Frankenstorm

Thanks to friends and family for asking how we fared during and after Superstorm Sandy.

Fortunately, our extended family came through without a scratch. The Upper West Side, where Rachel and I live, was largely spared. We feel very fortunate.

My brother in the East Village and cousins in Queens and Long Island were without electricity and cellphone service all week. Ana, Louis and the boys were safe in Brooklyn, although they were shaken up when a young couple was killed by a falling tree right around the corner at the height of the storm.

Everybody has been having a hard time getting around the city, although public transportation is now gradually being restored. Getting to work and school — and me getting to the East Village to give George a hand — was a nightmare.  Paul, in town from Pretoria, has been bicycling around The Big Apple.

My grandson Luis arrived from Mexico for a visit just a few days after Sandy hit. He could have postponed his trip but he’s an adventurous soul. He told me he wanted to witness history, see how New Yorkers cope with disaster.

Overall, the devastation is huge and unprecedented. The worst I’ve seen with my own eyes has been the East Village, which was flooded by the storm surge from the East River. The area is coming back to life now that the electricity is back, but it was a true disaster zone all week. In places, the water came up to car windows, basements were flooded, parts of roofs blown off. Some injuries but no loss of life in the immediate neighborhood.

When I went down on Wednesday people seemed to be in shock, worried more about their cellphones and Internet connections than food and water. That changed quickly, as supplies ran out and the weather got colder. Worst of all, people living in high rises — especially old and disabled folks — were prisoners with little to eat and drink as the days passed.

Federal, State and city assistance began arriving by mid-week. Free hot food was served in churches and schools and from food trucks sponsored by Jet Blue and other companies. With traffic lights out, police directed traffic. Heavy equipment and garbage trucks started to remove fallen trees, debris and destroyed cars. Bus service was restored fairly quickly. Overall, at least in the East Village, I’d give high marks to the official response.

But I was impressed most of all by the reaction of ordinary people. Everywhere you could see neighbors helping one another. A group of anarchists set up an improvised kitchen on the street in front of their squat and rigged a bicycle-built-for-two to charge cellphones. My brother had dinner and hung out with them. Kids from the Occupy movement held a “vertical marathon”, running up the stairs of tall buildings to bring food and water to people trapped in their apartments. I saw similar scenes in Albania during the war in Kosovo and in Honduras in the aftermath of hurricane Mitch. Incredible how emergencies can bring out the best in people.

Luis asked if I thought this solidarity would last as a legacy of Sandy.

I wasn’t sure how to answer him, but what I do think will last is the sense of outrage millions of people feel because the Superstorm was the chronicle of a catastrophe foretold.

It had been predicted almost a decade ago — in great scientific detail — as an inevitable consequence of human-driven global warming and climate change. And of course the warnings went unheeded by government and, to a great extent, the general public.  These extreme weather events will become more and more frequent and we will all live with an increased sense of vulnerability, although frankly it’s the poor who are most vulnerable and will always bear the brunt of so-called natural disasters.

Hopefully, this sense of vulnerability and indignation will be translated into protest and pressure for the fundamental, systemic political, economic and lifestyle changes that are needed to change direction and avoid massive environmental collapse and social chaos in the future. As they say, it’s the System, stupid!

We will carry these images and thoughts to the polls when we vote next week. Sandy gave Obama an opportunity and he rose to the occasion, showing leadership and backbone. The contrast between the two candidates couldn’t be greater.

But re-electing Obama won’t mean very much unless he is inspired — or forced — by a mass movement to be far bolder, far more transformative, than he has been in his first term.

Posted in Rain Barrel.