Ships have been destroyed, nobody wants to charter a boat, and fish have fled for safer seas. Eliza Shapiro on how Sandy screwed the fishing industry.
Usually at this time of year, Cpt. Mike Barnett of Freeport, Long Island is busy catching striped bass and blackfish. Frank Rizzo is taking families out on boat cruises. And Cpt. Ryan Cooke is making close to half of his business’s yearly revenue on chartered fishing trips.
Not this year.
Long Island’s fishing and boating industry, like so many other industries across the east coast, has been devastated by Hurricane Sandy. Boats and docks are destroyed, bait and fuel supplies are depleted, and fish have found safer waters—leaving Long Island’s fishermen in dire straits.
“I prepared for the worst, and this was much worse than the worst,” says Barnett, who runs fishing charters from his boat, The Codfather.
“It’s destroyed my business,” says Rizzo, whose mother, Elsie Rizzo, is the owner of Miss Freeport V, which for the past 12 years has chartered fishing trips and party cruises. “Sandy ruined two boats, ruined the office, and ruined all our storage,” he says. “We were counting on winter business, but I don’t think we’ll have any business now. The way Long Island has been destroyed, I don’t know who’s going to be doing parties.”
Rizzo has applied for FEMA relief, but he isn’t sure it’ll be enough to help his town, which has been badly battered. “There are piles and piles of clothing and furniture in the street. No heat, no hot water, and no gas. It’s living like a caveman,” he says.
Barnett, of the Codfather, says he’s lucky that his boat survived Sandy at all. He left it in the water, where it weathered the storm, but his neighbors were not so fortunate. Many fishermen had put their boats on cinderblocks in preparation. But “the water came up so high,” Barnett says. “It was like nothing we’d ever seen before. It knocked boats off the blocks and they traveled and ended up on people’s front lawns. It was one big collision in the boatyard with no one there.”
Barnett was counting on this week and the one before it. It’s traditionally the busiest period for his business. “This is usually a time where you see a full run of fish.”
To help rebuild Seaside Heights.
New Jersey can rest easy now. The cast of Jersey Shore is joining forces with nonprofit group Architecture for Humanity for Restore the Shore, a live special that will air Sunday, Nov. 15. The cast will join other celebrities at MTV’s Times Square studio to ask viewers to contribute donations to help rebuild Seaside Heights, the town where Jersey Shore is filmed. Jersey Shore star Vinny Guadagnino said, “New Jersey, and especially Seaside, is just destroyed. I’ve never had anything like this happen to me. I know every business owner on the boardwalk personally, you know, and, like, they’re good people. They all are hardworking people.”
The mayor has brilliantly stage-managed his handling of the storm, but outside the city’s affluent precincts numerous angry residents feel abandoned by his administration as days have passed and help has remained distant, writes Harry Siegel.
“Are you from OEM? Or FEMA?”
“No, we’re from Brooklyn.”
That was the exchange when, after nearly six hours, the volunteer group I spent Sunday with finally managed to deliver supplies— flashlights, blankets, winter jackets, baby supplies, and pet food—to Staten Islanders who’d been rocked by Hurricane Sandy.
On television, New York City is resiliently recovering from Sandy—Billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg even fought hard against canceling the ING marathon, giving in only when its sponsors caved. The mayor has maximized his television time with frequent updates in carefully staged settings, with members of the Obama administration standing behind him and his hypnotic sign-language interpreter Lydia Callis beside him. It's a swell sales job, part of his business-friendly, socially-liberal, post-partisan persona, that (with the help of his vast media empire), has helped him maintain his national reputation even as New Yorkers have soured on him.
But his one unscripted moment was far more telling: an unannounced trip to the devastated Rockaways on Saturday that happened to be caught by a camera crew with local news stations NY1. A local woman, part of a furious crowd of people who felt abandoned by the city, was held back by the mayor’s security detail, as she yelled at him: “Where’s the help? Where’s the fucking help?” (Azi Paybarah of Capital New York has raw video of the confrontation, and the backstory here.)
On my first day off since Sandy hit, I headed to Staten Island as part of a relief effort to do my bit after a can-do business owner in my corner of Brooklyn put out an email, asking for supplies, arms, and vehicles with gas: “I think this can be easy, no receipts, no tax deductions, no cameras, no politicians, no news.”
While politicians play for votes and ignore the evidence of a rapidly changing climate, Mother Nature has made the consequences heartbreakingly clear.
Four days after 24-year old Jake Vogelman was killed by a hurricane-toppled tree, NYPD detectives came to his house with his personal effects: a black leather wallet still wet from the rain and a watch that was still working.
A man walks next to standing water and piles of sand swept onto a road from Superstorm Sandy at Rockaway Beach in New York City on November 3, 2012. (Mario Tama / Getty Images)
“9:07 p.m.,” a family friend said after checking it.
“9:09,” another friend said. “But mine’s probably two minutes fast.”
The first friend placed the watch down on a table beside the contents of the wallet, which were set out on paper towels to dry. The watch continued marking the seconds that Vogelman and all the others killed in the storm would never see.
Each second was also one closer to the next extreme weather event, disasters certain to come ever more frequently as a result of climate change.
Each second was also one closer to the time when it will be too late to do anything about it.
The next critical moment will come on Election Day, Tuesday, when Vogelman would have voted at Public School 321, directly across the street from his Brooklyn home.
After major destruction from storm.
With two days to go until the presidential election, officials are doing all they can to minimize the damage from Hurricane Sandy. In New Jersey and New York, organizers say there will not be major problems for voters in the areas hit hardest. Hundreds of generators will power polling stations, though the number in some areas has been cut down. New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg estimated polling-place changes would impact 143,000 New Yorkers, even though of the 1,256 locations to vote, only 59 will close.
David Axelrod says the GOP’s ‘in deep trouble,’ Eric Cantor attacks Obama for his ‘negativity,’ Peggy Noonan wishes America was more like England, plus more in our Sunday Talk roundup.
Axelrod: GOP ‘In Deep Trouble’
On Fox News Sunday, a confident David Axelrod taunted the Romney-Ryan campaign, saying that with only two days left until the election, the GOP knows “that they’re in deep trouble.” Expounding on the ever-important state of Ohio, which many pundits say will determine the election, the Obama campaign’s senior strategist was confident the state would remain blue. “They’re behind,” he said of his rivals, “and they’re not catching up at this point.” What about the rest of the country? Well, Axelrod said, Romney and Ryan are “desperately looking for somewhere to try and dislodge some electoral votes to win this election,” but “I can tell you that’s not going to happen.”
Beeson: Romney Will Win Florida ‘By A Significant Margin’
Mitt Romney’s political director also stopped by Fox News Sunday, arguing that this year’s presidential race won’t come down to ‘Florida, Florida, Florida,’ despite Axelrod’s claim that the GOP is “vulnerable” in the crucial swing state. “At the end of the day,” Rich Beeson said, “Governor Romney is going to carry Florida by a significant margin.” In fact, Beeson is confident that his candidate will take enough key states to win the entire election: “It looks like the map is expanding drastically in our favor,” he said. “I’m just sitting here trying to imagine what Mr. Axelrod is going to look like next week without his mustache,” referring to the Obama adviser’s wager to shave his facial hair if Obama loses Michigan, Minnesota, or Pennsylvania.
Cantor: Obama ‘Full of Negativity, Character Assassination’
The battleground states will decide this election. And the tightest swing state race, according to POLITICO, is in Virginia. So Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who represents Virginia’s 7th congressional district and the interests of the Tea Party, took to Meet the Press to bash President Obama and back up Romney’s bid for the presidency. “Mitt Romney has a plan,” Cantor said. “The president doesn’t. The president is full of negativity, character assassination, and attacks.”
Mayor says number similar to Katrina.
Restoring power is just the first step. Thirty to forty thousand New York City residents may require housing for some period after the monster storm ravaged the East Coast, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The city’s mayor said that the number of people in need of housing “may have been similar in Katrina.” A number of large housing developments in the city will be “out of commission for a very long time,” Bloomberg said. About 730,000 people remained without power in the region on Sunday.
How raised entrances, flood gates, and huge balloons could save New York’s subway from disaster.
If there was any doubt about just how serious a threat rising oceans and extreme weather pose to New York’s subway system, Hurricane Sandy put an end to them. Despite covering entrances and vents, erecting flood walls across tracks, and readying pumps, each of the seven subway tunnels leading into lower Manhattan took on water. The South Ferry station flooded to the roof. The 86th Street tracks looked like a river. Five days after the storm, there’s still no date set for when full service will return.
Damage to the South Ferry station of the No. 1 subway line, in lower Manhattan, after Superstorm Sandy passed through New York City. Floodwaters that poured into New York's deepest subway tunnels may pose the biggest obstacle to the city's recovery from the worst natural disaster in the transit system's 108-year history. (Patrick Cashin, MTA / AP Photo )
It’s a disaster scenario New York has envisioned many times before, most recently in a 2011 report by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which estimated that a storm like Sandy could cause $10 billion in damage to transportation infrastructure, plus another $40 billion in economic losses. Now that it’s happened, long-talked-about upgrades to the subway have taken on new urgency. The havoc wrought by Sandy should prompt a “fundamental rethinking of our built environment,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a press conference this week. “The challenge is not just to build back, but to build back better than before.”
What would a better, more resilient subway look like? For starters, it would have higher entrances and ventilation grates, says MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg. The MTA has been working to elevate subway entrances and air vents ever since a sudden summer deluge in 2007 dropped 3.5 inches of rain and overwhelmed the subway’s pumps, shutting down 19 lines. So far the MTA has raised entrances at 30 stations and ventilation grates on low-lying lines, often improving the street in the process by turning them into benches or bike racks.
It’s a good start, and an easy way to prevent flooding in an unexpected downpour, but it won’t do much against several feet of storm surge, as we saw with Sandy. Flooding like that calls for something along the lines of Bangkok’s subway entrances, which are elevated over a meter above street level and have built-in flood gates. The Bangkok metro continued to operate even as a foot of water lapped at the entrances during the 2011 monsoon.
The subway also needs more pumps, and better pumps, and they need to be on backup power. “One of the stories that’s emerging is that all infrastructure is interconnected,” says Radley Horton, a climate scientist at Columbia University who served on New York’s climate-change adaptation panel. “When the power is out it’s hard to drain the tunnels—that’s had a lot of impact on the subway system.” The power outage is also partly responsible for the gas shortage, he adds, which has made it impossible for many stations to keep pumping. Not that the current system could have held off Sandy anyway. The subway’s 700 pumps of varying vintage must drain 13 million gallons of water on a normal day; when there’s a storm, even a brief one like 2007’s, it can quickly be overwhelmed.
Robert Puentes, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, recommends “mundane but obvious” fixes like higher entrances, storm hatches, and a more resilient electrical grid, as well as more speculative projects, like a giant balloon that can be inflated to plug tunnels. The giant plugs are being developed by the Department of Homeland Security to protect subway tunnels from terrorist gas attacks, but the manufacturer claims they can work for floods as well. Though they wouldn’t be able to hold back all the water, they could limit flooding to a level that the pumps could handle.
“We can cork a wine bottle, so why not a subway tunnel?” says Lisberg, half-joking. He saw the plugs on Twitter but says he has no idea if they work. The MTA did try something similar on the west side yard of Penn Station: a giant tube full of water known as an aqua dam. It burst, but Lisberg says it helped reduce flooding.
The paranoia about mold being left behind by the floods is unwarranted. Dr. Kent Sepkowitz on why you should sleep easy on your sopping wet mattress.
In the resource-challenged world, the response to natural disasters progresses in predictable stages. First is the horror of the event—the earthquake, hurricane, or tsunami. Next comes a genuine outpouring of generosity worldwide. Third is the televisionization of the event with cameras galore, inside stories about small acts of bravery, harrowing rescues, heartbreaking loss; it is without question the best reality TV around (and unlike reality TV, it’s real). Then finally comes the sudden shivering neglect as people change the channel, even while locals die of dehydration or diarrhea or crush injuries. The public (not the victims) somehow determines it has reached “closure” and moves on to the next big event.
Hurricane damaged items pile up along the roads of the Rockaways in Queens. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images)
Here in the land of adequate resources, we go through the same first three steps of horror, help, and TV, but we have a different fourth act—one that hews to the sanctity of the American free-enterprise system. Our final step is not neglect—we can afford to fix things, as Sandy once again attests. No, our last act consists of a familiar parade of characters seemingly just loosed from the circus. Hawkers and hucksters, mountebanks and sleazeballs, each looking to spin the fresh tragedy into spools of gold (reserved for personal use). They are ready to show us how to slice and dice without tears, to julienne without bloody knuckles, to drill holes without a drill, to glue without slippage.
The lead example in the Sandy saga is the predictable appearance of teams of mold abaters: here and here for starters. Yes, mold—that slimy, amorphous crud that shows up when things get damp. You have some in your shower right now, I promise. The mediation experts already know the territory because of a controversial condition referred to as sick-house syndrome, purported to be the result of molds hidden in the house that elaborate dangerous toxins for those living there. The post-Sandy pros have arrived in their trucks with their cards and grim expressions, convincing, as best they can, the still-staggering locals to believe they have a problem they didn’t even know about. A problem that just might be worse than Sandy itself.
And right now they don’t have to push particularly hard. After all, before Sandy dominated the headlines, there were already headlines about fungal meningitis due to a mold called Exserohilum. In fact, when the FDA went into the infamous New England Compounding Center, the pharmacy linked to contaminated steroids that have killed more than two dozen people, and cultured the equipment, they found several different types of mold and other fungi. It was everywhere. The place was grossly contaminated by lots of living things—including the mold that ended up in the many patients tragically harmed by the outbreak.
But there is a substantial difference between the mold found in the spines of the 404 poor souls affected thus far and the mold that many people have in their walls, books, and carpets, the type that thrives in moisture and post-Sandy conditions. And it’s not the species of mold, either—that doesn’t matter at all, really. It’s where the mold is, anatomically. You could inhale Exserohilum all day long (in fact you may well be doing this), you could drink it, you could rub it onto your skin, and not be harmed. Consider this: people at NECC didn’t get sick, though we now know the place was crawling with mold. Nor did the doctor injecting the stuff or the other people in the room as the medical procedure was taking place.
No, to get sick, you had to have a large amount of the fungus injected directly into a small area of the back with a poor blood supply—the poor blood supply, which is advantageous to provide a depot for medications that won’t wash away quickly, is a disaster if an infectious microbe enters the space. Without a blood supply, there is an extremely limited capacity for the body to respond with a healing inflammatory response. Beyond those with anatomic inoculation, the only other persons at risk are those with immune systems severely compromised by such medical interventions as bone-marrow transplants. For completeness, one must also consider the large group of people—the hay-fever crowd—who are allergic to mold. Some are so reactive to mold that they develop asthma, though it’s cockroaches, not molds, that are driving the current epidemic of inner-city asthma in children.
In a fact-based society, the lessons of the fungal-meningitis outbreak would be used to quiet concern about any health risks due to the moldiness sure to follow Sandy. But as Ronald Reagan’s most famous Freudian slip has it, facts are stupid things. I suspect that rather than assurance, we will enter the Mold Wars era, where these slimy, villainous-looking microbes will take over for the more general “germ” as the object of public fascination and censure. In this role, however, they surely are miscast—now there’s a problem the Gipper could understand.
As the weather gets increasingly wild, experts say America’s outdated electrical infrastructure is overdue for a serious upgrade. How new power systems could pay off.
Hurricane Sandy may be the culprit for leaving close to 8 million people without power after ripping through the East Coast on Monday, but some experts say the blame should go toward the nation’s aging electric grid and power companies, which have failed to switch to more reliable “smart grid” systems that could fix blackouts in a matter of minutes, not weeks.
“Our energy-generation and distribution infrastructure is outdated and often over capacity,” says climate strategist Boyd Cohen. “We are going to see increased frequency and intensity of storms, like Sandy, which will continuously put pressure on the grid.”
One of the most attributable causes of the increase in blackouts is America’s archaic electric infrastructure.
The U.S. has 215,000 miles of high-voltage power lines; 70 percent of those are more than 30 years old. The huge system requires a lot of manpower and funds—an estimated $1.5 trillion in the next 20 years—just to maintain as is.
Experts say a better solution is to throw it out entirely. Instead of revamping grids that don’t meet the country’s power and voltage needs, they argue for implementing a digital smart-grid system.
Smart grids work as a two-way conversation between homes and electric companies. Unlike today’s electrical grids, which can leave whole areas in the dark after a storm until the power company is called to fix the problem, smart grids automatically alert utilities when there’s a glitch, and fixes can often be made remotely.
Despite the benefits smart grids offer, the U.S. has been slow to adopt the technology.
But burglaries up.
Is this that silver lining? New statistics out Saturday show a significant drop in city-wide crime after Hurricane Sandy hit early this week. Murder, rape, robbery, assault, grand larceny, and car thefts all dropped by double-digit percentages. Murder was down by 86 percent following the storm, and the crime total is down 31 percent. Unfortunately robberies did increase by 3 percent. The NYPD was in full force across the city in the early days after the storm, directing traffic and patrolling darkened neighborhoods.
Government asks public to be patient.
Sandy may be over, but her damage sure isn't. Gas-station shortages may take several days to be fully resolved, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a briefing Saturday. The announcement comes after what has already been days of long lines and shortages at gas stations across the tristate area, despite Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement that the U.S. Department of Defense would begin opening fuel stations in New York City and on Long Island. Bloomberg attempted to assuage anger over the extended power outages by shifting blame to the Long Island Power Authority. “[LIPA] has not acted aggressively enough to restore power,” he said.
Occupy Wall Street found a new purpose after the hurricane: bringing relief to those stuck without power. Caitlin Dickson reports.
Four days after Hurricane Sandy swept power and water from millions in New York and New Jersey, the streets of Manhattan’s Chinatown and Lower East Side were still quiet and dark. A few resilient vendors sat in front of darkened bodegas, selling prayer candles and batteries, as restless residents meandered. But the corner of Hester and Essex Street was bustling. And a crowd of people wearing blue strips of painter’s tape with the word “Volunteer” scribbled in permanent marker had set up shop as Occupy Sandy.
Morgan Lee, 22, of Corona hands a bag of food and water to another volunteer on Friday in preparation for distribution to the residents of New York's Lower East Side who remain without power due to superstorm Sandy. (John Minchillo / AP Photo)
In the wake of the hurricane, Occupy Wall Street, which had been relatively quiet in recent months, had found a new cause to take on. On Tuesday morning, after the storm had subsided but New York City was still drying out, Michael Premo, whose relief efforts date back to Hurricane Katrina, and three of his friends from Occupy Wall Street headed to the Red Hook Initiative—a center where he’d worked in the past—to assess the situation. The outlook was grim. Premo said a worried volunteer told him: “We have no lights. We have no food. We’re in a situation here.” Premo said he told the volunteer: “You have a kitchen here. We will bring you resources and food.” That was the first community-based “hub,” as Premo refers to them. After posting a note on “Inner Occupy,” an online forum for those involved in the 99 percent movement, and blasting an email to friends, Occupy Sandy was born. Four days later, 13 centers had sprouted in destroyed communities from Rockaway Beach to Coney Island.
Talia Billig protested with Occupy Wall Street last fall. So when she was looking for an organization through which she could volunteer to help relieve those suffering after Sandy, she wasn’t surprised to find that the group making an effort in her own neighborhood was an OWS offshoot. “I live in Chinatown, and this is the sort of neighborhood that—for whatever reasons—wouldn’t get an organized citywide effort and that’s what Occupy is about,” Billig said. “It’s about common people helping common people.”
Even though Billig’s own apartment on Canal and Orchard Streets had also been without power all week, she left the comfort of her friends in Brooklyn to return home and help her neighbors in need. “I’ve lived here for six years, and it really is a neighborhood. It’s one of the last neighborhoods in Manhattan, and I’m really happy to be able to help in any way I can.”
In front of the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence (CAAAV) Center at 46 Hester Street, Billig met three other people, among the throngs of eager volunteers, who had both come from down the street and across the bridge to help their fellow New Yorkers. She teamed up with Ariel Bardi, who came from Park Slope after spending two days at Occupy Sandy’s relief headquarters in Red Hook; Stephen Cash, a long-time Lower East Sider; and Christina Reilly, a filmmaker who used to live in the Lower East Side and walked across the Williamsburg Bridge to her former neighborhood as soon as she’d heard about the relief movement. The four former strangers headed down the street hauling bags filled with water, food, candles, batteries, and other supplies.
“It’s overwhelming to see how incredibly organized and mobile everyone can be so quickly,” said Reilly. “Not that it’s surprising. It’s an island full of type As, so you know shit will get done.”
Reilly also noted the ease that Occupy Sandy—once organized—was not only able to rally more than enough supplies but also had people to deliver it. Outside of the powerless enclave below 39th Street, the life in the city seemed to be carrying on as if nothing had happened.
Researchers have long known the MTA was vulnerable to a big storm. As the climate changes, devastating storms like Sandy will become more frequent.
The floodwaters of Sandy highlighted the vulnerability of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which oversees New York's subway, the Long Island Railroad, and Metro North, to a sizable storm surge and rising ocean levels. But the potential impact of such storms have been discussed for nearly a decade, and came into sharper focus in 2011 following Hurricane Irene. And New York isn't the only region whose public transit infrastructure is vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather. In 2011, the Federal Transit Administration released a report, Flooded Bus Barns and Buckled Rails: Public Transportation and Climate-Change Adaptation, which detailed the risk climate change posed to public-transit systems all over the country, and especially in New York City.
An unidentified Metropolitan Transportation Authority employee prepares hoses to pump 43 million gallons of water out of each of the tubes of the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel in New York on October 31. (Patrick Cashin, MTA / Reuters / Landov)
The report says that, given unavoidable warming due to greenhouse gases already emitted into the atmosphere, transit infrastructure will have to adapt to changed weather, no matter what actions are taken to reduce emissions. And it has turned out to be remarkably prescient.
Given the reality of global warming, the report says, The most disruptive near-term impact is likely to be intense rainfall that floods subway tunnels and low-lying facilities, bus lots, and rights of way. That accurately describes the state of New York's crippled public-transit system, with reduced subway and train service leading to massive traffic jams and gas shortages.
New York City's MTA is used as one of the case studies in the report. And in fact, the MTA has been thinking seriously about how to adapt to climate change to make the system more resilient at least since 2008. That year it published a report, the first of its kind, titled MTA Adaptations to Climate Change: A Categorical Imperative. This was prompted both by the overwhelming evidence linking climate change to rising sea levels as well as recent experience. In August 2007, New York City was hit with three-and-a-half inches of rain in two hours. When the MTA's pumps couldn't prevent water from reaching the electrified third rail, the disruption affected over 2 million subway riders and shut down a substantial portion of the subway system.
The MTA and FTA's findings are a sobering reminder that the transit disruption caused by Sandy could well become a regular occurrence. The MTA, in association with Columbia University researchers, found that a 100-year storm meaning a category 1 to 3 hurricane hitting near or around New York City with a two-to-four-foot rise in the sea level would mean devastation for the subways. The MTA also looked at just the 100-year storm and a 10-year storm combined with the sea-level rise and found the results about equivalent.
Without sea-level rise, a 100-year flood would inundate portions of the subway system, the report found. But with the sea-level rise, a 10-year storm could have the same effect. This means that, if sea levels continue to rise, New York City could see Sandy-like effects on its public-transit system every 10 years. And if a Sandyesque storm hits with higher seas, the tunnels under the East River and the Harlem River could be totally inundated in just 40 minutes.
When the FTA report was released in 2011, Therese McMillan, the deputy administrator of the agency, told a reporter: "The patterns are pretty indisputable. The 100-year floods are occurring every 10 to 20 years. The hurricane intensities are repeating themselves and being very common. The extreme winter effects that we're seeing in the Northeast are clearly in evidence."
Team Rubicon, a nonprofit that deploys veterans to help with disaster recovery, did their part to aid victims of Hurricane Sandy in lower Manhattan last week. Team member Curtis Coleman, a former Marine, shares his thoughts on heroic leadership.
As Hurricane Sandy barrels toward the northeast, see some of the most hilarious wind-blown reports.