City Journal Spring 2014

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Spring 2014
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Nicole Gelinas
New York’s Sandy Scorecard « Back to Story

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I live on the Rockaway peninsula just east of Riis Park. We attentively followed weather reports as the track of Sandy bent further and further south. On the day of the storm Mayor Bloomberg a/k/a Mayor Soda Jerk held a news conference between 11am and 12 noon. In that presser he announced mandatory evacuations of Flood Zone A. He stated "if you want to know what flood zone you're in, you can find the map at NYC.gov..." I was on line tracking the storm so I switched to the NYC web site and located the flood map. I was relieved to see that 90% of the Rockaway Peninsula, including my street, was part of Flood Zone B. The only areas that were listed as Zone A were the very western tip of Breezy Point and parts of Far Rockaway. I also noted that Broad Channel, parts of Howard Beach, the entire south shore of Staten Island, and all of Coney Island-Manhatten Beach-Sheepshead Bay were listed as Flood Zone A. Even Gerritsen Beach in Brooklyn was listed as FLOOD ZONE B. At no time during that presser did Mayor Soda Jerk indicate that the flood zones could be/would be changed. Seeing that we were in Flood Zone B caused us to breath a sigh of relief and hope for the best. We had survived Hurricane Irene a year earlier with no damage (Bloomberg had issued mandatory evacuation orders for our neighborhood). With Sandy bending south (it eventually raked Cape May and made landfall in Delaware) and the NYC Flood Map designating us as Zone B, we figured we were in better shape than when Hurricane Irene approached. At 4:30PM, my wife came out of the den and stated that she had just checked the NYC Flood Map and the entire Rockaway Peninsula, inclusive of our street, had been changed to Flood Zone A !!! I looked out the window and noticed water from Jamaica Bay coming up thru the storm sewers and filling up the street. It was too late to go anywhere. Within an hour there were several feet of water in the street. By 7:05PM we were locked on the second floor of our house. There were three feet of water across our first floor. High tide was not until 8:35PM. We had no idea how much higher the, by now, running surging ocean water would get. Fortunately it got no more than approximately six feet in the middle of our street. We survived but people in Rockaway died. This was a failure on the part of the Bloomberg administration. The zones on the flood maps (during the press conference when people still had time to make the decision to evacuate) were incorrectly stated; the Mayor NEVER indicated that the flood zones could be changed at any time and, by the time they were changed, it was too late and too dangerous to leave. Hurricane Sandy recalls another Bloomberg failure: the December 2010 snowstorm/blizzard where Mayor Soda Jerk was secretly in Bermuda and nobody was in charge to designate a snow emergency. Streets remained unplowed or iced over for days, stranded cars made streets impassible for emergency vehicles and, as a direct consequence, people died. Why there is no outcry in the media over Mayor Soda Jerk' s Hurricane Sandy failure is inexplicable. This is also the same Mayor Soda Jerk who wanted to run the NYC Marathon while they were still pulling bodies out of cottages within sight of the starting line at Midland Beach on Staten Island. This is the same Mayor Soda Jerk who sent two massive generators to New Jersey while we in Rockaway remained in the dark for weeks and its the same Mayor Soda Jerk who decided NYC did not require a National Guard presence (fortunately he was overruled by our dithering wet-finger-in-the-air Governor). While Bloomberg might make a great Surgeon General, he has been an abysmal mayor. When he took over in 2002, his first act was to raise NYC property taxes 18.5% in one fell swoop; he has been unable to deal with the UFT, the salaries and benefits of its members having been doubled while they perpetrated their "grading parties" scandal to falsify results to fraudulently justify their higher pay and benefits, and (as of this writing) the annual cost of NYC municipal pensions stands at $8.1 Billion (it was $1.1 Billion when Bloomberg entered office). We have not had 800% inflation in 11 years. This is a cost that the city will be unable to bear as people who pay taxes leave for lower tax states (almost anywhere else qualifies). Perhaps this explains why our real estate taxes (post Sandy) have (again) been jacked up by a city desperate for cash. Our house is uninhabitable going on five months now as we wait for our flood (Travelers) and homeowners (Chubb) insurance to pay. LIPA, National Grid, FEMA, the SBA and our insurers ALL have behaved disgracefully. Our politicians at every level have proven themselves useless and/or indifferent. And the media, contrary to the way they acted with Hurricane Katrina (where they all but accused President Bush of blowing up the levies in order to deliberately flood the lower 9th Ward) act like Hurricane Sandy was a spring thunder storm.
Sallie from SINY March 27, 2013 at 6:16 PM
Ms Gelinas is so off base it isn't funny. NYC's unions performed admirably? Maybe for Manhattan but SINY got clobbered and I don't care what she says that that is personal failure...people died, lies were ruined, houses destroyed and there are some still without electric and the guilt lays at the TOP, MIDDLE and BOTTOM of this corrupt idiotic city. This whitewashing is truly revolting.
Very good article by Ms. Gelinas. She's one of the few people that I agree with at CJ.

"Bon temps jolie" is completely of his/her rocker.

First, the problem with NYCHA isn't money -its management. The problem is that City Hall commands ZERO accountability from that agency and it hasn't done so for decades. Bloomberg was no exception. As too many agencies, the selection of Commissioner is one of patronage and not qualification.

Second, the main reason why elderly New Yorkers died in the storm, particularly in Staten Island, was the fact that most of them aren't mobile. Lack of reliable transportation, lack of money (Soc Sec payments were made a couple of days after the storm) and various degrees of physical disability made evacuation impossible.

Also looting did exist, but the media really didn't cover it. I live in Zone A (near Coney Island Hospital) and I heard looting going on around Sheepshead Bay and Manhattan Beach. It wasn't wide spread, but it did happen.

Third, the power loss in Long Island was inevitable and it will always take time for power to be restored, particularly with so many customers. But it became obvious that LIPA did not have a plan for ANY large scale emergency. There were workers that came from other states who did NOTHING for DAYS because LIPA had no plan on execution of service restoration.
Thank you, Nicole, for a well written and amply researched article. It is useful and necessary to view what large issues become clear after the chaos and confusion of the event settle down. As a resident of Nassau County, Long Island, I agree with your succinct evaluation of the LIPA debacle. The only thing the reader may want to research further would be the history of Shoreham, which was the precipitating event in the downfall of the otherwise capable Long Island Lighting Company.
Thanks again.
I'm very concerned about the fiscal situation and just how much federal taxpayers' monies will be going to NY and NJ. I don't live in either of those states and I very much resent bailing out irresponsible govts or residents. I'm glad that the MTA moved their trains to higher ground but why are we bailing out NJ's transit incompetency? Make NJ's taxpayers pay for that debacle. And make residents who were flooded and didn't have insurance eat their loss. The $60 billion in aid is a complete boondoggle and the GOP should have stood firm against the pork and excessive amount of aid.
bon temps jolie is just wrong.Living in the Rockaways I know there was plenty of looting and it was not publicized.LIPA may have had 11, 000 crew but that was much much later. At the beginning LIPA had no plan where they should start so they threw their efforts on the neighborhoods that were almost gone and had no infrastructure left and their population evacuated and the neighborhoods that had people and could have benefited didn'.
I don't think that the MTA is doing that good a job in the Rockaways the South Channel Bridge has not even started to be rebuilt & then who knows how long it will take. & LIPA was as you mentioned terrible, a disgrace and they now lose power on the average once a week.
not enough looters were shot dead on sight and hanged from lamp posts with signs of their crimes impaled through their chests 'looter, shot on sight' , with martial law and night vision equipment and snipers to secure the abandoned areas, not even one, this is one disgrace of this administration, military machine guns on street corners to protect property, will encourage folks to evacuate and nothing less,

mayor bloomberg's various false alarms have also discredited him

i live in battery park city, this is landfill, built tall and high over the 100-year-flood plain; vs east side of manhattan, which is low ground, build a sea wall along the esplanade and save the planet; and we get our power from some protected source in brooklyn, why were our designers smart enough and the others not smart?

fema is a disgrace, and the media who crucify the bushites/ katrina and cover the obami are part of the problem

also con ed was among the missing throughout, why are there no mass firings of all the execs ?
one does not yet hear of mass firings and house cleaning at LIPA, for example

and MTA was half-good on buses replacing subways, the buses stopped at dark, 'last train out of Berlin' 'last plane out of Danang' 'last bus south of 23rd street' (aka Edge Of Darkness, NYC style) - I was on it, saved me a loooooong walk, I am not complaining, merely reciting, I got off easy real easy

kinda pure country busing through rural-type darkened streets, kudos to the drivers doing the unfamiliar, with grace and courtesy and patience and did i say grace and courtesy, even humor

The Day After, walking through pre- or post-industrial Manhattan, fire barrels for commercial barbecues for the adventurous, and also campfire coffee, profiteered at $2, over wood fires, lets us know we are a micro nano second from The Before
That's 'jerry-BUILT.'
It's 'jerry-biult' and 'jury-rigged.' The first means 'poorly assembled' (bad); the later means 'quickly repaired' (good).

Please keep your comments relevant to this very fine and informative article.

Nicole is write ;), the others have Jerry-rigged the grammar
Nicholas K. Coch: well it started w/ 5 shots of some 50% alcohol rum straight w/ no chaser, then a blunt w/ a dub of weed, then atleast 10 shots of tequila but i lost count so im betting it was more and then half a 4loko.
Nicole,
You are right about what the dictionary says. What we have is a case of the dictionaries taking a wrong turn with the populace. Merriam -Webster online, too. Jerry-rigged got mixed-metaphored with rigged jury, and the experts followed.
David
Great article. Please don't say jury-rigged anymore. It's jerry-rigged, from Jerries for Germans in WW2.
"jerry-rigged - not jury-rigged. Big difference. Can't anyone write any longer?"

You're right = my question also is:
Can't anyone write any shorter??
Dear Pamela,

No, you are emphatically wrong about "jury-rigged."

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/jury-rigged

And, yes, I could write longer, but that would make for a very long article.

Thank you.

Regards,

Nicole
jerry-rigged - not jury-rigged. Big difference. Can't anyone write any longer?
jerry-rigged - not jury-rigged. Big difference. Can't anyone write any longer?
The reason Manhattan power lines are buried is because of the Great Blizzard in the 1880s, which blew down all the utility poles. It had nothing to do with any recent politicians' managerial foresight. It required a catastrophe. It always requires a catastrophe.
"What really needs rethinking is the state and local politics that have created dysfunctional agencies and funded them nonsensically."

Uh... well... that's not what you found in your analysis. Unless you are arguing that NYCHA is underfunded nonsensically. Two years for mold abatement might suggest that conclusion.

Then: "the single, elderly New Yorkers who made up a disproportionate number of Sandy’s dead, were afraid to sleep in mass shelters. Others refused to evacuate because they wanted to protect their property from looting."

Public agencies have done nothing to generate artificial paranoia. Fact is, looting was rare indeed. Practically nonexistent after Sandy. The shelters were safe. The "Black to Africa" Apocalypse fantasies of Katrina didn't happen at NOLA and they didn't happen after Sandy.

People drowned in New York for reason of exogenous paranoia. Publicizing the absence of looting is one good place to begin. Publicizing the good community spirit at the shelters, similar to the Queens library, is also sensible.

Finally, no power company could have survived the hit inflicted on LIPA. Your "politics and patronage" have nothing to do with topography and that's what allowed Sandy to destroy LIPA's transmission structure. They had 11,000 workers out there rebulding the system. We will have to see details of the Federal relief package before we know what can be done on Long Island. Privatizing LIPA is an automatic response for conservatives, but hardly supported. Fully regulated private systems are plagued with the ills of bureaucracy no less than public operations.

Otherwise, thanks for the article. Global Warming is the 800-pound gorilla sitting at every planning table. We have blown our chance to moderate this beast, so now we will pay for our apathy and for our ignorance. A trillion here, a trillion there.

Excellent article. Believe the key words are that challenges ahead will be "political and fiscal", not technical. It will take decades to put required barriers into place. In the meantime, we need to enhance the response from emergency agencies - including the Public Libraries and the kindness of New Yorkers - to alleviate the burdens created by the storms.
I am somewhat baffled by NYC's response to this storm. I've lived through two major storm events in Houston (Allison & Ike) and we all saw Katrina. The lessons were there for NYC to have prepared. I guess it's easier to ban sodas and make your cops' guns illegal than to prepare for an an event that will effect millions of residents.