Hurricane Sandy made landfall Monday evening 5 miles southwest of Atlantic City, New Jersey. The Jersey Shore is destroyed. New York City saw a record storm surge due to the weather and the timing of the landfall during high tide. All major tunnels and bridges in the New York Metropolitan Area were closed. Flights out of JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark Liberty were grounded for a period of time. Flooding occurred in Lower Manhattan at the site of the World Trade Center, Battery Park, East 34th Street, various subway systems, and Wall Street. The New York Stock Exchange suspended trading operations until Wednesday. Lower Manhattan: blacked out. Hoboken, New Jersey is still flooded and the National Guard is deployed to get stranded people to safety. 1100 homes burned down in a New York City suburb due to firefighters were unable to reach those homes due to the flood waters. Staten Island is one of the hardest hit of the five boroughs of New York.
This storm is not just affecting the densely population areas of New York and New Jersey. High winds were reported in my old stomping grounds of the Hampton Roads Area of Virginia. I have family in that region and I am pleased that they are safe. Baltimore is seeing flooding in low lying areas. Delaware’s beach reclamation projects will have to start over again. Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts made preparations for the storm. In Boston, the US Navy released pictures of the USS Constitution tied to the pier, showing their preparedness for the storm.
Not only are there signs of a tropical storm in this meteorological event, but it is also showing signs of an early winter storm in the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia. The effects of the storm reach as far west as Ohio and Michigan where heavy wind and rain are reported and Chicago reported high winds and even issued surf warnings.
The amount of damage is estimated to be in the billions. The clean up and rebuilding of these areas will take time.
And this is what this comment is about: What happens next?
First, we have seen cooperation in providing relief by four nationally known politicians, two Democrats, one Independent, and one Republican: President Barack Obama, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
The cooperation by these leaders in being proactive about getting the needed aid by the federal government is amazing, especially as Election Day draws near. Governor Christie, a Republican who had a keynote at the convention in Tampa and a big (no pun intended) surrogate of Mr. Romney, said this to Fox News when asked about the Presidential Election:
“I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested. I’ve got a job to do here in New Jersey that’s much bigger than presidential politics and I could care less about any of that stuff. I have a job to do. I’ve got 2.4 million people out of power. I’ve got devastation on the shore. I’ve got floods in the northern part of my state. If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics then you don’t know me.”
President Obama suspended his campaign events to monitor the storm from the White House. He was seen touring the devastation with Governor Christie in New Jersey on Wednesday and let the bombastic governor know that he needed anything his phone is always on. Christie criticized Obama’s leadership in his keynote during the Republican National Committee in August. On Tuesday, Christie said: “He's done - as far as I’m concerned - a great job for New Jersey.”
Even though we live in perceived hyper-partisan times, our elected officials do what we expect them to do when natural disasters strike: take care of its citizens.
The second deals with the long term. Governor Cuomo made this observation during a press conference
“It's a longer conversation, but I think part of learning from this is the recognition that climate change is a reality. Extreme weather is a reality. It is a reality that we are vulnerable.”
It is reported that Cuomo said to the President that we are now experiencing a 100-year flood every two years. Hurricane Isaac struck the Gulf Coast back in September costing $2 billion in property damages. In summer 2011, Hurricane Irene struck the east coast costing the United States $15.6 billion. Ike struck near the Houston metro area and cost $29.5 billion. And who could forget Katrina… the costliest hurricane in American history coming in at $108 billion.
I am not dismissing the human toll either. The death toll caused by Sandy currently stands at 98. I still remember the images of the Katrina victims camping out at the Louisiana Superdome as their shelter of last resort and waiting for three days without assistance and bodies floating in flooded New Orleans neighborhoods.
Looking at the list of the Top 20 US Metropolitan Statistical Areas, 12 are located on or near oceans. Surprisingly, this does not include Norfolk, VA which is both a large naval base and a major entry for trade; Charleston, SC and Portland, OR which again are another trade ports and large metropolitan areas near oceans; and of course New Orleans, LA. The population of these 12 areas is 76.6 million people. Include the other four plus two more Florida cities (Orlando and Jacksonville) because the state has an east and west coast and throw in Hawaii, a state surrounded by ocean on all sides… that total comes to 87.3 million people. About 1 in 3.6 people live near the ocean. Those are much better odds than the perceived rampant voter fraud Republicans claim.
As shown with the recovery efforts in the New York Metropolitan Area, people are dependent on public transportation services and due to the flooding those are inoperable creating delays. Blackouts due to downed power lines and the flooded underground utility services are creating long lines for fuel to keep emergency diesel generators operating in order to prevent food spoilage and battle back against colder temperatures.
Without sounding cliché, this is a wakeup call. Katrina should have been that call, but we got complacent and bogged down in the whole debate whether climate change is real or not. Well, the reality is that these storms are becoming more frequent and stronger over the last several years. Time is wasted on these foolish arguments. It is not going to stop hurricanes from creating havoc on our coast lines.
The solution is that the United States needs to invest in better hurricane protection systems for these areas. It is going to require improvements on our current infrastructure and building new infrastructure. The goal should not be to prevent zero impact by a hurricane because that is an impossible goal to achieve, but to minimize the impact. There will be high winds; how can we minimize the amount of debris created by these storms? There will be flooding; how can we ensure that the draining of the waters is done safely and efficiently to ensure that the roads are made passable and the public water supply is protected? Electrical systems will be interrupted due to the severe nature conditions; how can we minimize the amount of time people will wait for electricity to return?
There are many solutions such as investments in renewable energy sources, designing cities to be better flood proof and improvements in construction, and better coordination of evacuation and shelter plans. Of course these plans cost money, but the price tag compared with both the monetary and human cost from cleaning up from these storms is nothing. For example, investing in a flood control system for New York City similar to what the Netherlands has would cost $5 billion. Again the cost of Sandy is at $50 billion, many homes and property are destroyed, and 98 people are dead.
It is a tad ironic that someone would suggest to New York City to model their flood control system based on the Netherlands because the Dutch settled New York City in 1624 and named it New Amsterdam. Perhaps this is the goal that New York City seeks to become when it comes to flood control.
A cynic believes that nothing will get done due to the current makeup of our political system. I refuse to give into cynicism because it is admitting defeat. We cannot give into cynicism because if we do, people will die. If it sounds a tad alarmist, I apologize but it is true: people will die due to the inaction we take now. The thing I remember from Katrina besides the destruction was the lack of governmental response. How many lives could have been saved if we had listened to the warnings to reinforce the levee system in New Orleans? Or mobilized all available resources to get the poor out of New Orleans? Or a more pro-active response in the hours after Katrina?
I believe that we can strengthen our infrastructure to minimize the impact from severe hurricanes and extreme weather because the United States has risen to the challenge many times. We built the Erie Canal to link Lake Erie to the Hudson River. We plowed and settled the American Plains. We built the Trans-Continental Railroad to link the Atlantic and Pacific Coast. When a depression sunk the economy and devastated people’s earnings, we built our way out of it. When Europe faced the tyranny of Hitler’s war machine, we mobilized our resources to liberate the continent. After the war, we grew our economy and built a freeway system that like the Trans-Continental Railroad linked east to west. We put a freaking man on the Moon and returned him safely to the Earth.
Now we are faced with another critical question in our nation’s history. The time and call for action is now.