have probably been thinking, since you are probably a reasonable person, that Hurricane Sandy served as a wake-up call to individuals and businesses about the benefits of taking precautions against such events in the future which had until this point been considered "Black Swans."

Your reasonable assumption, however, would be wrong in at least one critical arena: the utilities.  Turns out that Con Ed and Co. have little incentive to invest in preventive measures; it's far cheaper - a hundred times, to be exact - to clean up after the fact.

 

For Con Ed after Hurricane Sandy, that means the difference between a 3% rate rise for three years and a 300% rate rise for ten years.  (That's actually more than 100% but these figures come from the New York Times article on the topic.)

 

Not only that but also, the Federal government has historically been more sympathetic in the ways that count after the fact.

 

The Precautionary Principle prevails in parts of Europe but here, all assaults on the environment are innocent until proven guilts.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 52

A Sandy relief center was robbed on Christmas day, leading to its closing shop for good ahead of schedule.  The thief took clothes (presumably for their resale value) while also damaging propane stoves and other equipment on what had been the first day off for volunteer John Biondo, who'd been working 18-hour shifts since the hurricane.

The incident staggers under several layers of irony (insult added to injury, and on Christmas, to boot!) of which the final one is perhaps that the thief, like a force of nature, acted impersonally, just doing what thieves do to make a living in this unforgiving world.  By the same logic which explains why poor neighborhoods are more dangerous than upscale ones, he must have chosen that ill-guarded site not because he wanted to inflict additional damage on the already stricken but because it was there.   

 

 

 

 

Day 51

In a project known as SUDS for Send Us Your Dirt from Sandy, citizens who have residue left behind by the hurricane have been asked to collect samples for scientific testing.  

 

Since these citizens are not Certified Industrial Hygienists, the scientists won't be able to vouch for the method of collection but maybe it doesn't matter:  If you have PCBs, you should find out regardless of the source.  In any event, there are not enough CIHs to go around so this is the only way we're going to get answers on whether the city's Superfund sites contributed their own supertoxic ingredients to the more run-of-the-mill, though dangerous, bacteria and mold in the disgusting sludge. 

 

The citizens are also being advised to suit up "appropriately" although even the professionals have only donned rubber boots and gloves by way of protection.  As we have previously reported, the New York Committee on Occupational Safety and Health also recommends "splash-proof goggles, full-body protective clothing, and, if conditions warrant, respirators. An N95 respirator may be adequate. A half face air purifying respirator with hybrid organic vapor/HEPA cartridges may be more appropriate in some circumstances."

 

 

 

Day 50

Heard another Sandy story at a Christmas gathering this afternoon:  A young couple, Jessie Streich-Kest, 24, and Jacob Vogelman, 23, were out walking the dog some time between eight and ten p.m. the night of the storm when the wind blew over a number of trees.  One of these killed the couple.  They were found the next morning, their faces covered with branches.

 

Jessie was the daughter of Jon Kest, executive director for New York Communities for Change, and had herself taught in the Brooklyn School of Social Justice.  Jacob was a student.

 

The dog, a pit bull, survives but suffered head trauma.

 

The incident is yet another illustration of how suddenly the storm surged and destroyed.  I remember that even here in this relatively protected enclave - the waiting stillness then the swift rising whistle as the wind hurled itself at the window.

 

 

 

Day 49

The Sandy news today is focused on the death of Dylan Smith, the 23-year-old hero who rescued six people during the hurricane with the surf board which, tragically, less than two months later, proved the instrument of his own demise.

 

"FDNY Chief Michael Light, who knew Smith since he was a baby, told The Daily News, 'The same sport -- the sport of surfing -- that he used to save all those people, it's so shocking that he perished that way.'"

 

No, it's infinitely sad but it's not shocking.  The surf board was a double-edged sword.  The impulsive, heroic spirit which drove the rescue also drove Smith, during a less intense period, towards some sort of derring-do which went too far.

 

The real shock is that anyone gets out of youth alive.

 

 

 

Day 48

'T is the night before Christmas Eve and the city has announced that come January 1, they are shutting down another refuge for victims of Hurricane Sandy.

The volunteer camp of five tents which has been dispensing hot food, clothing, heaters and cleaning supplies to residents of Staten Island who remain without functioning homes, has been informed that the weather is rendering their services.... what? Unnecessary? Well, no... On the contrary, they're all the more necessary. Just... too cold.

"Approximately 509 residents in Staten Island are still without power, a Con Edison spokesman said. To get power back, residents need to hire a contractor to repair their electrical systems."

At least some of those who have done so have yet to be reimbursed. Resident Joseph Ingenito said he spent over $10,000 in repairs of which FEMA, which claims to be doling out money faster than in any other disaster, provided $3,000. About the rest, Ingenito says his insurance company is giving him the run around.

This latest outrage on the part of the government is in keeping with their tradition of delivering blows to the solar plexus of the most vulnerable at the height of the holiday season: November, 2001, FEMA cut off help to residents of communities in Lower Manhattan which had been affected by 9/11; over Christmas vacation of the same year, the EPA closed the hotline for those desiring clean-up.   

On a slightly different note, it was also over Christmas vacation that the Federal Reserve was established; and this year, that the National Defense Authorization Act finally clinched the ability of the feds to imprison American citizens indefinitely.

In the good old days, enemies ceased firing at each other over Christmas.  Perhaps someone realized how ludicrous that made the whole conflict seem because now, the opposite policy holds:  You can never afford to let down your guard for that's precisely when the enemy will pounce.

 

 

 

Day 47

An announcement last week on the website of Americans for Prosperity, David Koch's main political mouthpiece, warned the Senate not to vote for Sandy relief. The menacing code words used to describe that political process were “key vote,” meaning that any Senator who supported the bill would see retribution in the form of attack ads come the next election cycle.

Of course, the cost of climate change is a threat to the heart of the Koch empire which, by one estimate, "has an annual carbon footprint of 100 million tons."  Hence their funneling of millions of dollars into climate denial.

 

 

 

Day 46

The bill to provide $60.4 billion in Sandy relief made a breakthrough today when the Senate voted 91 to 1 to end its debate of the matter.

 

The timing of the bill is awkward as it coincides with negotiations over the fiscal cliff.  In addition, Republicans continue to argue for doling out the money piecemeal as various needs become clarified over time.  But the New York delegation remains confident that despite strong Republican opposition in the House, the bill will pass.

 

 

 

 

Day 45

On the face of it, Paul Ryan's objections to the Hurricane Sandy bill sound reasonable:  It includes irrelevancies such as commercial fisheries in American Samoa and roof repair of museums in Washington DC.  In addition, only 64% of the money would be spent in the next two years.

 

This implies that the remaining 36% is not for immediate necessities.  But the Republican counterpart to the current bill makes even more drastic cuts than that, calling for only $24 billion.  Surely even Republicans can see the wisdom in shoring up against the next flood.

 

In any case, Chuck Schumer is playing the menacing card, warning Republicans in disaster prone states of what to expect next time they're hit if they don't act appropriately now.

 

 

Day 44

In contrast to the over $80 billion requested by tri-state reps in Sandy relief, the Senate is proffering $60 billion of which Democrats would give $336 million to Amtrak,10 times as much as the White House is requesting.

 

Needless to say, Republicans are dredging up the specter of profligate waste and fraud that followed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, both on the micro level (identity theft to procure the $2000 cards offered to victims) and the macro:  "Exhibit A is the revelation that FEMA purchased 24,967 prefabricated homes at a cost of $857.8 million, and 1,295 modular homes at a cost of $40 million. The Department of Homeland Security's inspector general, Richard Skinner, told the Senate that  'it is unclear how the decision was made' to spend $900 million on the more than 26,000 homes. It is clear, however, that almost every penny of that money was wasted, since FEMA's own regulations prohibit the use of mobile homes in flood plains."

 

Are those the same homes whose toxicity was confirmed by the CDC?  If so, let's hope they're not the ones being recycled for the victims of Sandy.

 

 

 

Day 43

 

For those who like to feast on record breaking stats, here's Hurricane Sandy by the Numbers.

 

Ten photos were uploaded to Instagram every second just on October 29.

 

124:  The number of years since the last time the New York Stock Exchange was closed two days in a row because of weather.

 

57,000 utility workers from thirty states and Canada were brought in to help Con Ed.

 

New York may be the hub of disaster but at least when one happens, we get some action.

 

 

 

Day 42

Remember the brouhaha over the re-classification of Hurricane Sandy as a "post-tropical cyclone" an hour before it made landfall?

 

Perhaps you thought, as many did, that the category was an issue because of the lives it may have cost.  If so, you probably also thought that the National Hurricane Center and its parent, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, simply lacked in all due caution.

 

Turns out those are not the pivotal issues.

 

The reason behind the underestimate was money.  Had the weather agencies called the hurricane by its proper name, insurance companies could have invoked the hurricane deductible in their contracts.

 

There's something noble - Robin Hoodish - about protecting consumers from big, bad corporations.  The irony, though, is that this politicization of nomenclature could undermine efforts to bolster the case for climate change science. 

 

 

 

Day 41

 

As Hurricane Sandy is superceded by the more recent Sandy tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, the consequences of the storm nevertheless continue to unfold inexorably.

 

In Hoboken, the most transportation-dependent community in the country, surpassing even New York City, the PATH station remains shut.  As a result, shop owners who were fortunate enough to still have their businesses report a decline in sales of up to 70%.  In addition, the bar scene has lost its bargain-hunters from Manhattan.

 

The actual economic losses haven't yet been assessed but the New York Times says that "in a 2011 report for New York State, Dr. Klaus H. Jacob, a climate scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, estimated that a storm like Hurricane Sandy could cause $10 billion in physical damage to the region’s public transportation systems and another $48 billion in economic damages caused by transportation disruptions."

 

 

 

Day 40


Astonishingly, since there's been so little news from that front recently, 11,000 residents in Far Rockaway still lack electricity, heat and hot water.  100 of them marched in protest today, demanding also that the city remediate the mold before the cold settles in.  Before the cold settles in?  It's 43 degrees out right now.  Landlords are obliged to provide heat as soon as it dips down to 55 for waking hours.

 

But help is on the way!  "The Federal Emergency Management Agency and city officials in New York and Long Island have teamed up to launch a $500 million recovery project called “Rapid Repair.”

 

The term "Rapid Repair" is reminiscent of the Clean Air Act:  It follows the law of nomenclature which says that if you put the word "rapid" in the name, people will forget it took over six weeks just to get started.

 

 

 

Day 39

These remarks, in which my true colors as a New Yorker show through, are going to raise the hackles of a sizable portion of Cnet readership:

The tragic events in Newtown Connecticut have predictably led to renewed calls for gun control, once and for all.  But in some outlets, these cries have been met with references to the knife attack on an equivalent number of school children on the other side of the globe, in China, where a mentally deranged man attacked an elderly woman and twenty-three children in Henan province.

 

It's a convenient counterbalance in terms of numbers:  20 children dead in the US versus 22 children "injured" in China.

 

In fact, the China attack is fodder for the opposite argument:  Only two of those 22 children were seriously injured and so far nobody has died.  How could it have been otherwise unless the children had been untended?  The knife-wielder was soon overpowered by security guards.  In the American case, the gunman, as so often happens, was only done in by his own hand.

 

So no, it's not just crazy or "evil" people who commit mayhem - the weaponry plays a role.

 

 

 

 

Day 38

At least 125 people died in the US from Hurricane Sandy.  With the infamous exception of Glenda Moore, the woman who was turned away by a man on whose door she knocked (he says he believed he was being robbed) and whose children drowned as a result, we know little about the circumstances. 

 

Here's one story:

 

Anthony Garh, an immigrant from Ghana, arrived at his post in a downtown parking garage, next to a building that is home to Meryl Streep and Gwyneth Paltrow, to mind the cars during the storm.  The account linked to above suggests he was told to do so, although Mayor Bloomberg had mandated evacuation of the area.  Other accounts of the same story say that he offered.

 

“'Momo [his colleague, who escaped] kept saying, ‘He won’t leave, he won’t leave the cars,’ ” Mr. Greenberg said. 'Like a captain going down with the ship.'”

 

Although several of his relatives were fishermen and Garh himself was an able swimmer, the flood trapped him in the garage.

 

 

 

Day 37

The National Weather Service is being reviewed again for its performance in the days leading up to the arrival of Hurricane Sandy, the first review team having been disbanded only a week into its investigation for bureaucratic reasons which no one can agree on. Although Mayor Bloomberg has received generally high marks for his warmings prior to the disaster (except from the residents of Breezy Point and other neighborhoods on the front lines which are more concerned with his neglect of their plight since then,) the NOAA is asking whether the Weather Service erred in downplaying Sandy's status from hurricane to simply "high winds."  This decision, it is argued, influenced Mayor Bloomberg in not ordering the evacuation of critical areas until 24 hours before the storm's arrival.

 

“'It was the worst communication debacle that I can remember from the National Weather Service,' wrote Weather Channel meteorologist Bryan Norcross on his blog."

 

Also today, a state legislative panel in New Jersey began hearing testimony from those affected by the hurricane.  The reports so far echo those heard after 9/11:

 

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) on Sandy, 2012:  "If you had an issue, you just had to figure out how to get it done yourself.”

 

Lower Manhattan resident and the President of Downtown Alliance Elizabeth Berger testifying on 9/11 to Senators Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman in 2002: "Wereluctantly made our own rules, divined from press reports, high school science as we remembered it and the advice of friends and neighbors. "

 

Scanlon on Sandy: "This was unprecedented." 

 

Google 9/11 and the word "unprecedented" and you get over eight million hits.

 

 

 

 

Day 36

They're baaack - the FEMA trailers, that is.

 

For those who, for reasons of youth or absence, may not remember the cloud of infamy rising along with the fumes of formaldehyde from the FEMA trailers generously provided to the victims of Hurricane Katrina (one of whom apparently died as a result,) they were banned from ever being used again for long-term housing

 

Nevertheless, they resurfaced for just such use after the BP oil disaster.

 

“The price was right,” said Buddy Fuzzell, an executive with Cahaba Disaster Recovery, a contracting firm that bought 15 trailers [from the government which, as mentioned above, had banned their use,] for about 45 cleanup workers.

 

Now they are making their third contribution to the cause of toxic housing:  FEMA Set to Deploy Trailers in Sandy-Ravaged NJ.

 

Of course, these may not be exactly the same ones.  Place your bets, all those who believe that FEMA has seen the error of its ways and revised the construction of the units.

 

And, as in the case of the two preceding disasters, they're not intended to provide a permanent solution. 

 

"NBC 4 New York has learned that there is also an effort underway in New Jersey to find a university willing to sponsor a multi-million dollar revolving fund to finance the purchase of modular, factory-made homes while also using their students to help in neighborhood rebuilding."

Good luck with that, unless there's a quid buried somewhere in the substantial quo. 

The NBC 4 New York reporter apparently agrees with my skepticism, ending the article: "Such a university has yet to be identified, however."

 

 

 

Day 35

Caught up with a friend whom I hadn't seen since before Hurricane Sandy.

"We were in Zone A," she said. "That apartment was supposed to be my retirement nest egg. Now you can't sell it. The ground floor apartments are in an even worse position although before the hurricane, they were the most sought after - they're garden apartments. But now that they've been under five feet of water, they're considered basement apartments.

'There was one woman in the complex, an immigrant, who rescued her daughter's wedding dress and hung it in a tree. After the hurricane, she just stood there saying, 'My daughter. Two weeks.' I didn't dare ask her if the wedding had been two weeks before or was going to be in two weeks.

"Why did people stay?" I asked.

"It didn't seem like much in the beginning - just five inches of water. People started bailing it out."

"How long did it take to get to five feet?"

"No time. It came through the walls, through the mortar. We're having the building assessed for mold. The management hired two engineers. One of them said, 'Open all the vents to let the mold escape.' The other one said, 'Keep the vents closed so as not to spread the mold.'

 

'The clean-up crew showed up in hazmat suits.  Then there's the super who's wondering, 'What about me?'  But he goes in anyway; he's afraid of losing his job.

'When the phone service came back on my sister called and said, 'You're going to kill me for this but FEMA's going to check on you - I was so worried, I told them you were an elderly shut-in.'

 

'I told people I was a therapist in case anyone needed crisis counseling.  Two of my patients lost their homes. 

 

'But my dog's more traumatized than anybody.  He was a rescue dog - nothing used to phase him but now he's become hyper-alert, almost paranoid."

 

 

 

 

Day 34

Google "hurricane" and "Sandy" on any given day and you rarely come up with a news item about the effect on the Caribbean.  Yet it was here that most of the casualties took place, 69, as of October 29:  About Cuba, "a UN observer declared it to be the worst catastrophe to hit Santiago in over 50 years. Over 130,000 homes and 200 medical facilities were destroyed or damaged. 11 persons were killed...a very high number in Cuba, which is known for its extensive disaster preparedness."  In all, 1.5 million of the country's 11 million inhabitants were said to have been directly affected by the disaster.

 

In nearby Haiti, over 54 people died and doctors were working to contain the ongoing threat of cholera.  The makeshift homes set up in Port-au-Prince after the earthquake of 2010 have been demolished, leaving 18,000 families homeless. The UN relief agency estimates 1.8 million Haitians [to] have been affected by the hurricane, approximately 18% of the population.

 

In addition, both nations face a food crisis..." with up to 70% of crops in the south of [Haiti] estimated to have been destroyed.

 

 

 

 

Day 33

Sandy may indeed turn out to be a far cheaper storm than Katrina but not because it was so much less devastating - rather, because it took place when purse strings were tightening even more tautly.

The White House has responded to the tri-state area's three governors' as well as Mayor Bloomberg's combined requests for over $80 billion with the counteroffer of a request to Congress for $50 billion.

It's not as though those on the receiving end have any bargaining power, aside from the areas they represent which are critical to, well... the operation of the entire global economy.  Senator Harry Reid is not willing to finance the disaster relief by cutting other programs. Thus the money would more likely come out of that infinite store of abundance, "federal debt," or, as it's called around here, "the printing press."

 

One factor working in the victims' favor is the presence on the Appropriations Committee of Senator Mary Landrieu whose home state, Louisiana, was on the front lines of Hurricane Katrina.  Rather than deal with emergencies now and long term projects later, as suggested by a Republican colleague, Harold Rogers of Kentucky,Landrieu said they should "do as large a package as soon as possible.”

The other possible outcome of all this, (unlikely, since the usual m.o. is to obscure reality in confusion,) is that Sandy may turn out to be the moment when the US economy openly hit the wall although there have been vast disasters in the recent past, such as the BP oil "spill;" the key word here is "openly."

 

 

 

Day 32

The original reports of Hurricane Sandy in relation to rats was a reassuring one:  A lot of them probably drowned.

 

But lurking under this optimism was a troubling flip side:  Doesn't the theory of evolution teach that the rats who survived would be the fittest?  Wouldn't we be left with a bigger, better rat who would go on to breed unimpeded by his less fit fellows?

 

It would appear that this disquieting view has come to pass.  Yesterday, a video captured a large, "resilient" rat poking around in the window of an upscale Upper East Side food shop under the Grade A sign from the Health Department.

 

In addition to bolstering the robustness of the species, Sandy's displacement of the surviving rats will allow for a greater spread of disease from one rat population to another and ultimately, to humans.

 

"Urban rats are known to carry infectious diseases including leptospirosis, typhus, salmonella, hantavirus, and even the plague. The incubation period for these diseases in humans is usually a couple of weeks or months, and symptoms are often similar to those of a common flu. According to [Rick] Ostfeld [of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y.,] 'In the coming weeks and months, health-care providers should have rat-borne diseases on their radars and potentially test for them.'”

 

 

 

Day 31

The city is giving the finger to Sandy victims in a way that seems designed to arouse a furor.  

 

As soon as the hurricane passed last month, the dearth of aid from official quarters led some Staten Island residents to take matters into their own hands.  One of them, Aiman Youseff, constructed a makeshift "hub" on the ground where, a few days before, his house had stood.  Here volunteers brought food and other donated supplies which could be picked up as needed by residents (to the extent that you can be called a resident when your residence has been destroyed.)

 

Now the City has declared the hub "unsafe" and restricted its activity, even sending away a Red Cross truck. 

 

Though lacking the midnight raid aspect, the move is reminiscent of the end of Occupy Wall Street at Zucotti Park last year, particularly in its pseudo-concern while at the same time, the government's own lack of help tells a different story.  Doubtless the restraint the city is exercising in the current instance is intended to convey their sympathy with the blameless victims of the storm.   

 

But in a development sure to delight the gods of irony who actually pull the strings in the universe, one of the "positive" effects of Hurricane Sandy is that it boosted November car sales.  Honda reports having its best U.S. auto sales rate in almost five years and Toyota's sales rose 17%.  Halliburton would be proud. 

 

 

Day 30

The race is on for recovery funds before a trillion dollar's worth of budget cuts or raised taxes kick in with the upcoming fiscal cliff. And in this final lap around the offices of Capitol Hill, comparisons are inevitable - as in, "My disaster is bigger than yours."

While New England is not claiming much economic damage as a result of Hurricane Sandy, they point out that one result will be greater difficulty in obtaining insurance.

So far, federal agencies have doled out $180 million in contacts. Even though it's been only a month since the hurricane, the amount spent on hiring contractors almost equals that spent for the entire year following Tropical Storm Irene.

"The second-biggest recipient of Sandy-related contracts was closely held Estes Express Lines, based in Richmond, with about $23.3 million in awards. The firm coordinated distribution of 600 loads of water, meals, blankets, cots, generators and baby formula in New Jersey and New York, said Ken Niemaseck, a division vice president at the company."

That comes to over $33,000 per load which, even with the generators, seems an awful lot for baby formula and sundry other supplies.  

 

Even compared to Hurricane Katrina, Sandy's statistics are impressive because, as Governor Cuomo points out, New York is so much more densely populated than the Gulf Coast.  Thus along with Hurricane Rita less than a month later,Katrina destroyed or damaged 215,000 homes, while Sandy had a similar effect on 305,000.  When you compare statistics on businesses, the differences are even more stark with 18,500 damaged or destroyed by Rita and Katrina; 265,000 by Sandy.

 

 

Day 29

An article in Forbes Magazine maintains that the mayhem which Sandy caused didn't include nuclear waste "because we do think about these things and do plan for them."

 

That's reassuring - or would be if the reader believed it; as indeed he might unless he delved a little deeper.  For other media outlets have a less complacent view.  An article at Democracy Now on October 29, the day of the hurricane itself, states:  "So far, there have been no reports of reactors shutting down, despite operating under licenses that require them to do so if weather conditions are too severe."

 

So much for foresight.

 

The article continues:  "The biggest problem, as I see it right now, is the Oyster Creek plant, which is on Barnegat Bay in New Jersey," says former nuclear executive Arnie Gundersen, noting it lies in the projected eye of the storm. "Oyster Creek is the same design, but even older than Fukushima Daiichi unit 1.

 

In fact, it was not foresight but nature which forced some plants to close: 

 

"PSEG Nuclear spokesman Joe Delmar said plant operators manually stopped the reactor early Tuesday morning when four of six recirculation pumps failed in a cooling line that turns steam heated by the reactor back into water. Plant officials suspect the storm sent large amounts of marsh mud and grass into the water, which caused problems as the debris seeped into the cooling system, Delmar said.

 

Because its circulation system was not functioning normally, the plant was venting built-up steam into the atmosphere, NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said. That steam is isolated from the intense radiation deep inside a nuclear reactor and does not pose a health threat, Burnell said. It is possible that very small amounts of radioactive tritium might be present in the steam."


"The storm also appeared to knock out emergency sirens used to notify residents who live near the Oyster Creek and Peach Bottom plants in Pennsylvania, according to NRC reports."


Having your emergency siren knocked out doesn't sound much like foresight either.  Nor does an influx of mud and grass into the water resulting in the venting of steam into the atmosphere which just may have contained an ever so slight amount of radioactive tritium. 


But it sure is great to be able to trust The Power That Be.

 

 

 

Day 28

Most people would agree that whether or not to rebuild a housing development in a flood zone after a hurricane is a matter of reasoned decision making (the term "flood zone" itself requiring redefinition as a result of that hurricane;) whether or not to remediate raw sewage and prevent more of the same in the future would seem to be less optional.

 

And Sandy was definitely an occasion of the s*** hitting the fan, 75 million gallons of it flowing into Raritan Bay each day for nearly a week before power was restored.

 

I'm not sure how the finances break down between essential projects and boondoggles for the rich but New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has raised the state's reimbursement request from $30- to $42 billion.

 

In New Jersey, the cost of debris removal in just one town, Toms River, is $1 million a week.  Gov. Chris Christie has asked for $36.8 billion for the state and Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy is asking for over $3 billion.  

 

Whatever the feds can't or won't cover will either have to be compensated through higher taxes or left undone.

 

 

Day 27

Natural disasters are like bank failures in a number of ways but one that is usually overlooked is this:  It's best to suffer yours early in the game while there's still money available to bail you out.  (That's assuming that disasters are to be doled out evenly so that you only get one, at least until the second go-around.  In reality, of course, if you're poor, you'll get more than your share.)

 

Thus with Sandy, we have not yet undergone hurricane fatigue.  WIll Ferrell and Sarah Silverman will perform in a star-studded 'We Hate Hurricanes' Benefit hosted by Jon Hamm.  And Mayor Bloomberg spent the day in Washington lobbying for more disaster aid for Sandy  victims.

 

Susan Collins (D. - Maine) "said she needs to see more detailed numbers on damages before deciding how much to appropriate. But she did say it appeared that New York officials were not trying to exaggerate how badly the state was hit — as she claims Louisiana’s big wigs did after Hurricane Katrina seven years ago..."

Or is it just that New York has more clout?

 

The real question is, if we get more money, how will it be allocated?  New Yorkers are resented because of Wall Street but that's not the constituency that's hurting as a result of the hurricane.  However, outsiders are not always aware of these distinctions and labor under the delusion that they'd be bailing out Goldman Sachs - yet again.  They may turn out to be right of course, but that's still not the fault of the heat-and-electricityless residents of Red Hook.

 

Shumer seems to be setting the stage for disappointment on the added aid front anyway, pointing out, “We have a Congress that is decidedly less friendly to disaster aid than any in 100 years.”

 

 

 

Day 26

Disasters, whether on the microscopic scale, such as in genetic changes brought about by carcinogens, or the macro, such as in once-in-a-century hurricanes, do not come with labels attached. They do not shout, "Brought to you by asbestos" or "...by climate change," as the case may be. It is up to the reasonable person to figure out the likelihood of causation.

In a judicial court, the "reasonable men" of the jury are advised, according to accumulated legal wisdom, how to go about this process. But in the court of real life, no "reasonable man" standards apply. The argument can churn like a soap opera spin-off, as long as people are willing to let it.

In Europe, the Precautionary Principle has been developed to protect the public against pollutants or other possible health threats when science has not yet determined one way or the other.

In America, any industrial product is innocent until proven guilty; likewise any consequence of the use of fossil fuels.  Industry can always dredge up a hired-gun scientist to dispute the common consensus about climate change or scrape the barrel of history for another era when temperature fluctuations were comparable to what we are experiencing today.  If you seek proof of this cynical but accurate assessment, read Sheldon Rampton's and John Stauber's excellent Trust Us We're Experts: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles with Your Future.

 

As long as some latter-day robber baron is willing to pay for the media coverage, we will be debating climate change and lethally toxic substances until they get us all, one way or another. 

 

 

 

Day 25

Sandy has brought to the fore the tensions between various segments of city society.  Having borne the brunt of the injury with the loss of both power and heat, residents in public housing - the city's pre-eminent have-nots - often suffered the added insult of being helped by the people they most resented:  the haves.

 

Being in no position to spurn that help, many opted to swallow their pride and accept it graciously.

 

Sometimes this worked to make amends and even forge new bonds but for others, it was too hard.

 

One man took his children out of a relief center when a well-meaning volunteer asked him, ";Have you eaten in two days?"

 

"What do you think?" he responded.  "You think we live in the bush?"

 

Other victims report "Sandy tourists" who came to their neighborhoods not even to help but simply to rubberneck and have a cozy dinner at a functioning restaurant before heading back home.

 

The same feelings of disbelief and disgust on the part of the locals prevailed after 9/11 when tourists shuffled along the platform raised above "the pit" at Ground Zero, ushered by their de facto guides, the cops, and had their pictures taken.  I will never forget a group of thirty-somethings on the subway back uptown as they perused their booty of photos while laughing with abandon.  The ruin they'd just witnessed meant no more to them than the Coliseum.

 

 

 

Day 24

In the days immediately following Hurricane Sandy, as I headed to outposts around Manhattan that were collecting items for the victims, I periodically entertained questions about the purity of the journalistic profession in a case like this. The argument, when you have the leisure for one, goes something like this: A journalist should not become part of the story. That compromises her objectivity and since journalism itself can be a sort of activism, ultimately leading to more help for the victims of the disaster than they could get from the journalist as an individual, he or she is actually doing them a favor by staying out of frame. Translated into action that means: Refrain.

But when you're in the trenches (as I was not - I got to go home to a well heated, well lit apartment at night) you just say, "Fuck it." You're a person first and always and you reason that if that impinges on your journalistic integrity... you'll figure something out later. (The answer may be different when it's your only job.)

Here's what I fgured out later: It's OK to mix the brew as long as you're up front about it. Then if there's a conflict of interest, well... we warned you. So it's not the New York Times; it's more of a diary. BFD.

 

 

Day 23

As has been widely observed with a fatalistic shake of the head, those most severely impacted by Hurricane Sandy were the poor and elderly in public housing. Since this is a population which tends to be more vulnerable to asthma and other respiratory illnesses, Sandy could reasonably be expected to deliver a double whammy in the form of mold and fungus left in its wake.

Compounding this insult, some of the public housing units are located near industrial zones or sites that have been condemned as Superfunds. Even Hurricane Irene, whose impact didn't live up to its hype, managed to stir up enough toxics to contaminate a little league field, prompting the EPA to remediate a portion of the Passaic River. (That's no mean feat but as a former plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against the agency, I'd like to know more details of the protocol they followed.)

One of the Superfunds sits on the site of a former factory of Agent Orange, a notorious chemical of Vietnam-era fame which is rife with dioxin, one of the most toxic substances known to man. True to form, the EPA says the Superfund poses no immediate risk, leaving the question hanging in the air, "What about long-term risk?" 

 

The assessment of negative short term risk (a straw man issue anyway) is endorsed by Ryan Miller, a research engineer at Rutgers University which was also a player after 9/11 when Rutgers Professor Paul Lioy served as the Vice-Chair of the ill-fated World Trade Center Expert Technical Review Panel.  The panel met for over a year before dissolving in discord.  As an activist who testified at every meeting, I would no doubt be blamed by Lioy for a share of that discord.

 

But in keeping with their tradition of perceiving no evil where manmade contaminants are concerned, at Superfund Newtown Creek, the only contaminant which the government admitted to be high was bacteria.

 

 

Day 22

History may view Sandy as the first disaster in which social media played a significant role.

While the hurricane raged, a Facebook page "became a lifeline for storm-ravaged NJ residents" to such an extent that when 911 became overloaded, the page was monitored by New Jersey's State Office of Emergency Management for people in need of rescue.

Once the hurricane passed, Occupy Sandy's wedding registry was set up which as of November 14, had colledted $650,000.  The sum may be dwarfed by the Red Cross' $120 million but considering its grass roots origins, it's a lot more impressive.

It's the marriage of social media with volunteerism that proves such a dynamic combination.  Spontaneous action on the part of civilians is not subject to the bureaucratic obstacles that bog down institutions.  A man with a plan doesn't need his superior to sign off on it; he just runs with the idea.

 

Thus Recovers.org, founded by MIT Ph.D candidate Morgan O'Neill and her sister, links volunteers with the sites where their specific skills or offerings are needed.

"'Larger [organizations] can't touch a casserole that walks in,' [O'Neill] said. 'They don't know where that came from, they don't trust it. But someone should have it.'"

This debut of social media in the theater of disaster relief serves to highlight other charitable venues that have been around for a few years waiting for the right moment to be introduced:

i-kifu

App Donates To Charity Each Time You Open A New Browser Tab

The 10 Most Generous Social Media Mavens

 

 

Day 21

The Red Cross is in the hot seat again, although it's never hot enough to be effective.  As happened after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, they've collected a whole bunch of money ($120 million, this time, including $500,000 from BP) which they're holding onto while the victims of the disaster that prompted the outpouring go largely unaided, at least, by them. This, despite the fact that."the Red Cross has been designated by the U.S. Congress as the only non-governmental entity with the responsibility 'to lead and coordinate efforts to provide mass care, housing, and human services after disasters that require federal assistance,' according to a 2006 congressional review."

What is "human services," anyway?

"The field of Human Services is broadly defined, uniquely approaching the objective of meeting human needs through an interdisciplinary knowledge base, focusing on prevention as well as remediation of problems, and maintaining a commitment to improving the overall quality of life of service populations. The Human Services profession is one which promotes improved service delivery systems by addressing not only the quality of direct services, but also by seeking to improve accessibility, accountability, and coordination among professionals and agencies in service delivery."

Glad you asked?

But what with the allusions to improving accessibility, coordination and "overall quality of life," you'd think that when a resident asked for help moving a 90-year-old woman to a shelter with heat and electricity, the Red Cross wouldn't have told her, "We don't do that."

 

 

Day 20

The news has moved on but some of the victims of Hurricane Sandy cannot.  As of November 15, over 100 residents of Downtown Jersey City highrise were still homeless and according to FEMA, 86,000 households around New York and New Jersey have registered for federal assistance.  The toll will rise when winter settles in.  Displaced families tell stories of chaos at the armory they were moved to that will ring a bill among the "career homeless" who prefer sleeping over a subway grate in the street to the city shelters:  One bathroom for all the men; sharing a dormitory with active and violent lunatics.  One family returned to their benevolent landlady'sunheated spare room in order to escape.    

The silver lining:  The Red Cross has come through with 300,000 pounds of pet food.

 

 

Day 19

Some good news on the Sandy front:

Downtown Alliance, whose mission is to promote the quality of life in Lower Manhattan, is offering grants to Sandy-affected small businesses provided they:

Are located in Flood Zone A,

Are on the south side of Chambers Street or below,

Have 50 or fewer employees,

Have gross annual revenues of $5 million or less      

Have been open for at least a year (or have a 5-year lease)      

Are open at the time of application, or (for those located in buildings closed for storm-related reasons) are scheduled to open by April 2013

Are able to document loss and replacement costs not covered 100% by insurance or other reimbursement. 

 

If history is any indicator, far more assistance will be proffered to any heavy hitters who may have suffered damage.  That's what happened after 9/11 when "the [Lower Manhattan Development Corporation] favor[ed] big business and real estate interests over community priorities, award[ed] contracts to recipients who ha[d] relationships with board members, and ma[de] use of an unaccountable process that greatly limit[ed] public input, particularly from low and middle-income residents."

 

Liberty Bonds, also intended for rebuilding Lower Manhattan, found their way into the hands of (among other projects,) a Bank of America building in Midtown and of course, Goldman Sachs.  It's ironic to read an article on the subject written in 2011 which points out how they should have been used to bolster flood protection.

 

 

 

Day 18

November 19  Residents from the Rockaways, Red Hook and Coney Island may still lack heat and power but they are invited to a free pre-Thanksgiving meal hosted by the Daily News and the Old Homestead Steakhouse in the Meat Packing district.  The downside will be getting home afterwards and up those seventeen or whatever flights of stairs in the dark.

 

Residents of 2 Gold Street in lower Manhattan will be allowed to break their leases - not surprising since the building is not expected to reopen until March. But at 90 Washington Street, rent was still required for November although the building was not allowed to be inhabited.

 

The city of Hoboken is hauling approximately five times as much trash as usual, and it's heavier because it's wet.

 

Four hospitals remain closed, their patients evacuated to sister institutions which in several cases initially lost millions of dollars, due to taking in Medicaid and uninsured patients from Bellevue or nursing homes.  The hospitals that took in displaced NYU patients, however, the ones who might need "high end" procedures, could profit temporarily or even permanently, if they win those patients over.

 

 

Day 17

Sandy was an egalitarian hurricane but the aftermath was less so. Why is it that the poor always end up getting the short end of the stick? The low for today and tomorrow is 39 degrees but as of November 16, approximately 3600 people in public housing were still without heat.

Governor Andrew Cuomo "has repeatedly blasted the utilit[ies]' slow response and allegedly poor preparation for the hurricane, and has threatened to restructure the monopol[ies], as well as National Grid, which is contacted by LIPA."   But is anyone going to ask the utilities how it happened that power was restored to wealthier neighborhoods first?  Was that simply a matter of chance?

The only downside to the heroic work performed by thousands of volunteers is that it muted the egregious failures of state and federal agencies. As it stands, the job of pointing these out has been left to General Russel Honore who highlights the omissions of New York and New Jersey by comparing them unfavorably to the sterling work done by the general himself, along with his cohort, in the wake of... wait for it... Hurricane Katrina.

You know you're in trouble when you come off the loser in that competition.

 

 

Day 16

While hundreds of victims of Sandy remain without heat and Con Edison and the Long Island Power Authority are getting subpoenaed, the utilities are watching the bottom line.

In a press release published November 11, Con Edison estimated their costs for Sandy and the Nor'easter to be between $350-450 million, with all due caveats about projections into the future. Add to that $75-100 million for Orange and Rockland Counties Utilities, a Con Ed subsidiary.

"Sandy caused five times as many outages as the next largest storm in Con Edison history, Hurricane Irene," the company explained. Between replacing 60 miles of cable and doing other repairs Con Ed, in conjunction with thousands of mutual aid and contractor personnel, has gone through a year's worth of some materials since the hurricane struck.


report filed with the SEC spells out some details missing from the materials handed out to the press: "These preliminary estimates do not include the costs that will continue to be incurred to inspect and assess the condition of the energy systems of CECONY and O&R, and to repair them to their normal operating condition."

Inspect, assess, repair... Isn't that sort of like... everything?

As for LIPA, in my inbox this evening was an email from LIPALIES. The latter part of the word stands for Long Island Energy Surveillance although the acronym is interesting.

The email argues for the forgiveness of LIPA's debt, but in the process it points out some singular details about the meteoroligical structure of Long Island and the resulting contamination of the environment:

"TEN BILLION DOLLAR PERPETUAL DEBT… LIPA has increased its debt to $10 billion and devised principal free Interest payments making the debt perpetual. LIPAs debt is 17.5% of everyratepayers bill. This makes future capital project borrowing economically impossible 

FEDERAL, STATE AND LOCAL POWER GENERATION REGULATIONS… require LIPA to maintain 104% of its needed generation capacity on long Island. The regulators do not take into account the health and financial cost associated with this regulation. National Grids five mega generation plants are waste oil fed plants. Waste oil is 10% anything and 90% low grade crude. As a result, 75% of what the giant legacy plants burn goes up in smoke and within hours creeps down into the open doors and windows of Long Island homes because Long Island experiences thermal inversion. which allows smoke staked pollutants to rise a few thousand meters and then drop back to the ground causing air, water and ground pollution. Wheedled cable power and newer plants are less expensive to run and cleaner."

LIPA chief executive Mike Harvey resigned Tuesday.

 

 

Day 15

In the days immediately following 9/11, donations of food to rescue workers and volunteers were so overwhelming that word went out to desist; Ground Zero was being overrun with rats.

That was no doubt true as it so often is when anyone digs a few feet deep in New York City, let alone sixteen acres' worth; no one thought the order weird. (It was probably legitimate; anyway, we were innocent in those days and believed in our government.)

But then the Red Cross, which has since been plagued with scandals in a number of its chapters, failed to distribute hundreds of millions in donations, saying, in essence, that they were hanging onto it for a rainy day. (Parts of Chinatown which had been cordoned off were losing all their business at the time, to say nothing of the health consequences which hundreds of thousands of residents were exposed to.)

This scenario, like so many others, is being replayed in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Volunteers ride to the rescue only to be told, whether politiely or not, "No thanks." (Latest word from FEMA to Island: Stop - from Robin Westenra - and Tennessee Volunteers Reportedly Turned Away From Sandy Recovery Efforts.)

This, from agencies who themselves are flagrantly MIA.

It's all reminiscent of the government hacks who harass people for growing their own food.

The only surprising aspect of it all is how in-your-face they are, as though taunting us, saying, "Whatcha gonna do about it, huh?"

 

 

Day 14

A teacher came back this week from a forced vacation in New Jersey where she had stayed in her apartment during Hurricane Sandy in order to protect it from looters. (This, combined with the memory of the fizzle which Hurricane Irene turned out to be last year, is undoubtedly the reason many people chose to stay put rather than honor evacuation orders.) The water flooded the ground floor but she, her daughter and grandchild are on the floor above. As the waters rose, they simply went to a higher floor.

Three strangers who'd been rendered homeless asked for shelter which she provided. For three hours, they watched the flood waters hypnotically, saying every hour or so, "It's gone down an inch." When it seemed safe enough to wade home, they left. The water level was deceptive, however, and they ended up swimming.

Because of the flooded ground floor, the teacher's apartment had the only exit for the building so for the next week, she opened it up to her neighbors for use, along with her landline which was the only means of communication.

"It was like a scene out of Hurricane Katrina," she said about one point during the disaster. Indeed. "There was a fireman on the corner and we called to him but he ignored us. Finally he came and looked around. When we asked for help he said, 'I'm not even supposed to be here. I can't help anyone until 7 a.m. tomorrow.'"

Tough love or tough shit?

 

 

Day 13

A student told us today about her co-worker who's been without power or water since Hurricane Sandy. The co-worker still comes to work, arriving at six A.M. so she can have some privacy to wash up as well as possible in the sink.

I finally asked a question that's been nagging anybody who's thought about the logistics of this disaster for more than two seconds: How do the residents of waterless apartment buildings go to the bathroom, now that the bathtubs they filled in preparation for Sandy have been drained dry?

We've heard about some stairwells that smell revolting but there are other solutions. What the student's co-worker has been doing is bringing a one gallon container to work, filling it with water at the end of the day and taking it home to wash up. But that's not the end of it. She saves the dirty water and uses it to flush the toilet.

Another student who came back today said that last week, he drove to Pennsylvania for gas.

Of course, there's an irony to all the gas-line stories: The more everyone drives, the more violent the hurricanes will be.

With each disaster, the knowledge sinks in deeper that help will not come from government agencies but rather, from volunteers. Between its sign reading, "Closed due to inclement weather" and the recommendation to stranded residents to call 911, FEMA has given the bureaucratic finger to evacuees. Enter Occupy Sandy which has sprung into action with the sort of organizational prowess that was also in evidence at GOLES and was described in this morning's Times in the Rockaways. Even Katrina Victims are coming to the rescue.

If it is possible for ordinary people with no budget or materials to get things done, what's wrong, you may ask, with the multi-billion dollar Federal agencies?

At least this time around, they're not actively lying, telling victims, "Good news! The sewage in your basements is actually harmless." Knowing they'd be jeered off the podium, the relevant agencies are simply lying low. This time, it's an actual medical doctor who's arrived on the scene to assure people that mold is not so bad to inhale, unless your immune system is compromised or you're like one of those unfortunate souls who had meningitis injected into their spinal cords where the blood supply was inadequate to fight off infection.

Here are some alternative views on the toxic residue of the disaster, courtesy of Hugh Kaufman, senior policy analyst at the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response and a great ally after 9/11. He was also a major whistleblower after the BP oil spill:

1. Mold is not the only concern. The sludge may also contain communicable illnesses (gonorrhea, E. coli or salmonella exposure to carcinogenic mixtures that may not show their consequences for years).

2. "A hedge fund put up several of its traders at a downtown hotel to allow them to remain close to the office to monitor their trading positions. “The water coming out of the hotel taps was brown,” one of the traders told The Observer

. “I had no way of knowing if this was rust or sewage. We tried to remember if you could make the water drinkable by putting iodine pills into it, or chlorine, or something else entirely. But no internet, so no Wikipedia. We compromised by pretending we were in a foreign country and just drank lots of gin. Quinine, right?” 

3. Mold Prevention Strategies and Possible Health Effects in the Aftermath of Hurricanes and Major Floods

4. Hurricane Recovery: Water / Legionnaires Disease

 

 

Day 12

Was supposed to see a friend this evening who was driving in from New Jersey. But it turns out her rental car has a licence plate number that won't allow her to fill up until tomorrow. So instead I went down to the Occupy Sandy Manhattan drop-off center at 46 Hester Street, in the middle of Chinatown.

It's actually not a fully-fledged Occupy headquarters (that's in Brooklyn) but the home of CAAAV, a "pan-Asian community-based organization that works to build the power of low income Asian immigrants and refugees in New York City." A homemade-looking poster depicted protesters with the logo, "We are the 99%" followed by a stream of Chinese.

The young woman who beckoned me in said they were accepting everything at this point except more clothes. I guess people need to eat continually but the urge to change your clothes is less compelling when you don't have heat. I repaired to the corner store and picked up some cans of white potatoes, peas and mixed vegetables as well as a large soap dispenser.

When I got back, I asked a question that had been bugging me for a few days: "Are the volunteers wearing protective gear when they clean up?"

"They use masks," she said. "We've asked for more as part of the donation list."

Shit. 9/11 Redux - again. (The first, "History repeats itself" event on the environmental front was the BP oil spill.)

She meant paper masks, the sort that, if we're talking about dust, can actually exacerbate the problem because they hold the dust inside. Granted, Sandy's a flood rather than a conflagration in which respect it's more analogous to the BP spill. But still, there are without question situations in which clean-up workers should be wearing respirators and/or protective clothing against the E. coli and other bacteria and volatile organic compounds they're being exposed to.

"Whom can I call about this?"

"They don't pick up the phone; when we want to discuss something with them, we email or ask them when they come for the donations."

So here's an idea for Collapsent readers who've been feeling frustrated in their wish to help out: Email Occupy Sandy and other relief organizations with a heading that alerts them to this need - something like, "Cleanup workers need protective clothing." That's just in case they don't bother to open the email; you want the message to sink in which may take hearing it several times from different sources.

In the body of the email, (in case they do open it) paste the caveats from the New York Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, copied here again to make it as easy as possible for you:

New York Committee on Occupational Safety and HealthWarning

- Hurricane cleanup and restoration work may have serious risks. Doing the wrong thing can endanger your safety, your health, and possibly your life.

IMMEDIATE SAFETY HAZARDS:

Building collapse or shift

- Do not enter a space that has any sign of not being structurally sound (for example, large cracks in the walls). If in doubt, stay out until it can be professionally evaluated.

Debris piles

- Where possible, avoid direct contact with unstable surfaces. Use bucket trucks, stable and secure scaffolding, and/or fall protection with secure anchor points.

Electrocution

- Assume that all power lines are energized unless you know they have been deenergized and tested. Do not enter any space that still contains flood waters until you are 100% certain that the electricity is off and will remain off.

Explosion

- Do not enter any space where there is a natural gas odor. If possible, do not enter any impacted space until you are sure that gas feeds have been shut off and will remain off.

Asphyxiation (death from lack of oxygen)

- Do not work in poorly ventilated areas which may be subject to emissions from gasoline-, diesel-, or propane-powered generators, vehicles, or

equipment. Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur outdoors as well as indoors.

CHEMICAL HAZARDS:

Toxic particulates (poisonous airborne dusts) -

During cleanup or restoration work, you may be exposed to asbestos, lead, silica, cement dust, or other toxic chemicals. Inhaling (breathing in) any of these chemicals can cause serious, permanent, long term harm to your health. Exposure to asbestos or silica may cause cancer.

Note: This fact sheet does not address all hazards. Additional hazards may be present.

To protect against toxic airborne dust, you may need to wear a respirator. A disposable N-95 or greater respirator can provide adequate protection against inhaling silica or cement dust. For protection against asbestos or lead, you will need at least a half face elastomeric (rubberized) respirator equipped with N,R, or P-100 HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters.

Do not use paper dust masks - they do not provide significant health protection.

BIOLOGICAL HAZARDS:

Mold -

Water and dampness can cause mold growth on building materials and furnishings, including sheet rock, ceiling tiles, wood, and carpets. Inhaling airborne mold can cause wheezing, respiratory distress, allergic reactions, and severe nasal, eye, and skin irritation. To protect against breathing in mold, use a disposable N-95 or greater respirator. Avoid skin contact with chemical or biological hazards. Wear protective gloves and clothing.

ADDITIONAL NYC HAZARDS:

GOWANUS CANAL & NEWTOWN CREEK AREAS

These areas are both highly polluted Superfund sites. Flooding of these areas is likely to complicate cleanup by introducing additional serious chemical and biological hazards. During and after Hurricane Sandy, untreated sewage mixed with storm water is likely to have overwhelmed sewage treatment plants, which then release sewage overflows into the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek (and also into New York Harbor and Jamaica Bay). Sandy caused both sites to overflow into nearby occupied areas. Sewage poses very significant threats to human health. Safe and effective cleanup or removal of sewage-contaminated materials is usually best left to technically qualified environmental professionals.

The Gowanus Canal Superfund site is contaminated with a variety of highly hazardous pollutants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), volatile organic contaminants(VOCs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), pesticides, and heavy metals. Some of these chemicals are carcinogens (cancer-causing).The Newtown Creek Superfund site is similarly contaminated with pesticides, metals, PCBs, and VOCs. Cleanup or removal of materials contaminated by overflow from the Gowanus Canal or Newtown Creek should be performed b technically qualified environmental professionals.

disposable N95

elastomeric HEPA

Using a respirator, even the right respirator, probably will not provide proper protection unless you have been fit-tested, trained, and qualified to use a respirator. If you are an employee and are required to use a respirator, your employer must provide you with a respirator at no cost, along with annual training, fit-testing, and medical clearance.

FLOOD CLEANUP RESOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

After a Flood: Precautions when Returning to your Home.

http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/floods/after.asp.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Clean Up Safely After a Disaster.

http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/cleanup/.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Natural Disasters: Response, Cleanup & Safety or Workers

http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/workers.asp.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Personal Hygiene and Handwashing After a

Disaster or Emergency.

http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/floods/sanitation.asp.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Reentering Your Flooded Home.

http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/mold/reenter.asp.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Returning Home After a Disaster: Be Healthy and Safe

http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/returnhome.asp.

Environmental Protection Agency.

Flooding. http://www.epa.gov/naturalevents/flooding.html.

Environmental Protection Agency.

Flood Cleanup and the Air in Your Home.

http://www.epa.gov/iaq/flood/flood_booklet_en.pdf.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Emergency Response Resources: Storm/Flood and Hurricane Response

http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/emres/flood.html.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Storm, Flood, and Hurricane Response

Recommendations for the Cleaning and Remediation of Flood-Contaminated HVAC Systems: A Guide for Building Owners and Managers

http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/emres/Cleaning-Flood-HVAC.html.

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Flood Response Orientation, Safety Awareness for Responders to Floods: Protecting Yourself While Helping Others

http://tools.niehs.gov/wetp/public/hasl_get_blob.cfm?ID=6709.

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Protecting Yourself While Removing Post-Disaster Debris from Your Home or Business

http://tools.niehs.gov/wetp/public/hasl_get_blob.cfm?ID=9295.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Floods.

http://www.osha.gov/dts/weather/flood/index.html.

 

 

Day 11

Thursday


The Sandy emails have been coming in thick and fast so I stayed home today to act on them, post or forward. There's an Occupy Sandy Wedding Registry with a list of needed items, some prioritized ("love to have," "like to have...") which make it abundantly clear this is not a scam by a couple who've always dreamed of being the proud owners of 4000 AAA batteries.

Am a little leery of how it's going to work out, though, since the registry takes 24-48 hours to update, which means that people could be buying hundreds more pairs of underwear than are still needed.

Also, disconcertingly, when I went to pay, Amazon already had in numero uno position the Occupy Sandy address although this is the first time I've shipped to them.

Of course, the item which nobody's bought yet - and the request is for five - is the

DuroMax XP4400E 4,400 Watt 7.0 HP OHV 4-Cycle Gas Powered Portable Generator With Wheel Kit And Electric Start for $599.99. They have gotten three

Champion Power Equipment 65529 2-Inch Gas Powered Semi-Trash Water Pump with Wheel and Hose Kit, CARB Compliant , though, for

$225.00 each, marked down from $440.00.

But between the portable generator and the time-lapse in updating the website, the smartest thing to do is probably just to give a gift card.

Newsflash: The website has raised $140,000.00 so far: Amazon wedding registries are backdoor for Sandy donations

 

 

Day 10

Wednesday 1 P.M.

"All happy families are alike but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

As it is with unhappy families, so is it with disasters. Each story is personal.

Got an email this morning from C., the other friend from the Lower East Side about whom I'd inquired at GOLES on Monday. The basement flooded, of course. But apart from the damage down there, as yet untold, the biggest visible loss is that the willow tree out back was felled.

Speaking of cleaning up, the New York Committee on Occupational Safety and Health sent out advice and a list of links about how to dispose of the possibly toxic mess which Sandy has left behind. It's copied at the end of this account. (NOTE TO CNET STAFF: YOU MAY ALSO WANT TO PLACE IT ELSEWHERE ON THE SITE WITH CREDIT TO NYCOSH)

4 P.M. Just got back from Saloon again. They said on the phone that they have enough clothes now but are in need of clean up materials, especially construction-size garbage bags. I headed over to the hardware store on Third Avenue and 87th, with a melange of cold rain and wet snow assaulting on all fronts - the sort of weather that gives November a bad rep - and got two boxes of industrial garbage bags. Between them and the umbrella, I decided to cab it to Saloon.

Closed.

Wtf? Why didn't they mention that on the phone?

A sign in the window reiterated the message about the surfeit of clothes and directed people with other donations to a church on 101st street. Not about to push my luck with a second cab in godawful weather, I left the construction bags with the manager of Mumtaz, the Indian restaurant next door, who said he's been helping the Saloon relief effort as well.

I wish it were easier to get supplies to Staten Island; ie, that you didn't have to go there in person which is a four hour round trip from here. A search for leads doesn't turn up much beyond the interesting news that the city now has dozens, if not hundreds, of "warming centers," euphemism for, "At four P.M., we throw you out." Congressman Grimm's office (which represents Staten Island) knows of no place to drop stuff off in Manhattan. The guy who answered the phone suggested the Red Cross but despite the impressive crusade of blankets stamped with unmissable red crosses at GOLES on Monday, I prefer to deal with smaller organizations that have zero overhead and no supposedly secondary (but actually primary) agenda of keeping themselves in business.

Warning

- Hurricane cleanup and restoration work may have serious risks. Doing the wrong

thing can endanger your safety, your health, and possibly your life.

IMMEDIATE SAFETY HAZARDS:

Building collapse or shift

- Do not enter a space that has any sign of not being structurally

sound (for example, large cracks in the walls). If in doubt, stay out until it can be professionally

evaluated.

Debris piles

- Where possible, avoid direct contact with unstable surfaces. Use bucket trucks,

stable and secure scaffolding, and/or fall protection with secure anchor points.

Electrocution

- Assume that all power lines are energized unless you know they have been deenergized

and tested. Do not enter any space that still contains flood waters until you are 100%

certain that the electricity is off and will remain off.

Explosion

- Do not enter any space where there is a natural gas odor. If possible, do not enter

any impacted space until you are sure that gas feeds have been shut off and will remain off.

Asphyxiation (death from lack of oxygen)

- Do not work in poorly ventilated areas which may

be subject to emissions from gasoline-, diesel-, or propane-powered generators, vehicles, or

equipment. Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur outdoors as well as indoors.

CHEMICAL HAZARDS:

Toxic particulates (poisonous airborne dusts) -

During cleanup or restoration work, you may

be exposed to

asbestos, lead, silica, cement dust, or other toxic chemicals. Inhaling

(breathing in) any of these chemicals can cause serious, permanent, long term harm to your

health. Exposure to asbestos or silica may cause cancer.

Note: This fact sheet does not address all hazards. Additional hazards may be present.

Page 1 of 3

To protect against toxic airborne dust, you may need to wear a

respirator. A disposable N-95 or greater respirator can provide

adequate protection against inhaling silica or cement dust. For

protection against asbestos or lead, you will need at least a

half face elastomeric (rubberized) respirator equipped with N,

R, or P-100 HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters.

Do

not use paper dust masks - they do not provide significant

health protection.

BIOLOGICAL HAZARDS:

Mold -

Water and dampness can cause mold growth on building materials and furnishings,

including sheet rock, ceiling tiles, wood, and carpets. Inhaling airborne mold can cause

wheezing, respiratory distress, allergic reactions, and severe nasal, eye, and skin irritation. To

protect against breathing in mold, use a disposable N-95 or greater respirator.

3

Avoid skin contact with chemical or biological hazards. Wear protective gloves and clothing.

ADDITIONAL NYC HAZARDS:

GOWANUS CANAL & NEWTOWN CREEK AREAS

These areas are both highly polluted Superfund sites. Flooding of these areas is likely to

complicate cleanup by introducing additional serious chemical and biological hazards.

During and after Hurricane Sandy, untreated sewage mixed with storm water is likely to have

overwhelmed sewage treatment plants, which then release sewage overflows into the Gowanus

Canal and Newtown Creek (and also into New York Harbor and Jamaica Bay). Sandy caused

both sites to overflow into nearby occupied areas. Sewage poses very significant threats to

human health. Safe and effective cleanup or removal of sewage-contaminated materials is

usually best left to technically qualified environmental professionals.

The Gowanus Canal Superfund site is contaminated with a variety of highly hazardous

pollutants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), volatile organic contaminants

(VOCs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), pesticides, and heavy metals. Some of these

chemicals are carcinogens (cancer-causing).The Newtown Creek Superfund site is similarly

contaminated with pesticides, metals, PCBs, and VOCs. Cleanup or removal of materials

contaminated by overflow from the Gowanus Canal or Newtown Creek should be performed by

technically qualified environmental professionals.

disposable N95

elastomeric HEPA

Using a respirator, even the right respirator, probably will not provide proper protection

unless you have been fit-tested, trained, and qualified to use a respirator.

If you are an employee and are required to use a respirator,

your employer must provide you with a respirator at no cost,

along with annual training, fit-testing, and medical clearance.

Page 2 of 3

FLOOD CLEANUP RESOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

After a Flood: Precautions when Returning to your

Home.

http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/floods/after.asp.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Clean Up Safely After a Disaster.

http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/cleanup/.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Natural Disasters: Response, Cleanup & Safety

for Workers

http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/workers.asp.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Personal Hygiene and Handwashing After a

Disaster or Emergency.

http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/floods/sanitation.asp.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Reentering Your Flooded Home.

http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/mold/reenter.asp.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Returning Home After a Disaster: Be Healthy and

Safe

http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/returnhome.asp.

Environmental Protection Agency.

Flooding. http://www.epa.gov/naturalevents/flooding.html.

Environmental Protection Agency.

Flood Cleanup and the Air in Your Home.

http://www.epa.gov/iaq/flood/flood_booklet_en.pdf.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Emergency Response Resources:

Storm/Flood and Hurricane Response

http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/emres/flood.html.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Storm, Flood, and Hurricane Response

Recommendations for the Cleaning and Remediation of Flood-Contaminated HVAC Systems: A

Guide for Building Owners and Managers

.

http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/emres/Cleaning-Flood-HVAC.html.

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Flood Response Orientation, Safety

Awareness for Responders to Floods: Protecting Yourself While Helping Others

.

http://tools.niehs.gov/wetp/public/hasl_get_blob.cfm?ID=6709.

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Protecting Yourself While Removing

Post-Disaster Debris from Your Home or Business

.

http://tools.niehs.gov/wetp/public/hasl_get_blob.cfm?ID=9295.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Floods.

http://www.osha.gov/dts/weather/flood/index.html.

 

 

Day 9

Tuesday

"Anyone want ten gallons of gas?" asked M, a cabdriver.

This windfall comes after he spent ten hours one day on a line that was over two miles long.  When he finally got to the gas station, they were sold out. The second day, he waited four hours and there was a $20 limit. But now he's flush, gas-wise, and feeling expansive, having had his busiest day ever this past weekend when he drove sixty fares in a twelve hour shift. When passengers asked him how he'd managed through the hurricane, he told them the truth. They tipped generously in response so he pulled in a record haul: Over $600.


Another student told a harrowing story last night: She was babysitting in a flood-prone area the weekend before the hurricane for two kids whom she barely knew whose parents were out of town.


Their return flight was canceled so they asked her to stay. She was terrified of the responsibility but agreed.

Thankfully, they kept calls to specified times in order to conserve the batteries on the babysitter's cellphone but meanwhile she was on her own.


The younger child cried because when the power went out, the tv didn't work. But more stressful for the babysitter was the loss of water.  One of the children has a serious medical condition and needs to be kept scrupulously clean to prevent exposure to germs.


Just heard from a friend who lives in what they were calling, last week, "the dead zone." She's relieved the power's back but can't help being disappointed to have had to miss her free trip to a conference in Beijing where she would have met Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka. Yes, it's a first-world problem, for sure. She knows that.

The news today speaks of lines to vote here that are up to an hour long. When I went, at around eleven, the people coming out said they'd had to wait an hour and the line hadn't been nearly so long as it was now. I didn't vote in this neighborhood last presidential election but the old-timers said it's never been like this.

 

 

Day 8

Monday 38 degrees. Went down to the non-profit GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side) to check on two friends from post-9/11 activism days who've been incommunicado since the hurricane.

Headquarters are on 11th Street and Avenue B, the heart of alphabet city, past the Tibetan Homecooking Restaurant, Holistic Pet Care, the blackboard outside Meg's Boutique that reads, "We Survived!" and through Tompkins Square Park where whole lawns and groves are cordoned off and some of the trees that have been left standing lean over the paths at precipitous angles.

GOLES is where the action is. Dozens of volunteers were signing up or waiting to be assigned buildings to visit with supplies they would collect at an outpost on 6th street. Organizers consulted their clipboards and dispatched their teams with instructions of which family needed Pampers; which ones, clothes for a four-year-old or an-eight-year-old, etc.

No one knew one of my friends but one of the organizers was a neighbor of the other.

"She's fine," she said, "Still sassy." Yep, we were definitely talking about the same person.

"What do you need?" I asked.

"Everything. Blankets. Canned goods."

There was nowhere around to get blankets so I picked up some tins of red, white and black beans at a corner bodega and brought them downtown.

Here, volunteers were preparing lunch for themselves: Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Wonderbread. But for heat, light, water and a few other marvels of civilization, let it not be said they were living in luxury compared to their clients.

A stream of visitors filed in with donations as volunteers filed out with bags to be delivered.

"Drop off?" asked the young woman at the door.

"Yes." She pointed to the room at the back where a formidable amount of stuff waited in cartons and garbage bags for distribution: Produce on the left, clothes in front, canned goods behind, bathroom necessities in the back.


"What do you need?" I asked again, this time of the woman who was in charge of produce. The answer changes depending on whom you ask and when.

"Fresh fruit," she said.

"Is there a supermarket around here?"

"There's one if you go to Avenue C and up two blocks; another one's down two blocks." Everyone was efficient here; if they hadn't been, the place would have disintegrated in chaos.

The exit was through a back garden where still more stuff awaited dispatch. The garbage bags were by now well into the hundreds. GOLES normally services 2000 families but according to the unofficial estimate of volunteer Emilee Rosenblatt, this weekend 3000 volunteers served approximately 15,000 people.


I tried the uptown supermarket but although the door was open, the manager shook his head. Inside, someone scrubbed a shelf.

"Open, maybe, two weeks," he said.

On the way back, a rosy-cheeked guy in his mid-twenties who was sitting on the sidewalk with a long, involved hand-written sign propped up against his knees, talked to a passerby:

"... If you gave me one, I'd tear it up." Then, in case there was any doubt what he was talking about, he called out, "Boycott the US dollar!"

"Are you begging?" I asked.

"Yes, but I won't accept the dollar or any other government-issued currency," he said provocatively, hoping to be asked why. "I'll take food, though." This cheery beggar was choosy.

On to another bodega for fruit for GOLES.

Dropping it off, I learned they were now short on feminine hygiene products. The other supermarket was open so I got four large packages of Maxipads.

As I left for the last time, blankets were making a triumphal entry, stamped with prominent red crosses and borne on the shoulders of a caravan of volunteers who marched through to the back. The blankets looked thin, like the kind you get on airplanes but perhaps they're of some neo-techno-ultra-light economy material.

I took a different route back to the subway, this time passing the Creative Little Garden and the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop which was not big and therefore prompted the question, Is it the ice cream, then, which is big? And if so, is it also the ice cream which is gay?

 

 

Day 7

The schools reopen tomorrow, even some of the ones that are doubling as shelters. The Department of Education promises to keep the students safe from the residents and vice versa. The school where I teach is private and for adults but even we have been caught up in the general spirit of improvisation and amnesty that prevails around the city these days. Our usually Draconian attendance policy (required by the federal government which accredits us to accept foreign students) has gone the way of subway and bus fares through last Friday, to whit: out the window. I'm surprised anyone shows up to class at all but one girl explained that it's better than sitting at home in the dark.

The student whose boyfriend drives a limo said they were in the car yesterday when they saw a line for gas several blocks long. Finally, they passed the gas station at which point her boyfriend said, "This isn't the one they're on line for." It wasn't the next one either, or the one after that. It was the fourth.

A student from Brooklyn said that as soon as the power came back on in one house in her neighborhood, it sparked a fire. Another student who commutes from Connecticut said three mansions in her neighborhood burned down but their wealthy owners were elsewhere.

You've probably seen the stories of shark sightings which, predictably, have been cropping up on the net. The current wisdom is that the still photograph is a fake but the video is real. A student from Central Asia says she saw an actual shark, about three feet long, around Avenue U. Her friend took a picture which she posted; another student found it. The Central Asian student also said one of her customers lost a $90,000 BMW which was less than a week old and as yet uninsured.

One odd fact that I hadn't heard before, from a student who lives near Manhattan Beach: The tide was higher than she'd ever seen it on the Friday before the hurricane.

My friend who's been out of town wants to check on her apartment but says that although her building has electricity, there's still no heat or hot water. Hotels are maxed out and she's not prepared to rent one of the apartments being offered on Craigslist for $700 a night. I told her we could buy her a bed for less than that and put it here next to the coffee table. She plans to come in to vote, no matter what, but hopes they'll extend the election here an extra day which seems to be the plan if there's a less than 25% turnout.

Been thinking a lot these last few days about Jan Lundberg's apocalyptic warnings. There are several but the one that's gotten the most play is this:

"The trucks will no longer pull into WalMart. Or Safeway or Kroger or CVS. The freighters bringing packaged techno-toys and whatnot from China will have no fuel. There will still be fuel in many places, but hoarding and uncertainty will trigger outages, violence, and chaos. For only a short time will the police and military be able to maintain order, if at all."

This passage was quoted in the House of Representatives by Congressman Roscoe Bartlett several years ago, to no avail except that it now allows the Peak Oil movement a hollow, I-told-you-so last laugh.

So where do we stand with respect to these predictions?

 

Trucks not rolling in to Walmart or anywhere else: Check.

Outages, violence, chaos: Check.

And today we reached a milestone in terms of another Lundberg prediction when the New York Times reported that people have been burning furniture to keep warm.

There's still one left: Using those furniture fires to roast vermin.

 

 

Day 6

Saw a friend tonight who lives in Battery Park City. She evacuated but says her building was on an oasis that remained unscathed by the hurricane. Residents in surrounding affluent neighborhoods such as Tribeca, where Jon Stewart lives, lost power and sometimes water as well but these blocks built on landfill sailed through, so to speak. She's been trying to find out where the generator is that was responsible for this good fortune but she says, "Nobody wants to talk about it." Kind of like the mystery Goldman Sachs non-generator. But apparently, such anomalies occurred throughout Lower Manhattan, including around the Empire State Building. "It's all in the connection points to various substations," said Con-Ed spokesperson Michael Cleninden. Speaking of Tribeca, a 9/11 ally there has finally surfaced reporting that she's "cold, filthy but fine."

Disconcertingly, however, there's been talk of some places where the power came back on.... but then went off again.

The student who wanted to volunteer got her chance today. She brought food and water to a 99-year-old woman whose aides have not been able to reach her. That building is going to remain dark indefinitely but the woman, who's completely compos mentis, doesn't want to leave. The student asked what she could do for the woman so with due misgivings, I told her about Adult Protective Services, though it's distressing to envision them coercing her out of her home "for her own good."

A student who lives in Brooklyn says he walked through freezing, waist-high water to check on his car. Car alarms sounded all around. A Philippino student said he's lived through several typhoons - the Pacific equivalent of a hurricane. The people get so used to it, they shrug it off which can prove their undoing. Several years ago, thousands died in a flash flood that overcame them in their sleep. The student believes they never woke up though that seems unlikely.

Another student said her boyfriend, who's a limo driver, went looking for gas yesterday, finally filling up his tank for $30 a gallon. He thinks he'll be able to make up for it by raising prices,

Someone else said he'd been waiting on line at a gas station for several hours when a guy who was a friend of the owner jumped the line and filled up. Another guy pulled a gun on him, holding it against his temple but the first guy took the hint so nobody died.

 

 

Day 5

Friday, 6:58 P.M. Decided to check out the uptown relief services today, so I headed over to 84th and York where the staff of "Saloon" were organizing goods to be sent to the Rockaways.

Along the way, however, were signs on lampposts for Molly Pitcher's Ale House on Second Avenue and 85th; they were also accepting donations and for the same destination. I stopped there first and dropped off the tin of tuna fish given yesterday by the couple in the blacked out building, as well as a leftover bag of nuts and half a dozen nutrigrain bars.

Molly Pitcher's also requested toiletries, paper towels and disinfectant so I bought six rolls of Bounty, sixteen rolls of toilet paper and two spray containers of all-purpose cleanser.

"You don't happen to have a truck, do you?" asked David, the guy who was temporarily guarding the supplies. He wasn't joking. It's not exactly grim around here these days but it's not light-hearted either.

"No. What'll you do if you don't get one?"

"By five o'clock this afternoon, I'll get one," he said with what we'll hope was more than youthful bravado.

On to Saloon. They were looking for clothes in addition to the other supplies and had already received several plastic bags' full. But they, too, were also visibly lacking the bathroom amenities so I went shopping for a similar haul as for Molly's.

 

There are a lot of garbage bags on the street today:  Over fifty in the middle of one block and on another, near Central Park, five lots - one for each building - of about twenty bags each.

 

Haven't heard yet today from my friend who's been away from her blacked out building.  Yesterday she felt an urgent need to clean out the refrigerator ("There must be wildlife all over the place by now") but most tunnels and bridges stop you unless you have at least three people in the car.  

 

The news has become upbeat - electricity back on! - but in fact, it's sporadic; the residents who stayed put in housing projects after they were told to evacuate (where?) don't dare venture into the pitch black hallways without their dogs.  Apparently the compactors are shut anyway.  What are they doing with their garbage?  And did they fill up their bath tubs to be able to flush the toilet as a woman yesterday said she'd done, having learned from 9/11?  Will the rat population double as a result of this?  The good news is that according to at least one expert, a lot of them may have drowned.

 

 

 

Day 4

October 31 11:33 A.M. The city noise through the window is back to normal: Traffic making its slow way as buses idle impatiently. They're free today, presumably to dampen complaints about overcrowding, the painstaking (we hope) process that's keeping the subway off limits and the MTA in general. I'm almost tempted to take one out of journalistic curiosity... but not quite.

Two snow plows are parked across the street. That's a lot of snow plows for no snow.

When will it be safe to go into the park again, what with the potential for falling branches? A few years ago a baby was killed and its mother critically injured by such a branch while Dad was taking a picture of them at the zoo - and that was before all the freaky weather.

The main building of the Metropolitan Museum reopened today with free admission. That should mute the gripes of tourists who've been antsy to get back to their itinerary. Regular hours resume tomorrow. With art museums getting back to normal, can the mail be far behind?

My electricityless friend is probably going to stay away for another week since that's how long Con Ed says it's going to take to do repairs from the explosion.

3:30 P.M. Just got back from the museum, specifically, the exhibit on doctoring photographs before there was photoshop. Mostly, the touch-ups had to do with inserting a background from another photo since when you focused on the foreground, it tended to bleach out the sky. But there was also an example of a paint-job to colorize a photograph of an 18th century urn; several mediums with spirits hovering in the air; and a succession of panels of Stalin with five colleagues; then the same photo with only four colleagues, then three... as he murdered them all off.

A lot of the subways are back in business but only to 42nd Street. 34th Street, the hub of the transit universe, is still inaccessible. This just in: Actually, 42nd St is as far south as you can go. There's nothing below that. CUOMO: Some New York Subway Lines To Open Tomorrow — No Service Below 34th Street

 

 

 

 

Day 3

 

Tuesday 6:09 PM. Some businesses around here were open today - essential ones like two toy stores and a florist; the make or break issue being, of course, whether the owner has access to a functioning bridge or tunnel.

Buses are supposedly up and running, although on a weekend schedule, but the subway is a whole 'nuther story. The MTA has abandoned their Homepage greeting of yesterday:

123 Suspended

456 Suspended

7 Suspended

ACE Suspended

BDFM Suspended....

You get the idea.

Instead, inquiries are met with a discursive, and a tad defensive, article about their efforts to clean up. The damage would have been greater, they end by pointing out, if they hadn't taken the preemptive measures (which they'd probably heard numerous complaints about) to close early in an effort to shore up facilities.

In other words, there is no info at this time.

My friend whose apartment lost electricity when the Con Ed station blew up (she was with another friend out of state who also, as it happened, lost electricity,) said that stores in the neighborhood are allowing people to come in and charge their phones.

As always, the disaster has brought out the best in people. So far, one prize (I do not believe in a hierarchy of prizes) surely goes to the nurses who carried babies from the neonatal ICU unit down twenty flights of stairs while manually pumping them with oxygen. Predictably enough, NYU Hospital, where this took place, has also gone on the defensive concerning their generator.

The Huffington Post has a scroll of articles on unexpected facets of Sandy like the "hurricane deductible" in some insurance policies which could leave residents with a lot less coverage than they expected.

Questions still remain on the the status of the area's nuclear power plants. Entergy reports that Indian Point, 50 miles north of midtown Manhattan, automatically closed at 10:41 last night not voluntarily but because of "power-grid issues" from the storm, "Nine Mile Point in Scriba, New Yorkwas automatically shut down after a power disruption to a switchyard" and "the nation’s oldest nuclear plant, Exelon Corp. (EXC)’s Oyster Creek facility in New Jersey, is on alert."

 

 

 

Day 2

Monday, 7:25 P.M. "T is a dark and stormy night. Well, dark, anyway. And kinda wet and windy. Turns out we're not exactly on Sandy's path but where my son and his girlfriend escaped to is. That's not as stupid as it sounds but it's still ironic.

The trees are swaying in a way that brings back memories of modern dance class. Sometimes there's a swell of wind that raises a frisson of excitement. Is this it, finally? Is she here? (Is Sandy a male or female hurricane this year?) Will this be the gust, the thrust that batters down the front door, breaks the window, wreaking havoc as she howls through the house, ushering in upheaval so that finally we can say, "Ha, see, it wasn't just hype?"

OK, OK, be careful what you wish for.

"Storm of the century," Bloomberg keeps saying and that seems to be true... but not here or not yet, not for us. Yeah, a crane went all limp on 57th Street. What idiot left it up there, anyway?

Two kids are downstairs shouting in imitation of the wind whose crescendoes are indeed intensifying. But why does this whole episode feel like a Halloween tease?

OK - just now the wind came right up to the window, squeaking in a strangulated pitch but somebody yanked her back.

24 minutes from what has been billed as the climax of the storm.

Wow, a building had its whole facade ripped off.... - on 14th Street and 8th Avenue! Looks like a picture of London during the blitz... [Facade Coming Off Building on 14th St. - video]

Hey, guess what, the light just went dim for a moment. That never happens. See below on Con Ed. Gonna save this now, just in case.

11:57 P.M. Mea culpa. It really was a big deal. Check out this video of the flooding in the Battery Park Tunnel. One of my friends is out of town where she's helping another friend who has no electricity. Turns out my friend's apartment back here is also without electricity and she's not anywhere near a flood zone or Lower Manhattan. The lights here have dimmed two more times. We'll see whether the worst is past or yet to come...

 

Day 1

Sunday 7:42 P.M. All quiet on this front, in case you were wondering: People strolling down the street, walking their dogs. What do they plan to do with said pets when the epi-center arrives at 8 a.m. tomorrow? A bus went by a little while ago; service officially stopped at seven so I guess this one is wending his way back; then again, it might be the trains that stopped at seven and the buses that'll keep going 'til nine. My kid's with his girlfriend out of state. She herself lives in an evacuation zone (not in ny) and got a note under the door that said if you choose to stay, be advised there will be no emergency services available in your area. My friend's out of her Zone C apartment.  My students were sent home an hour early (I've been home sick but was set to go back tomorrow.) A couple of them have been in touch via Facebook. The flashlight batteries are working; the kitchen sink is stocked with yogurt cartons filled with water. Wall Street Is Planning To Open As Normal Despite Storm. Actually, it looks like a little more of a compromise than that headline would lead you to believe: "Algos-Only" Tomorrow As NYSE Shuts Floor Trading Due To Sandy.

If there's a nonchalant air to this, remember we went through the same routine last year with Isabel or Irene or somebody who didn't live up to the hype but left impressive damage in the form of felled trees the next morning.

If anything interesting happens, I'll let you know, electricity permitting and all.

 

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