Sandy: A Royal Pain in the Arse

It is Wednesday morning, October 31st, Halloween, here in Brooklyn, in New York City; the sun is out, the winds have died down even as they retain their fall nip, and the subways aren’t running. That little nugget of information should tell you all you need to know about why it’s not business as usual around these parts. We are supposedly recovering from a monster storm, Hurricane Sandy, one that made landfall, as expected, late in the day on Monday, further south of here, but in the process, sharing its strong winds,  flooding, rainfall and general discombobulation with us. On Monday night, being in this part of wind-lashed Brooklyn was certainly better than being in Lower Manhattan, which bore the brunt of extensive flooding and widespread power cuts. On Wednesday morning, it’s still not a bad place to be.  With some qualifications.

Warnings of natural disasters like hurricanes and blizzards always prompt calls to stock up on bottled water, flashlights, batteries and canned food. They also spark a rush to stock up on alcohol; apparently, nothing quite gets you through a day and night of wind and rain pressing against the windows and rattling your roofs like a drink or two or three. (My wife and I went so far as to fill up a bathtub with water in anticipation of a water supply failure.) And then there’s the movies: Halloween and Sandy found themselves scheduled for the same week, so some of this week’s movie bill included man-made ghoulishness–like science gone mad and serial killers–that went beyond climate change denial.

But all that wine-infused hunkering down in front of the television and the computer is now over, leaving some very dreary realities in its wake. Most prominently, as already noted, the city’s lifeline, the massive and antiquated subway system is still not operational, its tunnels flooded with corrosive salt water, the city’s transportation effectively crippled.  Without a running subway system, very little can get started in the city; its restoration is easily the most important and urgent component of the city’s physical and economic recovery.  (As a minor example, the City University has now canceled three days of classes; in all probability, our final exam period will now extend past Christmas.) Meanwhile, nightmarish traffic jams happen all over the city as parts of the city’s workforce make vain attempts to get to work by car. But without the subways, the city will remain on its knees.  (The MTA’s losses will also mean, eventually, an expensive fare hike for its users; we have already put up with a few of these in the recent past, and now can look forward to more.)

In the years to come, the city’s infrastructure will need to be rebuilt and refurbished in preparation for the next big natural convulsion; these appear to be becoming more frequent and dangerous.  Never was the need for a concerted response to the new dangers of global warming and its resultant climate change more apparent. And bizarrely enough, despite this latest expensive reminder of the costs of passivity, that collective response appears ever more unlikely.

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