Author Michael Gross had to be evacuated from his apartment when the crane above luxury skyscraper One57 was toppled by Hurricane Sandy. The disaster is just the latest insult to the tower’s neighbors.
Back in September, Alexei Barrionuevo wrote in his “Big Deal” column in The New York Times about the superstitions of the wealthy mainland Chinese who have lately been flooding into New York, cash in hand, to buy uber-luxury apartments. Barrionuevo pointed out that belief systems like feng shui can determine if a Chinese person sees a building as lucky or a condo purchase as auspicious. And apparently, One57, the 1,000-foot tall tower under construction across the street from Carnegie Hall on West 57th Street, passed muster.
A construction crane dangles atop luxury apartment building One57 in midtown Manhattan, New York on October 30, 2012. (Timothy A. Clary, AFP / Getty Images )
Few names of prospective owners have emerged from the building’s marketing team. But according to the Times, which has adopted One57 as if it were a cute puppy, many of the contracts supposedly signed for units at the building—where the most expensive full floor-condos are going for more than $90,000,000 (again supposedly, since nothing has gone yet, legally speaking)—bear the signatures of mainland Chinese. So many, in fact, that brokers have taken to calling the place Chinatown.
Back in September, at my apartment house, which is next door to One57, the big quality-of-life issues under discussion were a Halal cart on the corner that sent stinky fumes into our lobby, and the plague of bicycles and pedicabs in our neighborhood, set off by Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s distaste for traffic in midtown Manhattan.
Things have changed.
On Monday, the construction crane that runs up that building collapsed and became the visual symbol of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy. Yesterday, China Daily reported that the collapse of the boom on the crane “may unnerve some Chinese buyers.” It’s not nice to wish ill on others, but I bet they’re consulting lawyers and not feng shui experts right now. Competing condo developer Donald Trump promptly snapped a photo of the crane from his apartment and tweeted it with a cackling comment about the incompetence of the One57 team, which consists of the construction company Lend Lease and the building’s owner/developer, Extell and its president Gary Barnett.
You don’t have to be a fan of the Donald, or an advocate of schadenfreude, to get the message conveyed by that photo. Drooping next to Extell’s huge erection, the crane looks like a bad omen. It’s Gary Barnett’s flaccid, dangling boom of doom.
I was engrossed in writing on Monday when my wife, who was working at home in anticipation of Sandy’s arrival, called to me from our living room. “You better look at this,” she said. The last time she said those words, we were packing for a trip to Egypt as television beamed images of a revolution brewing in Tahrir Square. That time, we wound up at Round Hill in Jamaica. This time we wound up refugees, but that’s getting ahead of the story.
Sandy has stopped Mitt’s momentum cold and transferred it to the president. Michael Tomasky on what Obama needs to do in the final days.
The picture is taking shape. It’s still early for predictions—I’ll do that over the weekend or Monday. But let me put it this way. While there are certainly a few known unknowns, and always the possibility of the emergence of one more unknown unknown, I’d sure rather be Barack Obama right now than Mitt Romney. Sandy (and Chris Christie) stopped Romney’s momentum cold and put some wind (so to speak) behind the president’s back. Consider: Thirteen swing state polls came out on Wednesday. Obama led in 11. Romney is on the mat. Now Obama needs to step on his neck and put this thing away. He can do this in five ways.
President Barack Obama enters the White House Briefing Room in Washington D.C. on Oct. 29, 2012. (Jacquelyn Martin / AP Photo)
First, hit the trail furiously. He’s back in campaign mode as of Thursday morning. I don’t know where he’s going, but he should obviously hit Ohio, Iowa, Colorado, and Virginia. He should make one stop in Michigan to batten it down (Wisconsin looks safe, as does Pennsylvania), and maybe New Hampshire. And he should make a new push into North Carolina. That will be seen as a power move—testing Romney’s little Confederate Maginot Line, as it were, reopening the conversation in a state that had been seen as red but is now up for grabs. It’ll probably go to Romney at the end of the day, but Obama can make him sweat it out, and who knows, with the right kind of turnout, maybe pick it off.
Florida? Let Joe Biden and Bill Clinton take care of south Florida. The alter kockers are more their crowd. Obama needs to hit the I-4 corridor, where the white swing voters and the Puerto Ricans (and plenty enough African Americans) live, with a huge weekend rally, probably in Tampa. He carried Tampa’s Hillsborough County 50-48 last time, and if he can replicate that, he has a shot at Florida, which would crush Romney.
Campaign, campaign, campaign. Get hoarse. Get tired. As I wrote in my cover piece, drop any hint of “I Got This” Obama and be hungry.
Second, pound away on this Romney lie about Jeep and China. One fact like this can grow to become symbolic of the whole Romney enterprise (as indeed it is!) if the Obama team chooses to make it so. When the heads of General Motors and Chrysler both in essence call a presidential candidate a liar, that’s pretty much without precedent in American politics, and it’s most definitely campaign commercial fodder. This is the kind of thing that makes for backyard fence chit chat, and it can stick like molasses.
Third, keep pumping up the gender gap right until the end. Considering a range of polls, the gender gap was very wide before that first debate, 15 points or more. Then it narrowed to almost nothing or, in some polls, nothing. Now it’s back up to eight or 10 or 12, depending on the state. Obama beat John McCain among women by 13 points last time, according to exit polls. He should hit at least that, with all the fodder out there, from Romney’s own vow to defund Planned Parenthood to all these nutso Republican Senate and House candidates and their 16th-century comments about women’s bodies. Romney’s positions have been considerably more reactionary than McCain’s were—on Planned Parenthood, on contraception generally—so he deserves a worse fate.
Fourth, I’d like to see the Colin Powell and Susan Eisenhower endorsements used in ads aimed at independent voters. I don’t know who’s undecided at this point. And they may not even persuade anybody, although I do think Powell swung some votes. But they’re semi-surprise validators who aren’t elected Democrats and are enrolled Republicans. Hearing from them just makes independents feel a little better about their vote. It even makes most Democrats feel better about their vote.
All MTA fees will be waived Thursday and Friday.
Service may be limited, but hey, it’s cheap—well, free, to be exact. New York Governor Cuomo declared his state in a transportation emergency Wednesday night, and announced that all fares for subways, commuter rail trains, and buses will be waived tomorrow and Friday. “The service in many cases is limited, the service in many cases will be crowded,” Cuomo said at a press conference. He added that traffic Wednesday in Manhattan “was very high and the gridlock was dangerous,” as many stoplights where out of power. Meanwhile, as an oil spill plagues New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie announced he will allow gas stations and fuel merchants to buy from other states in order to combat a gas shortage in the state. Christie said federal authorities are sending 500,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 100 power generators to the Garden State.
At a hurricane shelter in New Jersey.
Just a few days ago, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was lambasting President Obama’s leadership skills. But Hurricane Sandy—and the president’s subsequent support to the state—has given Christie a new perspective. Obama “has worked incredibly closely with me since before the storm hit, Christie said Wednesday while the two men toured a New Jersey shelter Wednesday. "It’s been a great working relationship.” Obama returned the compliment, saying “I want to just let you know that your governor is working overtime to make sure that as soon as possible, everybody can get back to normal.”
For limited service.
You couldn’t keep New York on its knees for too long, Sandy. The city’s subway system will return on a limited basis on Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Wednesday. There will be no subway service below 34th St. in Manhattan due to the lack of electricity, while three of the seven East River tunnels have been pumped. There will be limited Long Island Rail Road and Metropolitan North service beginning at 2 p.m. on Wednesday. Cuomo said he has spoken to President Obama, who has been “very on top of the situation.” Obama is touring the devastated New Jersey shore with Gov. Chris Christie, who has called the hurricane damage “worse than anything I ever thought I would see.”
Resigns as campaign manager for GOP House candidate.
Punishment for lying on Twitter? Hedge fund manager Shashank Tripathi apologized on Wednesday after it was discovered that he knowingly tweeted false information about New York City during Hurricane Sandy under the handle @ComfortablySnug. Tripathi also resigned as a campaign manager for Congressional candidate Christopher R. Wright. BuzzFeed outed Tripathi as spreading wildly inaccurate claims during the storm, such as "BREAKING: Governor Cuomo is trapped in Manhattan. He is being taken to a secure location." While many of his claims were debunked shortly after, some of them were reported on by news organizations or retweeted and caused widespread panic. Tripathi called the tweets "irresponsible and inaccurate."
Will slow subway work, too.
Get used to it. Power companies warned that East Coast outages could last more than a week for the estimated 2.6 million currently without electricity. Despite thousands of crews working on restoration, flooding, damage, and strong winds are slowing the efforts. Traffic lights are out in several cities and downed lines pose a danger. More bad news: no power hampers the work to get the subway system running again. Power companies will get electricity to hospitals and important locations first.
In Queens neighborhood 111 homes burn down.
In one of the worst fires in New York City history, 111 homes burned down in Breezy Point, Queens. Every home on the barrier island was hit by the storm or ensuing blaze. Aerial shots of Breezy Point show the scope of the devastating damage. One firefighter said that “flames were 50 feet in the air.” The fire started late Monday, and Hurricane Sandy slowed the firefighter response. There were no major injuries.
Thought to be centuries old.
Frankenstorm, indeed. A homeless woman in New Haven, Conn., found skeletal remains on Tuesday after Hurricane Sandy uprooted a giant tree. The back of a skull was visible with its mouth still open in the tree. The skull was still connected to a spine and a rib cage. New Haven Sgt. Anthony Zona said the body has probably been there a long, long time, and some investigators said it could date back centuries. By Tuesday night, a death investigator had sawed off a root that was in the way, but officials say exhuming the remains could take days.
Parts of Virginia still under blizzard warning.
The death toll from Hurricane Sandy climbed to at least 50 in the U.S. early Wednesday morning, with at least 22 of those deaths occurring in New York Cityand although the storm weakened as it moved inland, blizzard warnings were still in effect for parts of Virginia. While New York and New Jersey dried out from the storm, Sandy hit the mountains of West Virginia and North Carolina, bringing a record 14-16 inches of snow to the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Around 22 percent of New York City still had no power by Wednesday morning, and an estimated 90 percent of Long Island were in the dark.
The president will tour hurricane-damaged areas with his new pal, Chris Christie. Howard Kurtz on how Obama picked off one of Romney’s stars.
For New Yorkers, hurricanes are disastrous events that happen somewhere else, way down south, far from the towering spires of the nation’s financial capital.
There was always an unspoken touch of condescension as the masters of the universe watched the poor souls in Florida or Louisiana grappling with storm damage, or snickered as Washington was virtually shut down by heavy rains. New Yorkers are tough, they push their way onto crowded subways, and they don’t take nothin’ from nobody.
So it is nothing short of astonishing to watch the crippling blow that Hurricane Sandy has delivered to the city and New Jersey—the loss of power in lower Manhattan, the halting of subway service, the shuttering of the stock exchange, the flooding of beach towns. In terms of media coverage, at least, the metropolitan area was ground zero—and literally so, in that there was flooding at the still-unfinished One World Trade Center.
The more that New York and New Jersey are the story, the more Washington has been eclipsed. It’s not just that the nation’s capital survived the storm without massive blackouts, but that its business is politics, which for the moment seems like a beached whale.
President Obama canceled his campaign events for Tuesday and Wednesday, preferring the role of chief emergency coordinator. Rather than stumping in Ohio, the president is going to New Jersey to inspect the hurricane damage and meet with affected residents, a decision that makes strategic sense on several levels.
First, for all the media focus on Manhattan, New Jersey is the hardest-hit state, so Obama can go there without appearing to play politics.
Second, he gets to hang with Chris Christie, who happens to be one of Mitt Romney’s most visible surrogates. The New Jersey governor praised Obama’s handling of the storm after the president called him, so this is like picking off a star player from the other team and getting him on your squad, at least temporarily. Every day that Christie is rhetorically hugging Obama is a day when he’s not making the case for Romney. Christie went even further in an interview on Fox and Friends Tuesday morning, professing little interest when told Romney might visit to tour some of the damage in his state. “I have no idea” [if Romney is coming], “nor am I the least bit concerned or interested,” Christie said. “I have a job to do in New Jersey that is much bigger than presidential politics.”
If you thought Frankenstorm would rid Gotham of its vermin, think again. Rodents are as resilient as cockroaches. Winston Ross reports.
Whither the Rattus norvegicus?
It’s a natural question, to wonder if Frankenstorm that swamped New York City on Monday night might depart with some silver-lined clouds—namely, that Hurricane Sandy either drowned the city’s inestimable millions of hearty Norway rats or washed them off the island altogether.
Robert Mecea / AP Photo
Even Brooklyn’s own Bob Sullivan, author of the widely renowned book Rats, who has spent as much time thinking about rats as anyone who doesn’t pick up trash could possibly be expected to; even he had to stop and ponder it for a second:
“Well, the streets do seem a lot cleaner, in some places,” he told The Daily Beast on Tuesday.
But the rodent expert quickly came to his senses. There’s a reason rats are so often compared to humans (like a “rat in a cage”)—they’re resilient, like we are. And there’s also a reason for the myriad water-related rat metaphors in the vernacular (“rats fleeing a sinking ship”): they’re particularly good swimmers.
“They’re going to be like us,” Sullivan said. “Get washed out, try to come back in.”
People keep asking him about the tunnels, he said, hoping maybe rats will get sucked out of the city via the Holland Tunnel, for example. But that’s based on the assumption that tunnels are full of rats—a misperception, Sullivan said.
In sleepy Sag Harbor, residents are assessing the damage from Sandy, hunkering down for a sustained power outage—and queuing up for coffee on Main Street. Emily J. Weitz surveys the scene.
When we finally emerged from our respective dens Tuesday morning, bleary-eyed and skeptical of the crystal blue sky, we headed for the gathering places that make Sag Harbor, a village of 2,000 people on Long Island’s East End, such a close-knit community. The Cove Deli on Main Street buzzed with the sound of a generator, and the lights were dim but the doors thrown open. They were cooking egg sandwiches and brewing coffee, and we were grateful to score the last two rolls in the place. There was one bagel, which a woman snapped up for her 10-year-old son. No, there were no croissants today.
We headed down to the heart of Main Street, and even at 9:30 a.m. the Five and Dime was open. The lights were all out, but the shop was doing a brisk business, using calculators to ring people up for buckets and tape. The guys at the Hardware Store were in rubber suits, bailing out the basement.
Across the street, there was a line out the door at the Golden Pear, beside which Sylvester and Co., an upscale general store, and the local pizza place, Conca D’Oro, remained boarded up. I went to wait on line for a cup of coffee, and there was a hint of desperation in people’s eyes as they stood patiently. The coffee makers weren’t working. But the workers were carefully pouring pots of hot water over coffee filters, and we all nearly drooled as the dark brown, pungent liquid seeped through.
“We’ve got eggs!” someone shouted victoriously, and people shuffled excitedly in their places.
The relatively relaxed scene came as a relief to locals after Hurricane Sandy terrorized Long Island, killing four people as of Tuesday, including one person whose body had washed ashore in tony East Hampton, just seven miles from Sag Harbor. Across Suffolk and Nassau counties, the devastation was immense: homes were destroyed, roads submerged, piers and beaches wiped out altogether. Officials estimate the damage inflicted across the East Coast from Sandy will top Hurricane Irene's $15 billion price tag.
“By far it is the most devastating storm we’ve had on Long Island,” said Mark Gross, director of the Long Island Power Authority, which estimates residents of the East End could be without power for 10 days or longer. “Right now, we’re in the assessing stage but, obviously, with this many outages customers should be prepared to hang on for an extended period of time.”
From reports on Main Street here in Sag Harbor, about half of people had lost power, and you could tell those who had been able to shower before venturing to town, and those who had not.
The insurance industry will soon be shelling out big payments to cover the storm’s massive damage. And it says the U.S. is uniquely positioned to suffer from climate change, Matthew Zeitlin reports.
In times of crisis, few people instantly think in terms of dollars and cents. But before the floodwaters have subsided, the insurance industry has already hastened to calculate the damage from Sandy.
A huge tree split apart and fell over the front yard and fence of a home in Sea Cliff, N.Y., on Tuesday in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. (Kathy Kmonicek / AP Photo)
The most widely cited economic and insured loss projections came from Eqecat, which does risk modeling for insurance companies. On Monday, it projected insured losses—meaning the amount insurance companies would have to pay out—due to Hurricane Sandy of $5 billion to $10 billion. Eqecat estimated the total effect on U.S. economic activity would be between $10 billion and $20 billion. Bill Keogh, the president of Eqecat, said that the damage done by Sandy, although clearly extensive, is well within the range of the models Eqecat builds.
He pointed out that New York City, which does not get hit with severe storms with anywhere near the frequency of, say, Florida, has seen similar storm surges before: Hurricane Donna in 1960 and Hurricane Agnes in 1972. Also, he noted, the economic loss from this hurricane is magnified by the fact that New York City is a wealthy area. Lots of people leave here and they own lots of valuable property. The rising cost of hurricanes in insured losses is, to a large degree, a function of rising home values.
But the insured losses for insurance companies may not reflect the sum total of economic damage suffered by the region. Hurricanes can cause damage to property in a few ways: storm surges and flooding, wind, and inland flooding. Although there has certainly been substantial wind damage, like trees falling onto homes, the truly catastrophic damage up and down the coast of Long Island and New Jersey largely comes from the storm surge flooding.
Wind damage is covered by standard homeowner’s insurance. But water damage from flooding is provided through the federally subsidized National Flood Insurance Program, which covers 5.6 million individuals and business. There is a small “excess flood insurance” market, but the overall flood-insurance market is dominated by the feds. Which means private insurance companies aren’t on the hook for losses tied to coastal flooding.
The storm also did a number on New York City’s transportation system. Keogh said that the city’s infrastructure isn’t designed to deal with that much salt-water sloshing through the city and, especially, its subway tunnels. That will impose direct costs on the city, as crews work to pump water out of tunnels, restore electricity, and repair storm damage.
But it will also impose massive indirect costs. With the subway and commuter rail shuttered, commerce in Manhattan and other parts of the city will fall dramatically, as shoppers and workers simply can’t get very far from where they live. (Your correspondent is working from his apartment in Brooklyn right now as The Daily Beast’s Chelsea offices are closed). So, a business owner who suffered relatively little wind or water damage may nonetheless suffer a dramatic decline in income for the next week. “They have to look very closely at their policy” to see exactly what damage they can claim, said Keogh. New York City’s economy is also propelled in large part by tourism. In 2011, some 50 million tourists visited the U.S. But with air and train routes shut down for the next week, hotels, restaurants, and shops that cater to tourists will likely see lower revenues.
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.