On Monday October 30th, 2012 Hurricane Sandy swirled through New York City in what is being called the worst natural disaster to hit New York ever.
Many of us underestimated the storm greatly and were wrong about its strength. I fell into that category as well. I even wrote a blog about how I thought it was all media hype. I was wrong.
Though I can’t excuse a newscaster for the useless comment of “The winds are picking up and slowing down” or “The power of water is incredible. Just incredible.” I can certainly say New York has been crippled by the magnitude of the storm. I have to also point out its lack of experience in dealing with anything like this before certainly amplified the damage. At the same time I guess our lack of experience in handling a storm like this is also the same lack of experience which would show were an earthquake to hit New York.
Either way, it was a freaky night. Where I live I am further inland, and uphill, so I’m a little more “protected” from the brunt of the storm. I am lucky. I believe there have now been an estimated 30+ deaths from the storm. Power was out for at least 1 million people as you can read here. For the first time, possibly in its history, the New York skyline was dark to onlookers (minus the Goldman Sachs building…). The East River and Hudson Rivers overflowed at least a foot, and brought with them all of the oil slick and chemicals that are leaked from the vessels which frequent those waters. The Gowanus Canal overflowed as well and brought all of the chemicals which actually make it worse than the Hudson or East River. Coney Island and Sheepshead Bay were flooded as well. Subway tunnels had roughly 4 feet of water in them, especially if they went under the rivers to the outer boroughs. A Con Edison plant exploded. 110 homes were burned down due to a fire in Queens. Due to a misunderstanding of the definition of “emergency” 911 calls skyrocketed 90% from their normal amount. Mayor Bloomberg even had to go on TV and instruct people to use 311 to report fallen trees. NYU hospital had to be evacuated. Finally, (and this is just the last of what I can find at the moment) a significant number of people in at least 4 different zip codes around the 14 street area, near what used to be St. Vincent’s Hospital, had no hospital to go to. This is because the hospital closed due to insufficient funding back in 2010. It’s always funny how the hospitals uptown never have many issues with funding though…
I have to now reflect on why we were so ill prepared, and why there may have been as many casualties as there were. First off city deficits are never good for storm recovery and preparation. As stated earlier the rarity of hurricanes in New York also created inefficiencies in our preparedness. However, there’s another thing. Many who might have left their homes probably thought the storm was over-hyped. I know I certainly fell into this category. Why did we think it was over-hyped? Well this might be a reason. Hurricane Irene media coverage. Note how that says “Hurricane Irene” NOT “Hurricane Sandy. This is a compilation of footage from a storm which was estimated as a Category 1 Hurricane last year; got downgraded to a Tropical Storm overnight, and caused barely any problems around the 5 boroughs. Despite the difference in its actual effects please tell me how different the reporting of it was as opposed to the reporting we all watched on Sunday into Monday for Hurricane Sandy.
I’m not saying for a second we shouldn’t prepare for the worst when there is a storm coming. We need to prepare. We need to be cautious and consider the potential impacts depending on where we live. What I’m saying is, after a while of over-hyped media sensationalism, the viewing audience will begin to think you are “crying wolf.” Most of the time this notion is logical because, even without studying it in school, we can see how ridiculous the news is. Lots of pretty graphics, lots of useless descriptions of conditions, lots of footage from the heart of the action, very little footage from a calmer area to give perspective. What about that one time it’s not exaggeration though? What about the one time, like was the case with Hurricane Sandy, the news predictions come true and the forces of nature make us wake up from media desensitization. By that point it’s too late.
Again, the news was dead-on this time but based on the small clip of Irene footage and your own past experiences is it that surprising we underestimated this? When news becomes interested in ratings more than quality reporting, it assumes the role of entertainment media, not news media. Furthermore when it assumes this role people don’t take it seriously and end up getting hurt or caught unprepared.
As I sat at home, I made my share of jokes. As I had nothing else to do I remember chilling on facebook and watching everyone else make jokes about the coming storm. Then the hurricane hit and we all took a lesson. I for one was surprised, and at some points frightened, by the strength of the winds.
For a good sense of perspective it’s also worth questioning why Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti and The Dominican Republic aren’t getting much coverage. They got hit far worse than even New Jersey did. Seeing this would give a very good idea of the different magnitudes of the same storm in different regions. Anyone who is from those regions already thinks we had it easy.
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