As with Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy to New York City is only beginning to come clear in the aftermath. My neighborhood – Jackson Heights, Queens – was spared almost completely by the storm. We’re currently living in a weird state of normal, unable to travel out of the neighborhood because the city’s subway system is still totally inoperative.
Meanwhile, I’m hearing from friends who live in downtown Manhattan and New Jersey: they are without power, water, and cellphone service. So far things have been quiet, but who knows what is to come.
My home campus on Staten Island is shut down and without power for at least a week. Friends who live on Staten Island are telling me that people are looking for folks who were washed out to sea.
What seems incomprehensible is the lack of official preparation for this storm. Okay, people were warned to leave their homes if they lived in evacuation zones. As with Katrina, many didn’t or couldn’t leave and are now coping with flooded houses, no power, and, in some cases, far worse.
But looming over these personal tragedies – and intensifying them immeasurably – is the destruction to the city. Who knows how long it will be before the city’s transportation infrastructure is back up and running. How long will it be before power is restored to some of the key parts of the city? And what kinds of toxins have been deposited in areas like the subway system, none too clean to start with, where we soon be asked to walk/sit/breathe? How is it possible that adequate preparations were not made for a storm such as Sandy?
Three years ago I went to see an exhibition at MOMA called Rising Currents that focused on a series of architectural project intended to deal with the impact of rising sea levels on parts of New York City. So these issues have been in the air. It’s not as if no one knew that climate change was happening. So there’s been a total failure of leadership and forethought. Perhaps this is because elected leaders are simply interested in short term servicing of capitalism’s short term need to make hyper-profits. But surely the system has been dealt a grievous economic blow by Hurricane Sandy.
In the coming days and weeks, it will be key to intervene in every possible way in the political spin put on this disaster. Now is the time to renew the basic messages of the Climate Justice Movement about the need for a just transition to sustainable green technologies and social justice.