Even though the news media are generally focusing on the “progress is being made” aspects of the Hurricane Sandy aftermath (in large measure because that’s what officials are pushing), there is still a great deal of distress, as well as probable long-lingering problems that are not being acknowledged.
We are going to keep following the story not so much because it’s in the area (although NYC and East Coast residents are overweighted in the NC readership) but because it’s an example of what happens when a complex system suffers serious damage. Sandy is serving as a laboratory for what we have in store as the population becomes every more urban and lives in bigger and bigger cities and those cities experience disasters.
This is not a comprehensive list of current and possible persistent stresses; I welcome additional reader comments:
Gasoline. This appears to be a not-trivial issue. There have been news and reader reports that gas was pretty much gone in Queens gas stations as of yesterday. Mayor Bloomberg said gas shortages “would be alleviated” by November 5, but it sounds like New Jersey will be behind that timetable. Reader Nathan rang around to gas stations in New Jersey, and even ones in areas that had not been flooded either had no gas or were running low and had long lines.
Power. The good news is not as good as it sounds. Con Ed says it will have all of its “underground networks” on by tomorrow. If that happens, that’s a day of schedule in the blackout area, which is a big step forward. However, that does not mean everyone will get power back. Remember, buildings connect to the electrical grid. If a building was flooded, its own electrical systems may have been damaged. This is particularly likely in high-rises, which tend to put that equipment in the basement. My understanding is that it takes 2 inspections before damaged building equipment can be reattached: one by Con Ed, another by NYC building inspectors. Even if the latter is waived on behalf of large “reputable” building operators, the former is essential. That may mean that a lot of the high-rises in the Wall Street area (particularly near Water Street and South Ferry), Battery Park City, and buildings in the lower parts of Tribeca may not have power restored (one bit of schadenfreude: this may continue to inconvenience top bank lawyer Rodgin Cohen, who is managing partner of Sullivan & Cromwell. The Financial Times reported that the white shoe firm had less than adequate disaster recovery planning. Maybe this is karmic payback for their role in acting as chief handmaiden to Wall Street).
Public Transportation. This continues to be a mess. Some of the subway system has been restored, and the city is trying to use busses to get people across the river where the subway lines are still out. But the math doesn’t work well. Just consider that one subway car holds at least as many people as a fully loaded bus (I’d guesstimate minimum 1.5x). I’m not sure of exact #s, but my impression is the typical subway train is eight cars. They typically spend less than 30 seconds at a stop because they have three doors and people can enter/exit basically 4 abreast. And at peak times, trains run 2 minutes apart. By contrast, busses are designed for people to enter single file, and the seating array also contributes to slower loading. The loading factor alone makes it hard to imagine that busses (even if you had enough) could replace as much as 1/5 of the subway capacity. And the reports of monster lines at the bus shuttle points confirm that this is an unresolvable issue.
The good news is the MTA says it can restore the 4,5 and F trains into Brooklyn within 2 hours of getting power, which is presumably tomorrow. I hope that is correct, or maybe more accurately, that getting the train back into service so quickly does not come at some long-term cost. Some readers were skeptical that merely hosing the salt water off and letting the circuits dry out would do. I’m sure the MTA would run tests before putting a line back in service, but one of the features of the system has been how reliable it is under normal circumstances. A short in some critical circuitry could easily take a line back down, and I wonder whether that becomes a frequent occurrence in life post-Sandy on many subway lines.
And on other lines, it may be quite a while before service is restored. On some lines, I’m told it will be 9-10 days before they are even pumped out; another reader saw a newscast in which an MTA employee casually said it would be months before the South Ferry/Whitehall station was operational.
Food and Water. The National Guard is distributing food and water in the blackout zone. It supposedly had 230,000 meals and was getting 1.5 million as of late on November 1 (and the Bloomberg article didn’t was not clear as to whether this was for Manhattan only). That sounds impressive but the estimates of the number of people in the blackout area starts at 220,000. 1.5 million meals is a bit more than is needed to feed them for 2 days. And what is the infrastructure and process for distributing these meals?
Food deliveries, even uptown, seem spotty. The very fancy food store near me seems to have gotten a full delivery. By contrast, the chain stores didn’t seem to have gotten much in the way of new fruit and veg. Bread, weirdly, seems to be coming in; I even saw fresh bread and Entenmann’s in my local drug store (as well as lots of water jugs). My blackout area sources say bread is being delivered to stores down there, but otherwise, not much in the way of resupply is happening. There has been a lot of dumpster diving, not just for the rummagers themselves, but on behalf of stay at homes and people too class proud to go digging.
But even if downtown gets power tomorrow, food generally isn’t delivered on weekends. Are any of the wholesalers planning to change schedules to resupply downtown? If not, even with power back, it will probably not be until Wednesday at best (trucks have established routes and deliveries are normally spaced over the week) until downtown is reasonably well supplied again.
Hospitals. We had been concerned re the impact on hospitals of the difficulties of getting doctors, nurses, and orderlies in. The situation is worse than we feared. From Ginnie NYC, hoisted from comments:
NYU Hospital and Bellvue (the city’s largest public hospital) will now be closed for at least 3 MONTHS. Beth Israel (on 17th St., in the Dark Zone) lost power and currently is running generators at their outer limits (3/4 days)). These displaced patients have overburdened the adjacent hospitals, who are also short-staffed because they cannot get in from the outer boroughs, Long Island, or New Jersey (despite partial restoration of public transportation).
The Manhattan hospital system is near collapse. Sounds like an exaggeration? It’s not. How do I know all this? I was hit by a cab on Monday afternoon, and taken to an Eastside hospital, and medical staff told me this.
My visit to the ER was beyond chaos (not normal ER chaos). I and several other trauma patients never received TRIAGE. They had no ICE. They were so short-staffed only cardiac patients received triage. One TBI patient had to wait over 4 HOURS to have a head CAT scan. These are bottom-line protocols that should never be violated, even in an emergency. The entire hospitals network was on the blink; everything had to be done manually (the servers in the flooded basement).
Here’s a story a P.A. told me:
A child on a ventilator, who lived in Zone A (mandatory evacuation) on the Lower East Side was moved to shelter in Zone C. It also flooded, so everyone in that shelter was moved to the Parker Meridien hotel ($600/night), on 57th Street. Of course, the Extel Realty tower crane collapsed, so the hotel was evacuated, and the child was moved to Bellvue. Which was then evacuated as it lost power.
Can you believe this ****?
Most clinics are closed until further notice because staff cannot get in. These serve the indigent population.
Another reader (nycer) made a basic point:
After the storm, why are people attempting to ‘go to work’ at their office jobs? Stay off the road! The transportation system should be the domain of only emergency and repair workers for the iterm. Why is there limited fuel? Because so many idiots spend 8 hours idling in gridlock to ‘go to work’ at an office job that is franly irrelevant to the rehabilitaion of the city at this time. They are getting in the way. The gridlock caused by these selfish fools makes it impossible for supplies to be transported to those that need them. How can fuel tankers transport fuel to a station when the roads are clogged?
The news media have commented approvingly about how uptown looks pretty much normal. But that normalcy has come at a cost to parts of the city that are in distress. Why haven’t certain routes in (say the Midtown Tunnel and one of the bridges) at a minimum been given over to the exclusive use of emergency vehicles and resupply? Why haven’t people been directed sternly not to come in unless they are in designated priority businesses (amusingly, that means grocery store employees, hospital orderlies, and electricians would be correctly treated as more important than private equity guys and other Masters of the Universe). You would not get universal compliance, but even partial would be a big step in the right direction.
This disaster is a big wake up call. The East Coast will limp through it, with more deaths and dislocations than were necessary. The open question is whether the officialdom will engage in the kind of post mortems and investments to reduce the impact of future disasters.