by Bill Batson
A year ago, the lights were still out for some in the village, extinguished by the fury of Hurricane Sandy. Over 100,000 Rockland County households lost power, and here in Nyack, there was one storm-related fatality. Today, there are 11 families from the Claremont Apartments that are still homeless. Are we ready for another super storm? What if a natural disaster occurs during a congressional hissy fit? Comparing what I posted then and what we know now, let’s examine what Hurricane Sandy taught us and what we learned about ourselves during her violent arrival and bitter aftermath.
On Nov 6, 2012, in a Nyack Sketch Log entry titled Brave New Normal, I wrote, “As a resident of a county declared a disaster area, I feel well represented by the federal, state, regional and local governments that are overseeing this natural catastrophe. But are we ready for the next storm, like the one that is coming literally and figuratively tomorrow?”
Today, Nov 5, 2013, I must say that the recent government shut down has left me feeling less well represented. After the Oct. 2012 storm, there was no swift relief from Washington. Quite the opposite, in fact. Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner callously let 67 days pass before he allowed the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, 2013 to proceed to a vote. Did Boehner’s intransigence in 2012 presage the government shut down in 2013?
On Nov 6, 2012, I wrote, “Utilities, like Orange & Rockland need to demonstrate to consumers and public officials that they can cope with a hundred year storm every year. Since O & R has a virtual monopoly of delivering electricity, the legislature needs to find a way, through either incentive-based or punitive measures, to demand the improvements that corporations that face competition must undertake.”
Today, I can report that Senator David Carlucci, Clarkstown Supervisor Alex Gromack, O&R and Laborers Local 754 announced new legislation on October 31, 2013 that will streamline the restoration of power in the wake of major future storms.
Much of the delay in post storm response is caused by the maze of downed live wires that halt emergency ground transportation. This legislation requires any gas or electric corporation in the state to annually submit an emergency response plan to the Public Service Commission for review and approval. The plan must address a number of criteria, including appropriate safety precautions regarding electrical hazards, including plans to promptly secure downed wires within 36 hours of notification of the location of such downed wires from a municipal emergency official. Utilities found to be in violation would face stiff new fines.
Mayor Jen White announced recently that the Village of Nyack has purchased two generators for the Department of Public Works and Village Hall in case of a future outage. In the aftermath of Sandy, Village Hall became a spontaneous gathering point for residents seeking information and mutual comfort and aid. Inside, officials huddled around a single lamp connected to a limited power source by an extension cord. With the new generator, Village Hall can serve as a relief station for people to find warmth, sanitary facilities and a way to charge phones and computers.
On Nov 6, 2012, I wrote, “Since there are many in our community without the personal, physical and financial wherewithal to accumulate sufficient supplies, we need to develop a data base of the elderly and infirm on a community-by-community basis so that when storms hit, we can systematically reach out to these at-risk individuals. Yes, we need to be able to take care of ourselves when governments and utilities cannot supply a secure and uninterrupted power supply, but I don’t think any of us wants to concede that survival in a crisis should be strictly an every-man-for-himself affair.”
When I wrote that, I did not realize that the much beloved Bryce Kirk, who built many of our river villages’ docks had died in his apartment in the days following Sandy. He fell in his darkened apartment after a day of helping others and was unable to summon assistance. We need an emergency community-buddy system. This network could go into effect during any blackout or major storm. Able-bodied adults need to check on two or three elderly or ailing neighbors in the wake of any storm or power-outage. I get the impression that Bryce would have led such an initiative.
On November 4, 2012, I told the story of a resilient couple that ignored the hurricane-related obstacles and carried out their wedding plans despite the loss of a venue and the absence of guests who could not travel because of the storm. Today, I am pleased to introduce you to the product of Marqui and Antonia Julien’s unflappable devotion, their daughter, Marlena.
Sandy by the Numbers
186 lives lost
24 states impacted
943 miles of U.S. coastline affected
144,000 Insurance claims filed
155, 287 FEMA applications submitted (88,750 rejected for a 57% failure rate)
7.9 million households and businesses in 15 states lost power
Approximately 50 billion in property damage and lost business making it one of the costliest natural disasters on record.
67 days for Congress to vote on relief
Research courtesy Ashley Tedino
In the strange calculus that is modern American politics, two men, one a Democrat and the other a Republican, weathered Sandy quite well. Even though President Barack Obama was surging against an imperfect opponent, the storm gave him a chance to be comfort-and-relief-provider-in-chief, and he won re-election with a comfortable margin. Republican Governor Chris Christie welcomed the President to a storm-ravaged New Jersey for a photo-op that may have alienated his party, but constructed a bipartisan narrative for himself that might make him the first viable Republican presidential candidate in a decade.
How ironic would that be if the Republican Party accrues any benefit from the tragedy of Sandy. Congressional Republicans stalled rather than rushed aid to several critically distressed American states. And in an act of chutzpah that defines the term, US Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who voted against Sandy relief, showed up in the metropolitan area last week, a year to the day after the storm, to raise money. His re-election fundraiser was held at the Belle Haven Club in Greenwich, Connecticut, a venue that was heavily damaged by the storm.
When Sandy hit the northeast, some lost everything, others found electoral succor, some declared their love and others proved that they have no shame. But as a village, we should take her lessons seriously. Nature promises another pop quiz on any given tomorrow.
This sketch is of the remains of Jerry Donnellan’s Houseboat. Donnellan is the Director of the County of Rockland Veterans Service Agency and until Sandy, a Nyack harbor resident. The Claremont Apartments, where 11 families are still homeless, is in the background.
- An Outdoor Wedding, Courtesy Sandy
- Nyack Sketch Log: Brave New Normal
- Super Storm Sandy, One Year After by DJ Cracovia (This piece has some excellent storm preparation tips)
Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Nyack Sketch Log: Sandy Still Stings, Save One Silver Lining “ © 2013 Bill Batson. To see more, visit billbatsonarts.com