Putting the Election in Perspective on Long Island

A hurricane has a way of changing the conversation

By Sam Uretsky

The best way to examine the hurricane damage is by bicycle. It’s faster than walking, but can get through streets that are blocked to cars by downed trees and utility poles. The important things to notice are downed wires and repair trucks, particularly those from our local electric company, Long Island Power Authority (LIPA). There are plenty of downed wires to see, but the only place to see the LIPA trucks are in the company parking lots. We, collectively, are not happy about that. A week after the storm, their web site says that in many areas they’re still assessing conditions. This was on Long Island, which hadn’t really been in the path of the storm. All we got was a glancing blow from the winds that were outside the lines on the weather map. People with property near the water sustained the worst damage, but even further inland over a million people went without power, heat and hot water. A week was about the normal, but for some people it’s open ended. We could stand the Little House on the Prairie conditions, but the lack of communications was something else.

Note to emergency planners – telephones aren’t what they used to be. Years ago, copper-wired telephones would work even in a storm, but today more and more people rely on cellular phones as their only telephone, and an increasing number of land lines are connected with fiber optic cables and need separate electrical sources. With the power out, the only way to keep the cell phones charged was with car chargers, so that even those of us who were trying to avoid driving had no choice. Insurance companies were on the radio, telling us we could file a claim on their web site. There were a million people who had no way to get to the web site.

New York City did an amazing job of recovery. It’s far from complete, and residents of some of the outer boroughs, meaning anyplace except Manhattan, are still without power, but even so, the complex infrastructure of New York, with only one of five boroughs on the mainland, connected by a series of tunnels and tubes that carry local and interstate train traffic, electricity, telephone, broadband water and steam lines, has been amazing. It was a collective effort, city and state workers, the National Guard, Consolidated Edison with the help of workers from all over the country (some flown in by the Air Force), FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers. The same groups have been working all along the eastern seaboard. This is what you get when you have people who believe in the power of cooperation and think of government as the village square in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

The damage pattern is hard to understand. Houses nearest the water generally had the worst damage, but there were some far from the water that were also destroyed.

Long Beach is a city on an island on the south shore of Long Island. It is surrounded by the Reynolds Channel to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the south. In the course of even a routine storm the ocean meets the bay. There was an evacuation order for the entire city, but a woman I’ll call D. chose to ignore it. When the water surge came, both her house and car were destroyed. She was able to hitchhike off the island and call for help, but the phones weren’t working properly and calls couldn’t be completed, or just went to voicemail. Text messages didn’t go through. Calls go to voice mail without ringing first, and some calls just seem to disappear. Even so, Verizon has been doing a pretty good job. They’re the ones in charge of the poles, which is what they’re still called — telephone poles — and the company’s trucks are everywhere. From the number of new poles on the streets, they have been working hard.

Places to shop: 7-11 (all seem to be open).

Things to buy: coffee, Budweiser (their deliveries are getting through).

Things you can’t buy: D cell batteries, firewood, gasoline generators (also gasoline).

Places to hang out: First National Bank of New York. (It’s a tiny bank, but each of its three branches has a fireplace, television, comfortable chairs, hot coffee and popcorn. One of the branches was in an evacuation zone.)

Topics of conversation: why are all the LIPA trucks in their parking lots? How lucky we are compared to the people in New Jersey, Long Beach, Rockaway Peninsula, Atlantic Beach? How long have you gone without power?

Topics not being discussed: the election.

Trivia: in 1931, John Maynard Keynes said “I can’t think of anything President Hoover could do that an earthquake wouldn’t do better.” Or a hurricane I suppose.

The work crew that got our lights back on after a week was from South Carolina. We saw other crews from Mississippi, and a few that weren’t identifiable. God bless.

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y. Email sdu01@mail.com.

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2012



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