Friday, November 02, 2012

Nobody Asked Me, But...

Well, it's certainly been a heckuva week, Brownie...let's see what we missed for Sandy.
1) A few election notes:
  1. The WaPo is all but calling the election for Obama. This puts them several steps behind Newt Gingrich, who IS calling it for Obama.
  2. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is endorsing Obama, citing his stance on global warming and his response to Sandy. This will help Obama a little with independent voters who are independent and socially moderate. The right-wing joking about Obama lowering sea levels sure rings hollow about now. One can only hope this emboldens Obama on this issue for his second term.
  3. Chris Christie's all-but endorsement of Obama will have more impact, I think. And no, that wasn't a weight joke.
  4. Richard Mourdock, the Indiana Teabagger running for Senate, slipped badly in the polls. Rape is rape, Republicans.
  5. Finally, to the credit of both candidates, neither has made commercials about the Sandy crisis and the federal government response. More credit to Obama for keeping politics completely out of it, less to Romney for being a front-running opportunistic asshole.
2) I know the World Series ended. I think the Giants swept.
3) Speaking of sports, the city has decided to go forward with the New York City marathon. I'm of two minds about this. One the one hand, valuable city resources are being diverted from people in need-- altho by Sunday, there will be far fewer-- to the race. Generators, police patrols, ambulances and EMTs, closed roadways, all of these will be in place for the race Sunday.
On the other, it's a great opportunity for the national news to cover the tragedy and to give the rest of the world a sense of the devastation. While runners will not be going through any of the affected areas (one reason the race is going on), they will be close by. Second, there are tens of thousands of tourists in the city for the race. They, too, are a form of media back home about the conditions here. It would put a human face on a situation that many view in the abstract and some have even poo-pooed. Third, a significant portion of the need for police and ambulances will have gone by Sunday. That's just a fact. Already we've seen a large percentage of the mass transit system come back online, power is being restored to hundreds of thousands of people everyday and search and rescue missions have phased into search and recovery.
It's too big a moment to withdraw into a shell. But who can really be sure until Sunday?
4) Mixed news for Obama on the jobs front: more people were hired last week than analysts and pundits projected, but the jobless rate inched up anyway. One thing to note about Sandy, a positive: there will be plenty of jobs to go around in construction and clean up over the next several months. Boardwalks need to be rebuilt, houses fixed, roads repaired. This could jump start the regional economy, and by extension, the national economy.
5) Oh. And Syrians rebels have started to push back harder against Assad. Can't forget the rest of the world.
8) Who needs the Weather Channel? Well, at least she'd be safe with her built-in flotation devices.
9) Corey Booker shouldn't run for President. Corey Booker should run for saint.
10) Finally, Daylight Savings Time ends this weekend, and not a moment too soon. Don't forget to turn your clocks back.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Final Thoughts On Sandy

It occured to me last night that the city and the surrounding region was about two hours from a Katrina-level event.
The projected storm surge plus tide was around eleven feet, closing in on a record for our region. The storm surge was almost 14 feet, and was short of high tide by about two hours.
Sandy showed mercy and sped up, in other words. Easily, we could have had a surge + tide of closer to twenty feet.
A twenty foot surge would normally have triggered an evacuation of Zone B, as it would equal or exceed a Cat 2 hurricane surge.
Not only would that have swamped areas that weren't even ordered to evacuate, it would have come without warning, much as it did in parts of Manhattan that weren't already evacuated, specifically, the 14th Street/Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village sections. This, above anything else, is what is delaying so much of the reboot of the city.
See, lower Manhattan, south of Canal Street, is serviced by two power plants that were taken offline ahead of Sandy, which is one big reason the evacuation order was given. The water would recede, but it would take days to bring the power back online.
However, the 14th Street plant was deemed safe (they might have sandbagged it) but the surge was higher than projected and it became swamped, as well. That was actually online when the storm hit. The machinery in there was running. That's a monster of a hit.
Similarly, if you click the link I referenced earlier, you'll see that about half of Brooklyn would be affected. How do you move 500,000 people, or more, at the height of a storm?
You can't. We would have had death tolls in the hundreds, and even with the storm as "mild" as Sandy was-- comparatively speaking-- we're approaching 100 dead in the region.
Millions of New Yorkers are without heat or power or water. In Hoboken, NJ, people are actually out of food, and stores can't be stocked up because, well, they're closed still. That's 50,000 people with water still flowing into their basements, freezing, getting ill, and starving.
Entire swaths of homes were destroyed, surprisingly, by fire. The gas lines into homes were severed when the homes were lifted off their foundations, even if they dropped right back down. Pull down a power line, get a spark, and ballgame over. And with the flooding and broken water mains, firefighters could only stand and watch.
Some even watched their own homes burn to the ground.
Raw sewage is flowing in the streets and into the basements of homes on the barrier islands. Those homes will probably be condemned until a full cleaning can begin, including the land, which is effectively one big septic tank right now. That's millions of dollars, perhaps tens of millions of dollars, lost.
And we're not even considering the health issues of the mold and the bacteria floating in the waters and evaporating into the air. That may end up being the lasting legacy of Sandy.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Sense of Perspective

It's been interesting reading the national press coverage of Sandy. I haven't had much opportunity to review what you all have been saying about us behind our backs until this morning.

I like that Romney's bullshit about FEMA has come back to haunt him and that the bold and brave words he spoke in the quietude of calculation have become hot button panic topics for his campaign.

I understand the need to pander to your base and to attract leaning voters, but my thinking is, if you say something, have the guts to stick by it when gut check time comes. President Ford told us to drop dead when it mattered most. Yes, he regretted it and yes, ultimately he had to eat them, but you'll notice he still battled Jimmy Carter to a virtual tie, despite pardoning Nixon.

Maybe he had more latitude. Still, it's been an exercise in evolution to watch Romney wriggle like a catepillar on a hot grill.

Similarly, the "turn" in polling towards Romney seems to underestimate the damage that Sandy created in the telephone networks in the east, as well as being premature to Obama's handling of the crisis. When Governor Sammich  Chris Christie, an erstwhile vice president name and likely candidate for the nomination in 2016, praises Obama not once but frequently, that's going to have a lot more import than any six Jeep ads either campaign can run, given Christie's "independent, tell-it-like-it-is" perception.

Finally, a few people have asked me for an assessment as to whether the national news has the coverage underreported, overestimated or just about right. I think it's safe to say that the true damage, the true horror of this event, is only just now being reported. Even this morning, another dozen homes went up in flames, 36 hours after the worst of Sandy had passed, because first responders couldn't get to the site.

Canals that contain enough toxins to qualify for Superfund sites overflowed into residential neighborhoods. The very real threat of typhoid, TB, and other afflictions of neglect (cholera leaps to mind) is now looming over large swaths of the city. The residents of lower Manhattan, poor and rich, have raw sewage drying in their streets and basements. The health effects of this crisis will not unfold in a manner consistent with a 24 hours news cycle.

For Granted

There are a few things New Yorkers take for granted. Our mass transit system is one of these.
See, the subways alone move something like 8.5 million people each work day. Each. Work. Day. That's the entire population of the city of New York loading onto and off of a subway train, 300 days each year.
Those subways are out, which you might think would just be an inconvenience.
But think about this: for every single one of those folks underground, that's one less person above it.
Traffic today was a nightmare, and that's before you consider that the schools are still closed and many companies are not open yet. Buses are running as best as they can, but remember, transit workers like drivers rely on the subways to get to those jobs, too.
In Manhattan proper, where the largest share of those 8.5 million people end up at some point in the day, traffic is at a standstill. This is gridlock multiplied by Obamalock and added to holiday traffic.
And that's before we take into consideration things like a major thoroughfare, 57th Street, is closed because a yutz couldn't secure a crane properly. Or the fact that, below 39th Street, the power to the streetlights is out.
I walked much of the way into work today, and anticipate leaving as early as possible, perhaps at lunch. I normally would bike this kind of distance, about five miles each way, but my asshole boss refuses to allow bikes in our office and bike parking is at a premium in the district I work in. I could chain my bike up, to be sure, but that almost invites all kinds of trouble on the street, and I'd at the very least have to carry my seat with me.
Still, I'll persevere. Ten miles of walking every day....every fucking day, rain or snow or sleet or wind...ought to do me some good.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Final Sandy Vlog

Sandy After-Action Report

It got nasty last night. That said, it could have been worse. Much worse.

This is not to minimize the damage, which is extensive and mortal. However, Sandy sped up so the bulk of the storm was on land by the time of highest tide. It's likely that Zone B would have needed to be evacuated, but where? How?

There could have been hundreds dead. We ducked a bullet.

As I understand it, there are extensive power outages, fifty homes are burning in the Rockaways, all the subway tunnels under the river are flooded, as well as two car tunnels. Power was taken down in lower Manhattan as a precaution, but additional power outages happened when the steam plant at 14th Street blew up, effectively, in an unexpected flood.

The water level peaked at 13 feet above flood stage, unprecedented in NYC.

And it's quiet. Usually by now, I can hear a stream of traffic outside my window as I prepare to go into work but nothing except a constant wind, lighter than the worst last night (the building I'm in shook a few times).

And no planes. Both JFK and LaGuardia flooded, which had never happened before. It's possible they're closed indefinitely. The electronics on the runways may have fritzed. They didn't shut down in time.

In some sections of the city, water mains are gone and storm drains/sewers are backed up into the streets. Water will be an issue and could potentially be the lethal part of all this (I think I read that only one or two people are confirmed dead in the city proper, with four more in the suburbs).

Both the Gowanus Canals and Newtown Creek overflowed their banks. Both are Superfund cleanup sites. In Moonachie, NJ, a levee gave way, and a wall of water has crashed into the town.

The sun is only just coming up bright enough to light the overcast skies. It will be a long day of sorting out trouble. It's a creepy feeling. There's another high tide still to come this morning, not as bad as last night, but water on top of water? Not good.

I think the worst is just to be uncovered.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sandy Vlog 3

This might be the last one, folks, at least outdoors. It's getting nasty.

Sandy Vlog 2

VLogging Sandy

I'll keep doing this until the power goes out or the phones go dead.

Sandy Blows

It's the first day of the worst storm to hit the northeast in over 70 years. This may, in fact, be worse than the Long Island Express of 1938 in that it will last for days, with all the concomitant flooding and wind damage that implies.

Up until just a moment ago, the wind hadn't been too bad. In fact, I waked out to to a bag of trash ahead of garbage pickup...yes, the Sanitation Department is on the job today, more on that later...and if I had no radar, no television, no weather service, I'd still know we were in for a spell of bad weather.

The few leaves left on the trees sizzle as the wind whips them around on their stems. The air is wet, a spray of sea and rain water. It hasn't started in full force, the rain, but you can sense there's a lot more to come.

The city has taken a really bizarre approach here: schools are closed, mass transit is shut down, and the bridges will be shut shortly (I think the threshold is sustained winds of 55 mph). Yet, Mayor Bloomberg (skewered so beautifully on Twitter by El Bloombito) has insisted that the city is open for business and the city workers should report to work.

Clearly, he refuses to make the same mistake Mayor Giuliani made when he closed the city for a storm and the workers were all "Hey! Paid day off?" and the mayor was all like, "Oops." I gues he figured he could charge it to their time banks but the unions fought him hard on this and so he backed down.

During the night, I could hear the few remaining freight trains make runs over the Hellgate Bridge. It's hard not to hear them. They sound like moaning wind gusts until they get right to the street I live on, and then I can hear the clickety tracks. When you're lying awake listening to the storm, your mind focuses.

The bridges are still open. I can hear empty trucks flying over them, trying to reposition on the mainland...Jersey or they can earn a few bucks hauling loads away from the area. Or just trying to get someplace so they can make a quick get-away after the storm leaves.

I've grown up in city hurricanes going all the way back to Hazel, so I'm not scared. I know this won't be the worst storm to hit the city in terms of wind and rain intensity (Gloria in 1985 might get that honor) but the ancillary effects of the storm surge and the prolonged, nearly endless winds is something I've never experienced.

I walked out just at the tail end of Irene last year and took a small camera with me. I hope to do this today at some point. I'll wear a ski mask and helmet and double down on clothes. There's stories to be told in the weather.