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History > 2012 > USA > Weather / Environment (II)




A coffin is washed up onto the side of a levee from Hurricane Isaac flooding

in Plaquemines Parish on September 3, 2012 in Braithwaite, Louisiana.


Mario Tama/Getty Images


Boston Globe > Big Picture > Hurricanes and typhoons        October 1, 2012
















Are Humans to Blame?

Science Is Out


October 31, 2012
The New York Times


From the darkened living rooms of Lower Manhattan to the wave-battered shores of Lake Michigan, the question is occurring to millions of people at once: Did the enormous scale and damage from Hurricane Sandy have anything to do with climate change?

Hesitantly, climate scientists offered an answer this week that is likely to satisfy no one, themselves included. They simply do not know for sure if the storm was caused or made worse by human-induced global warming.

They do know, however, that the resulting storm surge along the Atlantic coast was almost certainly intensified by decades of sea-level rise linked to human emissions of greenhouse gases. And they emphasized that Hurricane Sandy, whatever its causes, should be seen as a foretaste of trouble to come as the seas rise faster, the risks of climate change accumulate and the political system fails to respond.

“We’re changing the environment — it’s very clear,” said Thomas R. Knutson, a research meteorologist with the government’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J. “We’re changing global temperature, we’re changing atmospheric moisture, we’re changing a lot of things. Humans are running this experiment, and we’re not quite sure how it’s going to turn out.”

By the time Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast coast on Monday, upending lives across the Eastern half of the country, it had become a freakish hybrid of a large, late-season hurricane and a winter storm more typical of the middle latitudes. Though by no means unprecedented, that type of hybrid storm is rare enough that scientists have not studied whether it is likely to become more common in a warming climate.

“My profession hasn’t done its homework,” said Kerry A. Emanuel, a climate scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “I think there’s going to be a ton of papers that come out of this, but it’s going to take a couple of years.”

Scientists note that a warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapor, which in principle supplies more energy for storms of all types. The statistics seem to show that certain types of weather extremes, notably heat waves and heavy downpours, are becoming more common.

But how those general principles will influence hurricanes has long been a murky and contentious area of climate science. Most scientists expect that the number of Atlantic hurricanes will actually stay steady or decline in coming decades as the climate warms, but that the proportion of intense, damaging storms is likely to rise.

The experts differ sharply on whether such a rise can already be detected in hurricane statistics. Recent decades seem to show an increase in hurricane strength, but hurricanes tend to rise and fall in a recurring cycle over time, so it is possible that natural variability accounts for the recent trends.

Jeff Masters, a meteorologist and founder of a popular Web site, Weather Underground, suspects some kind of shift is under way. The number of hurricanes and tropical storms over the past three years has been higher than average, with 19 named storms in both 2010 and 2011 and 19 so far this hurricane season, which ends Nov. 30. According to the National Hurricane Center there are, on average, 12 named storms each season.

“The climatology seems to have changed,” Dr. Masters said. “We’re getting these very strange, very large storms with very low central pressures that don’t have that much wind at the surface.”

Hurricanes draw their energy from warm waters in the top layer of the ocean. And several scientists pointed out this week that parts of the western Atlantic were remarkably warm for late October as Hurricane Sandy passed over, as much as 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal for this time of year.

Kevin E. Trenberth, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., said that natural variability probably accounted for most of that temperature extreme. But, he added, human-induced global warming has raised the overall temperature of the ocean surface by about one degree Fahrenheit since the 1970s. So global warming probably contributed a notable fraction of the energy on which the storm thrived — maybe as much as 10 percent, he said.

Dr. Trenberth said that many of Sandy’s odd features, including its large scale, derived from its origin as a merger of two weather systems that converged in the western Atlantic.

“My view is that a lot of this is chance,” he said. “A hybrid storm is certainly one which is always in the cards, and it’s one we’ve always worried about.”

Winds knocked out power as far west as Michigan. But the most serious damage, including the flooding of New York’s subway tunnels and the broad destruction along the Jersey Shore, came as the storm pushed roiling ocean waters onto land, a phenomenon known as storm surge. The surge set records in some places, including the Battery in Lower Manhattan.

Globally, the ocean rose about eight inches in the last century, and the rate seems to have accelerated to about a foot a century.

Scientists say most of the rise is a direct consequence of human-induced climate change. Ocean water expands when it warms, accounting for some of the rise, and land ice is melting worldwide, dumping extra water into the ocean. Scientists say they believe the rate will accelerate further, so that the total increase by the end of this century could exceed three feet.

    Are Humans to Blame? Science Is Out, NYT, 31.10.2012,







New York Region Faces Rescues,

Looting and a Rising Death Toll


October 31, 2012
The New York Times


New York faced the reality of life after Hurricane Sandy on Wednesday: horror in still-waterlogged neighborhoods, where rescue workers pulled bodies from wreckage, and exasperation elsewhere as more than 3.75 million people entered a third day without electricity.

The storm was blamed for more than 70 deaths in the United States, including 24 in New York City, 8 in New Jersey and 4 in Connecticut. And Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said initial damage estimates “project up to $6 billion in lost economic revenue” in New York State.

The death toll seemed certain to rise as rescuers checked basements that had flooded, trapping homeowners inside. The wall of water driven ashore by the storm even flooded three police stations, two in Brooklyn and one in the Rockaway section of Queens.

Paul J. Browne, the chief spokesman for the Police Department, said a steamfitter was rescued from one station house as water crashed in. The steamfitter, whom he identified as Kevin Hunter, had been working in the boiler room, two levels below the first floor, trying to shut off steam pipes before the surge of cold water rolled in.

But Mr. Hunter’s leg became caught, and he was “completely submerged underwater, unable to get free,” Mr. Browne said in an e-mail. Another steamfitter, Anthony DiMaggio, sought help, and he and Lt. Peter O’Neill freed his leg and carried him out in chest-high water. With help from other officers, “they literally swam Hunter to Neptune Avenue, where the water wasn’t as high,” Mr. Browne said.

Eventually they loaded him onto a city bus that carried them out of the flooded area, and later into an ambulance that took him to Maimonides Hospital. He was treated for cuts, muscle strains and hypothermia.

Fifteen people in the Far Rockaway section of Queens and nine in Coney Island were charged with burglary and other offenses in connection with looting at stores. Among them was a 29-year-old woman who faced a weapons charge “after the safe she was carrying from a store was found to contain a firearm,” Mr. Browne said.

For those who did not have basements that flooded or buildings that slipped off their foundations, there were lines at the gasoline stations that have power to pump fuel for generators and for cars. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie’s office warned drivers to be careful because lines were so long that they had stretched onto the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike. One Twitter feed that had been following the hurricane on the Jersey Shore began sending out updates about where to buy gas.

A wide stretch of Lower Manhattan remained dark, as did the Jersey Shore, waterfront neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens, and most of Long Island.

But the first section of Manhattan that lost power on Monday night, after an explosion and fire at a substation on East 14th Street, had had its lights turned back on, a Consolidated Edison executive said. Doing that restored power to about 2,000 of more than 220,000 customers below 39th Steet in Manhattan. The rest will probably have to wait until Friday or Saturday, said John Miksad, Con Ed’s senior vice president for electric operations.

Power also returned to the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn. But repairing all of the downed wires in other boroughs and in Westchester County could take another week, Mr. Miksad said.

In New Jersey, executives at Public Service Electric and Gas Company said 900,000 customers were still without power, down from a peak of 1.7 million on Tuesday. Some of the company’s main lines, carrying power to substations for local distribution, still needed to be repaired, officials said. But they said electricity was on again in Newark, Elizabeth and parts of Jersey City, and they expected to have all power restored by Nov. 9.

Another big utility, Jersey Central Power and Light, said nearly 950,000 customers did not have electricity. About half were in Monmouth and Ocean Counties along the shore.

Connecticut Light and Power reported that more than 318,000 customers were out, including about two-thirds of its customers in Greenwich and New Canaan and 9 out of 10 in Weston.

Mr. Cuomo said restoring power to Long Island, where the storm knocked out power to 90 percent of the Long Island Power Authority’s customers, posed particular difficulties. He said 1,800 utility workers from other areas, mostly upstate, were being sent there to provide extra help.

It was clear that it would be a while before many of the small businesses that were so much a part of the city — visually, with their kaleidoscope of street-level storefronts, and economically — recovered. It was just as clear that it would be days before many restaurants reopened. Some lost large inventories when the power went out and food in their walk-in refrigerators began to spoil.

Some lost more than food. Before the storm, Andrew Carmellini, the chef at the Dutch in SoHo and Locanda Verde in TriBeCa, rented a car for around-town transportation. He left it on West 23rd Street. “The car got destroyed in the flood,” he said. “The water went over the dashboard.”

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said his evacuation orders remained in effect for low-lying communities from Coney Island in Brooklyn to Battery Park City in Manhattan. Mr. Bloomberg said they would not be lifted until the Buildings Department had had time to inspect buildings in those areas. “I know it’s annoying to everyone,” he said at a briefing, “but we don’t need more loss of life.”

Would the city be back to normal? Perhaps, he said — but not for families who were missing a child, a parent, a brother, a sister.

“For all we do to recover, it’s fair to say we can’t replace the lives of the people lost in the storm,” he began, speaking in a softer voice than he had used at earlier briefings. “Any loss of life is tragic; sadly, nature is dangerous, and these things occur. The best thing we can do for those who did die is make sure this city recovers for those who come out of this and build a better life for those left behind.”

    New York Region Faces Rescues, Looting and a Rising Death Toll, NYT, 31.10.2012,






For Builders, the Storm Is Good for Business


October 31, 2012
The New York Times


Bad news for hurricane-ravaged homeowners is good news for at least one contingent: construction companies and the army of workers they plan to hire, many of whom have been idled and ailing from the housing bust for nearly half a decade.

Two days into the destruction from Hurricane Sandy, phones were ringing nonstop at Garden State Public Adjusters in Marlton, N.J., ProStar Residential Disaster Cleanup in Milford, Conn., and other businesses along the Eastern Seaboard. Construction crews cannot get into many of the affected areas yet, because of flooded streets, detours and debris. Even so, customers were lining up, begging for help to pluck branches out of windows, suck water from basements and living rooms, and rebuild damaged roofs and homes.

It is an exercise many contractors had been through before.

“I always look forward to a natural disaster,” said Doug Palmieri, owner of Palmieri Construction in Middlefield, Conn. “The last two storms we had around here, the snow we had included, helped out the contracting business quite a bit.”

Construction companies and insurance adjusters that are newer or less known have begun circling waterlogged neighborhoods in their cars and trucks and distributing fliers, handshakes and condolences.

“I drove around with my truck and a couple people stopped me and asked me for a business card,” said Mayara Goncalves, owner of Queiroga Construction in Bridgeport, Conn. “Unfortunately for everyone else, it’s going to be good for us.”

The five-person Queiroga Construction is hoping to meet demand with longer hours and subcontractors. Many construction companies along the East Coast, though, say they expect to hire, although the magnitude of the work and the number of additional laborers are still to be determined.

“There is going to be so much manpower required, and we are already spread so thin,” said Bill O’Connell, president of Elite Public Adjusters, which runs both an insurance adjustment company and a restoration and construction business in North Wildwood, N.J. He expects at least a million dollars of work from this storm. “I’m a little worried about being overwhelmed. The phones are ringing off the hook and we won’t be able to get to a lot of people.”

Some companies expressed concern about finding enough workers quickly, given that the slowdown in construction over the last few years has caused workers to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

“Over the course of the recession, 60 to 75 percent of construction workers left the area because there was no work to keep them busy,” said Pat Broom, owner of Phoenix Restoration, a 15-year-old company in Kill Devil Hills, N.C., on the Outer Banks. “That’s the first thing we worried about this morning when we got in: Where do we get the people?”

Even in areas where people are desperate for work, some companies say they have trouble finding workers with the skills and motivation for hard physical labor.

“The challenge is going to be finding help,” said John Scotti of Scotti Brothers Custom Home Renovation in Cumberland County, N.J. “The phone doesn’t stop ringing with people looking for jobs, and then you bring them in and they don’t want to work. The only ones that want to work are those who are here illegally.”

Businesses are hoping that the burst of construction work will draw back workers to their areas. Last year, the rebuilding efforts from Hurricane Irene attracted construction workers and insurance adjusters from as far away as Texas.

So far, though, companies said they have been inundated with more calls for work than job applicants. Some expect workers to start flowing into affected areas later this week when transportation returns to normal.

While some pleas for service are coming in steadily and urgently, it will probably take awhile for the bulk of the construction jobs to get going in earnest.

First, the areas need to dry out sufficiently for crews to begin work, which could take days to weeks. After Tropical Storm Ernesto in 2006, said Ms. Broom of Phoenix Restoration in the Outer Banks, it took two weeks for the standing water to dry in some areas. In the meantime, septic systems overflowed and bacteria festered, making the jobs more complicated and expensive.

Many homeowners are also waiting for insurance companies to come through with money or at least an assessment, a process that can take days or months.

“Especially with the way the economy is, people don’t have money just sitting in the bank to pay for a $20,000 or $30,000 job,” said Victor Rosado, owner of Professional Home Builders in Milford, Conn. And often, people struggle to come up with the costs that insurance does not cover.

“No one’s ever whole after something like this,” Mr. Rosado said. “They tend to think that the insurance company will come in and make everything whole, but that never happens.”

He said that money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency may help hasten the pace of reconstruction, since President Obama authorized federal aid for parts of the country struck by the storm.

The other reason reconstruction may drag on over the next year is that many of the affected areas — like the Jersey Shore or the Outer Banks — are vacation areas, and the vacation season is over. Some owners have started calling construction companies and claims adjusters to survey the damage. Others are hundreds of miles away and out of touch.

Even those in the affected area or somewhere nearby may not have power and are having difficulty contacting contractors, insurance companies and other services.

While construction companies and their new hires may profit from the destruction, homeowners and companies are out billions of dollars for their physical damages and lost business hours, which can ripple through local economies. But one longer-term benefit might be new building stock that is better than what was swept away, as was the case in rebuilding along the Outer Banks in North Carolina after previous storms.

“When government authorities facilitate rebuilding quickly and effectively, the process of economic renewal, in many tangible ways, can leave communities better off than before,” said Peter Morici, an economics professor at the Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland.

He estimated that the economic losses from Sandy would be $35 billion to $45 billion, but that economic benefits from reconstruction and its ripple effects would total about $27 billion to $36 billion, not including gains of about $10 billion “from a more modern and productive capital stock.”

    For Builders, the Storm Is Good for Business, NYT, 31.10.2012,






F.C.C. Details Storm-Related Cellphone Problems


October 31, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — For all of the modern communications that keep people connected, cellphones rely on an age-old technology that has repeatedly demonstrated its own instability during emergencies — electricity.

Power systems failures throughout the Northeast have been the main culprits in the shutdown of more than 20 percent of the cell tower sites in 10 states, causing millions of lost calls on Wednesday, government and industry officials said.

Slow progress was made in restoring some services. Federal Communications Commission officials said that the percentage of cell tower sites not working in the storm-damaged areas declined “by a few percentage points” as of Wednesday morning, down from about 25 percent on Tuesday.

Wired broadband and cable television systems remained out of service for “well under 20 percent” of homes in hurricane-affected areas, the F.C.C. said, down from 25 percent on Tuesday.

But widespread power outages as well as wind damage and submerged equipment continue to affect users of wireless and wired communications services.

“The crisis is not over,” Julius Genachowski, chairman of the F.C.C., said Wednesday. “Over all, the condition of our communications networks is improving, but serious outages remain, particularly in New York, New Jersey, and other hard-hit areas.”

The commission will “continue to expect the unexpected,” Mr. Genachowski said, and neither the F.C.C. nor mobile phone companies were able to say how long it would take to restore full service.

Verizon Wireless said Wednesday that 6 percent of its cell sites remained down in storm-affected areas, although all of its switching and data centers “are functioning normally.” T-Mobile issued a statement saying that roughly 20 percent of its network in New York City was out of service, as was up to 10 percent of its network in Washington.

Sprint and AT&T declined to specify the status of their systems on Wednesday. All of the companies said they were working to assess and repair the damage.

To help maintain service AT&T and T-Mobile said on Wednesday that in the affected areas of New York and New Jersey, their customers would be able to use the networks of both companies, decreasing the likelihood of failed calls.

In a statement, T-Mobile USA said that when customers of both AT&T and T-Mobile place calls, the calls would be carried by whichever network is available in the area. Both networks use similar technologies, so switching between them will be seamless, and there will not be an additional charge, the company said.

Officials also said that 911 services were restored in the few areas where it was interrupted during the storm. David Turetsky, chief of the F.C.C.’s public safety and homeland security bureau, said calls to 911 “are able to be received everywhere at 911 centers.”

Some of the incoming calls are being rerouted to other service centers and “a limited number” of centers are receiving calls without knowing where the caller is located, Mr. Turetsky said, which means that public safety officials have to rely on the caller to provide accurate information about where the emergency is.

F.C.C. officials declined to identify where the affected 911 centers were located, or which phone companies were responsible for servicing them.

Customers of wireless phone companies have come to expect service to either be unavailable or jammed during emergencies, a situation that has repeated itself since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and through numerous natural disasters.

But industry officials say that while mobile phone networks are designed to handle very high call volumes, no system can handle infinite traffic, just as freeways are jammed at rush hour.

“Every time we bring more spectrum to market, our growth in usage seems to outpace it,” said Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president for regulatory affairs at CTIA-The Wireless Association, an industry trade group.


Edward Wyatt reported from Washington, and Brian X. Chen from New York.

    F.C.C. Details Storm-Related Cellphone Problems, NYT, 31.10.2012,






Airlines Begin a Laborious Comeback


October 31, 2012
The New York Times


The airline system in the Northeast slowly started to come back to life on Wednesday, but not quickly enough for Michelle Gippin. She flew into Newark Liberty International Airport from Frankfurt two days late, and then was told she could not get a connecting flight home to Cleveland until Friday or Saturday.

“They did say that once the system was up and running, it will happen pretty fast,” she said. “The problem is that so many airports were shut down that the backlog was unbelievable. And it was just a stroke of luck that I was able to inch my way this far.”

Like Ms. Gippin, travelers who were unlucky enough to be heading home during Hurricane Sandy were caught in the midst of the airlines’ struggle to get their schedules back to normal. The airlines had moved their planes and crews out of harm’s way before the storm. But it was not an easy task for the airlines to restart the system afterward. Thousands of travelers had to deal with long waits on the phone or at the airport to rebook their flights.

Adding to the challenges of this storm, said Dave Holtz, the vice president for operations control for Delta Air Lines in Atlanta, was that many of the airline employees in New York could not get to work because public transportation was largely shut down on Wednesday. That meant the carrier not only needed to get its flight crews in place, but it was also flying Atlanta-based technology specialists and customer service agents to New York to deal with customers, Mr. Holtz said.

He predicted that all flights would be back to normal within the next two days. The first Delta flights into Kennedy Airport in New York began at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, and the airline expected to reach full capacity (92 flights a day in and another 92 out) on Thursday.

Delta’s first flights into Newark began at 3 p.m. on Wednesday and were set to reach full capacity (18 flights in, 18 out) on Thursday. And its first flights into La Guardia Airport, which was the hardest-hit of the three New York-area airports because of flooding, were scheduled to start Thursday at 7 a.m.

The airline expected to reach full capacity (80 flights) by Thursday afternoon. Planes have been flying out of Philadelphia since Tuesday.

“From a traveler’s perspective, I think we’re within one or two days from being back to normal,” Mr. Holtz said. “There will probably be longer lines. But in terms of running at full capacity, we should be back by then.”

The other airlines were following much the same playbook.

Mr. Holtz works at the Delta Operations Control Center in Atlanta, a three-story red-brick office building where some 270 employees were working around the clock to get airplanes flying again.

The office was largely quiet except for the sound of giant television monitors showing CNN and Fox, beside screens showing weather forecasts and flight arrival and departure data.

Mr. Holtz described the work at the center as putting together a giant puzzle that was constantly changing. “Imagine it as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle are slid under your door every day,” he said. “Some pieces fall away and our guys spend the whole day putting together the rest until it fits.”

He said that the airline was offering vouchers that allowed passengers to reschedule flights at a time that was convenient, a better system, he said, than the airline automatically bumping passengers to a particular flight. “It’s our job to put a predictable outcome in a customer’s hand,” he added.

The scene at the Newark airport on Wednesday afternoon showed the difficulties in getting the system running again. Most of the initial flights coming in or out were international ones. And many of the arriving passengers found that there were not yet any domestic flights to take them the rest of the way home.

Rochelle Obechina, 45, the host of a morning drive-time radio show in Aspen, Colo., was returning from running a marathon — in near-blizzard conditions, as it happened — in Lausanne, Switzerland. After her original flight back was canceled by the storm here, she took a train to Geneva, where a friend who had lived in Switzerland found a place for her to stay Tuesday night through a post on Facebook.

She reached Newark at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon on United Airlines, only to find that the airline could not confirm her on a flight to Denver before Friday. After she told the ticket agent that she had to get home to deal with a family emergency, she was given a seat on a 6:49 a.m. flight to Denver on Thursday.

But there was a catch. That flight had not yet been assigned a gate, the agent told her, and could still be canceled. “So I have a seat on a plane that has no gate,” she said, sitting near a host of empty baggage carousels.

Ms. Obechina said she would sleep in the airport in the hope that the flight would go. She said the attendants on the flight from Geneva had warned her that she would have trouble finding a flight to Denver.

“I feel like Tom Hanks in ‘The Terminal,’ “ she said, referring to a 2004 movie about a man trapped in a terminal at Kennedy when he was denied entry to the United States but could not return to his native country. “He was caught between two countries, and I’m caught between two terminals and which gate.”

Still, Newark airport seemed fairly lively compared with the ghost town that it had been on Tuesday afternoon, when the airport was still without power. At that time, Terminals A and C were dark and eerily quiet, with Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” blaring through the loudspeakers to entertain the lonely guards.

The airport had gathered all the passengers stranded during the storm, with about 65 of them sleeping on cots in a guarded area on Monday night. The power came back on late Tuesday afternoon. And even though the airport reopened at 7 a.m. Wednesday with a welcome blaze of lighting, the first planes to arrive were cargo carriers and jetliners bringing in air crews and extra ticket agents.

Diana Williams, a customer care representative for the airport, said her fellow red-jacketed aides “were straggling in because there was no bus service.” Many were also dealing with flooding and damage at their own homes and trying to arrange rides to work.

And the electronic flight information monitors, flickering back to life after a day and a half of blankness, summed up the situation pretty well.

United’s displays listed more than two dozen international flights arriving or departing, and a smattering of arrivals expected from other American cities. But as of late Wednesday afternoon, only a couple of domestic departures were listed.

Ms. Gippin, the woman who arrived from Frankfurt, said representatives there from United had cautioned the two dozen standby passengers that they should only take the flight to Newark if that was their final destination. But, she said, “I just wanted to get back to the United States.”


Robbie Brown reported from Atlanta and Christopher Drew from Newark.

    Airlines Begin a Laborious Comeback, NYT, 31.10.2012,






Grover Cleveland’s Hurricane


October 31, 2012
The New York Times


A DEVASTATING storm slams into New York City; within days, another hits the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. The president refuses to allow the federal government to coordinate relief efforts. No, it’s not a glimpse into a future without the Federal Emergency Management Agency under a Romney administration. It’s what happened in August 1893, and the consequences of the government’s inaction offer valuable lessons today.

On Tuesday, Aug. 22, in the Atlantic Ocean, four hurricanes were swirling simultaneously, an event never before recorded, and one that would not happen again until 1998. Two would peter out, but over Wednesday night, one of the hurricanes slammed into New York City. At least 30 people were killed. A storm surge swept across southern Brooklyn and Queens, destroying virtually everything in its path. Railroad tracks near Brighton Beach were washed away, along with bath houses and sections of boardwalk.

Four days later, on Aug. 27, the last, even more powerful hurricane made landfall near Savannah, Ga., devastating coastal island communities. As many as 2,000 people were killed, many swept out to sea, never to be seen again. Corn and cotton crops were ruined, and wells were contaminated with seawater.

In the wake of these twin tragedies, however, President Grover Cleveland did nothing.

Cleveland, a Democrat and former governor of New York, opposed government intervention in natural disasters. In his first term he had vetoed a bill that would have given drought-stricken Texas farmers $10,000 for seeds. “Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character,” Cleveland wrote in his veto message.

Given his aversion to “paternalism,” it’s not surprising that the federal government was unresponsive to calls for assistance after the two hurricanes struck. When the South Carolina senator Matthew Butler asked Secretary of War (and Cleveland confidante) Daniel Lamont for help, Mr. Lamont responded that it would be unconstitutional for the government to provide direct aid without an act of Congress — though he did offer to lend some spare tents to the homeless.

Into the void stepped Clara Barton, the 72-year-old nurse who had founded the American Red Cross 12 years earlier. Almost single-handedly, Ms. Barton organized relief efforts — distributing food and clothing and supervising the construction of new homes (first for widows and the infirm). Her heroic work, especially in the South, saved countless thousands from disease and starvation.

Grover Cleveland paid a price for his inaction. At the time of the hurricanes, the country was mired in an economic crisis now known as the Panic of 1893. Cleveland’s position, while hardly unorthodox — many Democrats and Republicans at the time shared a similar distaste for government intervention — did nothing to endear him to a public weary of financial misery. He did not run for a third term in 1896. By then he was so unpopular that even his own party repudiated him. At the Democratic convention in Chicago that year, delegates hurled more insults at Cleveland than at the Republican presidential nominee, William McKinley.

Grover Cleveland was never accused of sacrificing his principles for political expediency. But in politics, sometimes principle has a price.


Matthew Algeo is the author of “The President Is a Sick Man:

Wherein the Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives a Secret Surgery

at Sea and Vilifies the Courageous Newspaperman Who Dared Expose the Truth.”

    Grover Cleveland’s Hurricane, NYT, 31.10.2012,






Will Climate Get Some Respect Now?


October 31, 2012
The New York Times


President Obama and Mitt Romney seemed determined not to discuss climate change in this campaign. So thanks to Hurricane Sandy for forcing the issue: Isn’t it time to talk not only about weather, but also about climate?

It’s true, of course, that no single storm or drought can be attributed to climate change. Atlantic hurricanes in the Northeast go way back, as the catastrophic “snow hurricane” of 1804 attests. But many scientists believe that rising carbon emissions could make extreme weather — like Sandy — more likely.

“You can’t say any one single event is reflective of climate change,” William Solecki, the co-chairman of the New York City Panel on Climate Change, told me. “But it’s illustrative of the conditions and events and scenarios that we expect with climate change.”

In that sense, whatever its causes, Sandy offers a window into the way ahead.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York says he told President Obama the other day that it seems “we have a 100-year flood every two years now.” Indeed, The Times has reported that three of the 10 biggest floods in Lower Manhattan since 1900 have occurred in the last three years.

So brace yourself, for several reasons:

• Hurricanes form when the ocean is warm, and that warmth is their fuel. The Atlantic waters off the East Coast set a record high temperature this summer. Presumably most of that is natural variation, and some is human-induced climate change.

• Computer models suggest that hurricanes won’t necessarily become more frequent, but they may become stronger. As the United States Global Change Research Program, a collaboration of federal agencies, puts it, “The intensity of these storms is likely to increase in this century.”

• Climate change adds moisture to the atmosphere, which may mean that storms come with more rain and more flooding.

• Sandy was particularly destructive because it was prevented from moving back out to sea by a “blocking pattern” associated with the jet stream. There’s debate about this, but one recent study suggested that melting sea ice in the Arctic may lead to such blocking.

• Rising seas create a higher baseline for future storm surges. The New York City Panel on Climate Change has projected that coastal waters may rise by two feet by 2050 and four feet by the end of the century.

I was schooled in the far-reaching changes under way several years ago by Eskimos in Alaska, who told me of their amazement at seeing changes in their Arctic village — from melting permafrost to robins (for which their Inupiat language has no word), and even a (shivering) porcupine. If we can’t see that something extraordinary is going on in the world around us, we’re in trouble.

“Of the 10 warmest summers on record for the contiguous United States, seven have occurred since 2000,” notes Jake Crouch of the National Climatic Data Center.

They include this summer’s drought in the United States, the worst in more than half a century.

“For the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change,” James E. Hansen, a NASA climate scientist, recently wrote in The Washington Post.

Politicians have dropped the ball, but so have those of us in the news business. The number of articles about climate change fell by 41 percent from 2009 to 2011, according to DailyClimate.org.

There are no easy solutions, but we may need to invest in cleaner energy, impose a carbon tax or other curbs on greenhouse gases, and, above all, rethink how we can reduce the toll of a changing climate. For example, we may not want to rebuild in some coastal areas that have been hammered by Sandy.

We’ll also need a stronger FEMA — which makes Romney’s past suggestions that FEMA be privatized particularly myopic.

(That’s almost as bizarre as Michael Brown, the FEMA director during Hurricane Katrina, scolding Obama for responding to Sandy “so quickly.”)

Democrats have been AWOL on climate change, but Republicans have been even more recalcitrant. Their failure is odd, because in other areas of national security Republicans pride themselves on their vigilance. Romney doesn’t want to wait until he sees an Iranian nuclear weapon before acting, so why the passivity about climate change?

Along with eight million others, the Kristofs have lost power, so I’ve been sending Twitter messages on my iPhone by candlelight — an odd juxtaposition that feels like a wake-up call. In the candlelit aftermath of a future hurricane, I’m guessing, we’ll look back at the silence about climate in the 2012 election and ask: “What were they thinking?”

I invite you to visit my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook and Google+, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.

    Will Climate Get Some Respect Now?, NYT, 31.10.2012,






Long Gas Lines, Clogged Roads

and Slim Hope for a Better Day


October 31, 2012
The New York Times


With commutes that took hours, half-mile lines at suburban gas stations and city buses stuffed beyond capacity, the transportation systems in most of the region slowed to a crawl on Wednesday, amid promises that some subway and commuter rail services would be restored by the Thursday morning commute.

On Wednesday night, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared a transportation emergency and said all fares on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s commuter trains, subways and buses would be waived on Thursday and Friday.

Beginning at 6 a.m., some service will resume on 14 of the city’s 23 subway lines, but several critical lines — the No. 3 and 7 trains and the B, C, E, G and Q trains — remain entirely dark. Many trains will have gaps in their routes, including the No. 4 train, which will have no service between 42nd Street in Manhattan and Borough Hall in Brooklyn.

And if New Yorkers want to try their luck at driving into Manhattan on Thursday, most will require company: Beginning at 6 a.m., the city planned to bar private vehicles carrying fewer than three people from entering Manhattan over most major bridges, like the Robert F. Kennedy, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Williamsburg Bridges.

But on Wednesday, as many businesses resumed normal operations for the first time since the storm, commutes were a mess.

“I left at 8:30 this morning and got here at 11:30,” said Eddie Malae, 29, who drove from Forest Hills, Queens, to the salon on Lexington Avenue near 77th Street where he is a stylist. “And I did tricks, shortcuts.”

Mr. Cuomo said that the goal of the fare waiver was to help alleviate the kind of traffic that clogged city streets on Wednesday.

“The gridlock was dangerous, frankly,” Mr. Cuomo said.

Joseph Lhota, the chairman of the M.T.A., said that roughly half of the commuters who take Metro-North trains would see regular service starting Thursday morning. The Harlem and the New Haven lines will both be running normal schedules to Grand Central Station, he said.

The storm damage had a synergy of its own. Efforts to pump floodwaters from subway and automobile tunnels were slowed by electrical shortages. Hastily arranged car pools became bogged down on highways and city streets clogged with other commuters. Many gas stations, without power to operate their pumps, could not open for business, eerily evoking the fuel crisis of the 1970s.

Only bicycles seemed to be rolling.

The delays were “the equivalent of a subway strike with several of our major tunnels closed,” said Samuel I. Schwartz, a former city traffic commissioner known as Gridlock Sam, who said he could only recall one instance — when there was a powerful storm during a transit strike in 1980 — when traffic had been as bad.

City buses, the only piece of the mass transit network operating in earnest on Wednesday, often bypassed waiting commuters, unable to take on more passengers. Those who did make it on board often got off well before their stop, reasoning that they could walk faster.

“Maybe when it turns green, people will start moving,” Abraham Riesman, 26, said as he rode an M10 bus stopped at a red light along Central Park West. Then the light turned.


Eric Bourne, 27, waited 30 minutes for the M4 bus at 138th Street and Broadway before he realized there was a path of less resistance: walking to his job at Parsons Dance in Times Square, where he is a modern dancer. Woe was to the less fit.

Parking garages filled early, with lines of cars in front of some gates before they opened near dawn. Diego Trilleras, the manager at a Manhattan Parking Group garage at East 56th Street, said he had not seen such a business boom since before the economic downturn. Some customers, he said, would probably have to wait an hour to get their cars out again. “They understand,” he said hopefully.

With no underground route from Queens to Manhattan and car traffic stalled, some crossed the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge on bike or foot. One Twitter user described cycling over the bridge as “escaping zombie apocalypse.”

Others attempted cab sharing, the delicate art of piling into a yellow taxi with strangers. Some cabs declined. At a red light at 86th Street and Broadway, one man approached several cabs that already had passengers at a red light, and the drivers refused to open their doors. Finally, one cabby rolled down his window. There were three passengers already in the back, but the man persuaded the driver to let him sit in the passenger seat, before the car began staggering downtown.

At 102nd Street and Lexington Avenue, a passenger happily waited as Khandoker Ahmed, a driver with his off-duty lights on, took a bathroom break. As he drove to Fifth Avenue, car flow was quickly outpaced by pedestrians walking their dogs.

As power returned to some areas of the city, wildcat entrepreneurial spirit flourished. Nail salons in darkened parts of Manhattan offered mani-pedis by dim natural light, and outside the Old Homestead Steakhouse in the meatpacking district, Louis Moreta cooked steaks on sidewalk barbecue grills and waved them to the cars on Ninth Avenue, generating a line that stretched down the block. In Lower Manhattan, where the traffic lights still were not working, pedestrians dodged in between cars or crossed with their eyes forward, daring the cars to hit them. Most of the time, both sides played nice. Kerry Beauchemin, an antique dealer, excepted one car, whose driver provided a hostile arm gesture as Mr. Beauchemin crossed First Avenue at 12th Street, seeking a place to charge his cellphone. “I don’t know why there are so many cars.”

As usual, a special strain of misery troubled travelers at the area’s airports. La Guardia Airport remained closed on Wednesday because of flooding, while some flights resumed at Kennedy International and Newark Liberty Airports, though they were operating well below their usual volume. All three airports were expected to be open on Thursday.

On the Long Island Rail Road, shuttle service was available between Jamaica and Atlantic Terminal around 2 p.m. on Wednesday. The transportation authority said it was cautiously optimistic about restoring service from Jamaica to Pennsylvania Station on Thursday.

On the Metro-North Railroad, the New Haven line was expected to resume service on a nearly normal schedule from Stamford, Conn., to Manhattan. The Harlem line was scheduled to run from Mount Kisco to New York City. Service on the Hudson line remained suspended, as did most service for New Jersey Transit’s rail operations. Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday that he expected PATH trains to be unavailable for at least 7 to 10 days.

Subway riders should expect delays because of work on the seven tunnels beneath the East River that were flooded. The city planned to set up dedicated bus lanes between Brooklyn and Manhattan. The Brooklyn-Battery, Queens-Midtown and Holland Tunnels remain closed.

Even where partial services were returned, for most people there remained the slog of coping. The loss of everyday essentials — elevators, lights, cellphone service, Wi-Fi, refrigeration, hot showers — created conditions of subacute stress around the city.

Food, prescription drugs, home health assistance, surprise houseguests, restless children home from school — all became nodes of anxiety that most likely will loom larger as the days wear on.

In New Jersey it was the half-mile lines at the few gas stations open. The Police Department in Morristown sent out a text alert that the town was out of gas, and people should not come looking for it.

In the East Village in Manhattan, where power remained out, it was the frustrating hunt for a working pay phone or a cellular hot spot. Crowds with laptops or tablets huddled around the W hotel on Union Square, where doormen kept them out of the lobby.

Other New Yorkers hunkered down for another night without power, without certainty of what would happen to their homes.

Marie Clausen, who was ordered to evacuate her building in Battery Park City on Sunday, went first to a friend’s on the Lower East Side, which also lost power. By Wednesday morning, she made her way north to a friend’s house on the Upper East Side to shower, still not sure of the fate of her home downtown. “My nerves are frayed because they said the repairs could take a month,” said Ms. Clausen, an executive in the music industry.

“We are allowed to enter the building to collect our belongings today from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. but were told to bring a flashlight,” she said. “People are looking into hotels. But for a month?”

Mr. Malae, the stylist who had the three-hour commute, said that on Thursday morning, he would consider driving “to the Queensboro Bridge and walk or take a cab from there.”

“But tonight,” he added, gesturing around the salon, “I might sleep here.”

    Long Gas Lines, Clogged Roads and Slim Hope for a Better Day, NYT, 31.10.2012,






An Unlikely Political Pair, United by a Disaster


October 31, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama toured the storm-tossed boardwalks of New Jersey’s ravaged coastline on Wednesday, in a vivid display of big-government muscle and bipartisan harmony that confronted Mitt Romney with a vexing challenge just as he returned to the campaign trail in Florida.

The scene of Mr. Obama greeting his onetime political antagonist Gov. Chris Christie in Atlantic City was a striking departure from what has become an increasingly bitter campaign, marked by sharp divisions between Mr. Romney’s more limited view of the federal role and Mr. Obama’s more expansive vision. The president placed a hand on Mr. Christie’s back and guided him to Marine One, where the two men shared a grim flight over shattered sea walls, burning houses and a submerged roller coaster.

Speaking to storm victims at a community center in the hard-hit town of Brigantine, Mr. Obama said, “We are going to be here for the long haul.” Mr. Christie thanked the president for his visit, saying, “It’s really important to have the president of the United States acknowledge all the suffering that’s going on here in New Jersey.”

The tableau of bipartisan cooperation, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s highly visible role in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, has put Mr. Romney in an awkward position during the last week of a campaign in which he has fought Mr. Obama to a virtual draw. Last year, in a debate during the Republican primary, Mr. Romney appeared to advocate handing to the states much of the federal government’s role in dealing with major disasters.

On Wednesday, as images of Mr. Obama and Mr. Christie dominated the newscasts, Mr. Romney was in Florida, a key electoral battleground that is no stranger to destructive hurricanes, where he struggled to square his small-government credo with a national disaster that seemed to cry out for a major federal response.

Before taking the stage at his first rally in Tampa, Mr. Romney issued a statement pledging to continue financing FEMA to insure it can “fulfill its mission.”

“I believe that FEMA plays a key role in working with states and localities to prepare for and respond to natural disasters,” Mr. Romney said. But reaffirming his earlier point, he added that he would channel resources to “the first responders who work tirelessly to help those in need, because states and localities are in the best position to get aid to the individuals and communities affected by natural disasters.”

Aides to Mr. Romney reiterated that Mr. Romney was not backing away from comments he made at the debate in New Hampshire in June 2011. When asked about a fierce battle in Congress over continued financing of FEMA, Mr. Romney declared, “We cannot afford to do these things without jeopardizing the future for our kids.”

As the Romney campaign was confronting questions about the candidate’s position on the federal role in emergency response, Mr. Obama and Mr. Christie were being accompanied on their tour of a devastated New Jersey by FEMA’s administrator, W. Craig Fugate, whose agency has won unstinting praise from Mr. Christie, a Republican, for the speed and intensity of its response to the devastation.

Kevin Madden, a senior Romney adviser, said that Mr. Romney still believes that states, not the federal government, should lead the response to disasters. Pressed on FEMA’s proper role, he said that Mr. Romney believes “being a partner for the states is the best approach.”

Mr. Romney got some help from Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, who said at the Romney rally in Tampa, “My experience in all this emergency response business is that it is the local level and the state level that really matters. That if they do their job right the federal government part works out pretty good.”

Mr. Romney has had to balance the demands of the campaign’s final week with the desire not to look unseemly in the face of the storm’s tragic toll. On Tuesday, in Ohio, he scrapped rallies in favor of a canned-goods drive. Though he returned to politics on Wednesday, he avoided attacks on the president, never mentioning his name.

“My view is pretty straightforward, and that is I believe that this is time for America to take a different course, that this should be a turning point for our country,” he told 2,500 people in Tampa.

Aides to Mr. Romney said that he had no immediate plans to visit areas damaged by the storm, though they had not ruled it out.

The disaster comes as the campaigns continue to clash, with the federal bailout of the auto industry — which Mr. Romney opposed — erupting again as a major issue as the candidates scramble to capture the swing state prize of Ohio.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., also in Florida, attacked Mr. Romney for his ad in Ohio that claims Mr. Obama forced Chrysler into bankruptcy, resulting in the carmaker’s sale to Italian owners, who are now building Jeeps in China.

Mr. Biden called it “one of the most flagrantly dishonest ads I can ever remember in my political career.” The ad is the centerpiece of a mounting war of words over the Obama administration’s bailout of the auto industry, which the Romney camp is trying to discredit, as it works to cut the president’s narrow but stubborn lead in Ohio.

The harsh words reflected the frantic maneuvering in both campaigns as the hours tick down. Both sides are projecting ironclad confidence that they will win, while trying to outwit each other with last-minute purchases of advertising time in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota, which lie outside the conventional battleground.

Aides to Mr. Obama said the Romney campaign’s purchases reflected a “flailing” attempt to win an electoral majority without Ohio, while Mr. Romney’s advisers said that tightening polls in those states showed Mr. Obama’s position was eroding everywhere.

On Thursday, Mr. Obama will return to the campaign trail in Wisconsin, Nevada and Ohio. But there is some initial evidence that the storm has helped the president: In the latest Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll, released on Wednesday evening, nearly 8 of 10 likely voters said Mr. Obama’s response had been “excellent” or “good.”

On Wednesday, the advantages of incumbency were on full display, as Mr. Christie heaped still more praise on Mr. Obama, saying, “He has sprung into action immediately.”

With Mr. Christie nodding behind him, Mr. Obama spoke about deploying C-130 military planes to ferry supplies to stricken places like New Jersey and urged storm victims to call (800) 621-FEMA to register for direct help from the federal government.

Pledging to respond swiftly, the president said that he had instituted a rule that government officials must return calls from the state and local authorities within 15 minutes. “We are not going to tolerate red tape,” he said, “We are not going to tolerate bureaucracy.”

“We will not quit until this is done,” he added.


Mark Landler reported from Washington, and Michael Barbaro from Coral Gables, Fla.

Michael D. Shear contributed reporting from Washington.

    An Unlikely Political Pair, United by a Disaster, NYT, 31.10.2012,






New Jersey Reels From Storm’s Thrashing


October 31, 2012
The New York Times


HOBOKEN, N.J. — New Jersey was reeling on Wednesday from the impact of Hurricane Sandy, which has caused catastrophic flooding here in Hoboken and in other New York City suburbs, destroyed entire neighborhoods across the state and wiped out iconic boardwalks in shore towns that had enchanted generations of vacationgoers.

Though the storm raged up the East Coast, it has become increasingly apparent that New Jersey took the brunt of it. Officials estimated that the state suffered many billions of dollars in property damage. About a quarter of the state’s population — more than two million people — remained without power on Wednesday, and more than 6,000 were still in shelters, state emergency officials said.

At least eight people died, and officials expressed deep concerns that the toll would rise as more searches of homes were carried out.

On Wednesday, President Obama visited the state and viewed the destruction with Gov. Chris Christie.

“The entire country has been watching what’s been happening,” Mr. Obama said at a stop in Atlantic County at the Brigantine Beach Community Center in Brigantine. “Everybody knows how hard Jersey has been hit.”

Perhaps as startling as the sheer toll was the devastation to some of the state’s well-known locales. Boardwalks along the beach in Seaside Heights, Belmar and other towns on the Jersey Shore were blown away. Amusement parks, arcades and restaurants all but vanished. Bridges to barrier islands buckled, preventing residents from even inspecting the damage to their property.

Localities across New Jersey imposed curfews to prevent looting. In Monmouth, Ocean and other counties, people waited for hours for gasoline at the few stations that had electricity. Supermarket shelves were stripped bare.

Two days after Hurricane Sandy struck, such distress was not limited to New Jersey.

Others parts of the Northeast, including Long Island, also suffered significant losses. Over all, the death toll from the storm passed 60, officials said Wednesday, and about six million people did not have power.

One of the most pressing crises was unfolding here in Hoboken, a city of 50,000 that is directly across the Hudson River from Manhattan.

“This is flooding like we’ve never seen,” said Mayor Dawn Zimmer of Hoboken, where National Guard troops on Wednesday were trying to rescue thousands of residents trapped by sewage-laced floodwaters.

“It filled the city like a bathtub,” she said.

When the storm surge hit on Monday night, the Hudson overcame the sea wall at the north and south ends of the city in a devastating westward torrent that made an island of the slightly higher, eastern half of the city.

After Ms. Zimmer appealed for aid on Tuesday, saying that as many as 20,000 people could be stuck in their homes, the first National Guard trucks arrived just before midnight. Overnight, they responded to emergency messages to find people and transport them to dry ground.

On the city’s Facebook page, officials called on residents in need to listen for the trucks’ approach. By midday on Wednesday, 12 National Guard trucks and two Humvee vehicles were in Hoboken for the rescue effort. City officials have not reported any fatalities in Hoboken so far.

Among the first to be rescued during the night were two babies, one 5 days old and another 3 weeks old. By midday Wednesday, the trucks at the unloading point by City Hall were bringing older people, including several in wheelchairs, and many families with babies and small children.

Robyn Pecarsky, who was eight months pregnant, was helped down from the back of a truck with her two children, who are 5 and 8.

“We saw the National Guard, and I sent my husband to tell them he had to get his pregnant wife out,” Ms. Pecarsky said. She said the family lived in a third-floor apartment on Jackson Street that was not damaged, but as of this morning the water remained at thigh-high level on the ground floor of the building.

She said that the children had been in the house under the curfew since Monday, and that nerves were raw. When she heard that power, which remained out in much of Hoboken, might not return for days, she decided that the family had to leave.

City officials were worried because the floodwaters are a brew of rain and river water mixed with sewage, Ms. Zimmer said. A sewage plant on the west side of the city had been overwhelmed in the flood, she said.

Many power lines were down on the largely residential west side. Although power remained out in many parts of the city, there was concern that some fallen wires might remain active.

The PATH train station, on the south end of the city, remained closed after water from the Hudson rushed in Monday night. Port Authority officials said the PATH tunnel under the river was filled with water. Many commuters use the system to get to work in Manhattan.

Interviewed in the basement of City Hall, where rescue officials in a makeshift operations center were down to one working phone line on Tuesday, the mayor said the city had only a single pump station on the south end of town to drain its streets and, eventually, its basements.

In Sayreville, across Raritan Bay from Staten Island, the foundations of several homes were washed away, following the rush of a five-foot surge that had marooned some 200 people who were rescued, mostly by boat.

Mr. Christie visited the area, and several women cried in his arms as they told him how much they had lost. The governor alternatively embraced them, put his hands on both shoulders and spoke softly with an arm around their backs.

“I don’t feel safe in my house and I don’t know what to do,” said one of them, Elaine Konopka.

As the governor walked down the street, he approached several people who wanted to show him their homes.

“Please help us,” Theresa Mills said.

“That’s what I’m here to do,” he responded.

    New Jersey Reels From Storm’s Thrashing, NYT, 31.10.2012,






Storm Pushes Aside Presidential Politics, Mostly


October 30, 2012
The New York Times


DAYTON, Ohio — The presidential campaign entered a delicate and disrupted phase on Tuesday morning, suddenly becoming a sideshow to a devastating storm that posed an improvised leadership test to both sides as they sought to navigate the politics of a natural disaster.

Mitt Romney, a challenger without the trappings and authority of office to respond to the crisis, has scheduled what his campaign called a “storm-relief event” here in the same location where he was previously set to hold a traditional campaign rally. The celebrity guests scheduled to appear will also be at the storm-relief event. As the crowd gathered, a long campaign video for Mr. Romney played on a giant screen, describing the candidate as a “charismatic” and “authentic.” A woman in the audience held up a T-shirt that said “Obama, you’re fired.”

His aides, sensitive to the image of the Republican nominee engaged in electioneering when cities across the East Coast are flooded, said Mr. Romney would make no political remarks. Attendees are being asked to bring canned food, which will be shipped off to areas damaged by the torrential storm.

Yet the event means that Mr. Romney would still appear on television, as a candidate, after his aides said they would cancel “all events currently scheduled” for Mr. Romney and his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan, on Tuesday out of sensitivity to the storm’s victims. On local television here Tuesday morning, an Ohio Republican official said the event was “not a campaign event per se.”

President Obama has withdrawn from the campaign trail and will spend his day at the White House where he will conduct briefings and survey the impact of the severe weather, aides said. But, he too, may speak to the country as both a president and a candidate, two roles that are inextricably linked at this late stage in the campaign. The White House said the president spent much of the night Monday monitoring the storm’s impact and talking with elected leaders throughout the affected region.

Mr. Obama earned repeated praise on Tuesday from an unlikely source: Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey and one of Mr. Romney’s top surrogates. In several appearances on morning news programs, he called Mr. Obama’s efforts for his state “wonderful,” “excellent” and “outstanding.”

“It’s been very good working with the president,” Mr. Christie said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program. “He and his administration have been coordinating with us. It’s been wonderful.”

Speaking about the damage to his state on NBC’s “Today” show, Mr. Christie called the president “outstanding” and said the response from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. had been “excellent.”

In a Twitter message from his official account, Mr. Christie said he wanted to “thank the president personally for all his assistance” as New Jersey recovers from the storm.”

The effusive comments about the president from Mr. Christie come after Mr. Christie has spent weeks criticizing the president and his leadership on behalf of Mr. Romney’s campaign. Some Republicans on Tuesday privately expressed frustration that Mr. Christie went as far as he did in thanking Mr. Obama a week before the election.

The effects of the storm are being felt in Ohio, where wind gusts of 60 miles per hour were reported Tuesday morning in the central part of the state, along with scattered power outages and school closings. The banner headline of the Columbus Dispatch said, “A Storm For The Ages.”

But even as the candidates altered their campaigning, their dueling television commercials were roaring along on Tuesday. The campaigns and their third-party allies are making a final push on already saturated airwaves with millions of dollars worth of new commercials. A “super PAC” backing Mr. Romney’s campaign began broadcasting a new ad in eight states that features a woman expressing disappointment about Mr. Obama’s first term in office. Another released two ads across the battleground states criticizing Mr. Obama’s handling of the economy.

Mr. Obama’s campaign continued to broadcast ads criticizing Mr. Romney’s economic proposals and promoting the president’s plans for a second term. Ads by Mr. Obama’s campaign also urged people to vote early.

Representatives for the candidates are still planning to hold campaign rallies on Tuesday. Former President Bill Clinton stood in for Mr. Obama in Florida on Monday and planned to press ahead with three stops in Iowa on Tuesday. Mr. Romney’s wife, Ann, will attend a “victory rally” in Iowa after making a stop at a storm-related event in Wisconsin.

With a razor-close election just seven days away, each camp confronted the same quandary: whether pressing ahead in campaigning would earn them the votes they needed to win or whether it would be seen as crass, unpresidential behavior at a time of power failures, flooding and mass evacuations.

Both sides reached a similar conclusion after holding urgent discussions among their top advisers — talks that included up-to-the-minute weather updates and airings of logistical concerns about the dangers of air travel. Within hours of each other, the campaigns suspended appearances by their candidates at least through Tuesday.

Mr. Obama, shouldering the responsibilities of a sitting president, acted first, abandoning a planned Florida rally to fly back to the White House on Monday morning. In a statement after a Situation Room briefing with emergency response officials, Mr. Obama said that the election “will take care of itself next week. Right now our No. 1 priority is that we’re saving lives.”

Just before noon, Mr. Romney’s campaign announced that it, too, had decided to cancel the candidate’s scheduled events, including one in Wisconsin on Monday night and his entire schedule on Tuesday, “out of sensitivity for the millions of Americans in the path of Hurricane Sandy.”

On Monday night, it announced the new storm-relief event in Dayton. Richard Petty, the racecar driver, and Randy Owen, the singer, will appear with Mr. Romney.

Top aides to Mr. Romney said they feared the possibility of a split-screen moment that showed Mr. Romney attacking the president next to images of flooded homes. They said canceling traditional campaign events allowed Mr. Romney to be part of the storm story, not apart from it. Both campaigns also halted fund-raising across the East Coast in favor of an appeal to donors for Red Cross contributions.

For the campaigns, the storm forced critical judgment calls as they addressed the need to campaign while being sensitive to the effects of the storm that swirled around them. Among the questions: How long will the huge storm continue to paralyze a campaign that is racing toward its conclusion?

The answer inside both campaigns appeared to be: at least through Tuesday. Still, neither side would rule out the possibility of further cancellations Wednesday or beyond. David Axelrod, the president’s top strategist, said the campaign had already begun thinking about how to start rescheduling the stops that have been canceled.

“We’re obviously going to lose a bunch of campaign time, but that’s as it has to be, and we’ll try to make it up on the back end,” he told reporters on Monday.

Also on the table for both campaigns was how to deal with the grim aftermath of the storm. A visit to a ravaged area by the president would be traditional and expected, but could further interrupt Mr. Obama’s campaigning. Mr. Romney’s advisers said that they were discussing the possibility of Mr. Romney visiting a site damaged by the storm well after it has dissipated, but that they had not yet completed plans.

Polls released over the weekend continued to show a tight race between the two men, nationally and in some of the battleground states that will decide which one reaches 270 electoral votes. A Gallup poll of likely voters on Sunday gave Mr. Romney an edge of 51 percent to Mr. Obama’s 46 percent.

Inside his headquarters in Boston, advisers to Mr. Romney were engaged throughout the weekend in marathon conference calls about how and where to schedule his time in the midst of the storm.

Mr. Romney’s aides were holding out hope throughout most of Monday morning that he could continue his full campaign schedule on Tuesday. But that changed after a 10:45 a.m. conference call among his advisers in Boston, officials at the Republican National Committee and Mr. Romney’s top aides on the campaign bus in Ohio.

“There are families in harm’s way that will be hurt either in their possessions or perhaps in something more severe,” Mr. Romney said in brief remarks after a rally in Avon Lake, Ohio. “This looks like another time when we need to come together all across the country, even here in Ohio, and make sure that we give of our support to the people who need it.”

Mr. Obama’s initial decision to go to Florida on Sunday night in the face of dire weather attests to the political pressures he is facing. The president’s advisers calculated that he could squeeze in one more rally in a closely fought electoral battleground by moving up the event’s start time by two hours and still return to Washington in time to take charge of storm preparations. But they changed course after determining Air Force One might not be able to make the trip any later.

After returning to Washington, Mr. Obama led a meeting in the Situation Room with top emergency response officials. In his statement to reporters afterward, Mr. Obama warned Americans that “this is going to be a big storm; it’s going to be a difficult storm.” He added: “The great thing about America is when we go through tough times like this, we all pull together. We set aside whatever issues we may have otherwise to make sure we respond appropriately.”

Storms can have a treacherous effect on the fortunes of a president, most notably in the case of Hurricane Katrina and George W. Bush in 2005. But they can also help rally support, as in final four months of the 2004 campaign, when Florida was pounded by three successive hurricanes, Charley, Frances and Ivan.

Mr. Bush was well aware of how, in 1992, the chaotic response of the government to Hurricane Andrew in Florida had hurt his father, then seeking re-election. Twelve years later, the younger Mr. Bush marshaled a more effective federal response, which some analysts said helped him secure a clearer victory in the state against Senator John Kerry than he had against Al Gore in 2000.


Michael Barbaro reported from Dayton, Ohio, and Michael D. Shear from Washington.

Peter Baker contributed reporting from Washington, and Ashley Parker from Boston.

    Storm Pushes Aside Presidential Politics, Mostly, NYT, 30.10.2012,






Vast Area, From Georgia to Maine, in Harm’s Way


October 30, 2012
The New York Times


SCRANTON, Pa. — Flooded highways, downed power lines and rising rivers greeted people on Tuesday morning from Georgia to Maine, with a blizzard warning and as much as three feet of snow expected to fall in West Virginia after the remnants of Hurricane Sandy rumbled through and a cold front from the north continued to push east.

The storm, though vastly weaker than it was when it made landfall in New Jersey on Monday night, is moving west through southern Pennsylvania, bringing rain and high winds all the way to the Great Lakes, the National Weather Service reported. The system continued to pack winds of 65 miles per hour.

Bowdon, W.Va., in the Appalachian Mountains, had received 14 inches of snow by Tuesday morning, and Mount Davis, in southern Pennsylvania, had 9 inches, the Weather Service said. A blizzard warning was in effect for the mountains of West Virginia and southwestern Virginia, where more than three feet of snow could eventually fall during the next few days, forecasters said.

In Milford, Del., it was rain, not snow, causing trouble.

Areas of central Delaware had received more than nine-and-a-half inches of rain by Tuesday morning, and a flood warning was in place along the Nanticoke River.

Brian McNoldy, a hurricane expert at the University of Miami, said in an online posting Tuesday that heavy rainfall from the storm had also caused the Potomac River to reach its highest level since 1996. Flooding was expected along the river in Maryland and Virginia, officials said.

Forecasters said on Tuesday that they no longer expected the storm to turn to the northeast and travel across New England. Instead, the track has shifted well to the west, and prediction models suggest it will move through central Pennsylvania and western New York State before entering southern Ontario by Wednesday, said Eric Blake, a hurricane specialist with the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

As the storm continues to move inland and loses contact with the ocean — its source of moisture — rain levels are expected to diminish, though wind damage is still likely across a large area of the country, Mr. Blake said.

“You’ve got rain or snow extending from Georgia through Maine and Michigan,” he said. “When you have something over Pennsylvania, and Lake Michigan is seeing gale-force winds, you’ve got a very large storm.”

Classes at public schools and universities had been canceled Tuesday as far north as Maine and Vermont, which is still coping from damage to roads and bridges from Hurricane Irene last year.

In New Hampshire, more than 200,000 homes had no power, and in Maine, where more than 100,000 people were without electricity, a flood warning was issued for the Swift River. Most flights out of Portland International Jetport had been canceled Tuesday morning.

Elsewhere in New England, there was heavy coastal flooding in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, where nearly 300,00 people had lost power.

In Pennsylvania, where the storm continued to cause damage Tuesday and two people had died, Gov. Tom Corbett extended the deadline for voters to request absentee ballots from Tuesday to Thursday. But a deadline to return such ballots via the mail had not been extended beyond Friday, despite disruptions in mail service, according to the governor’s office.

One million people in the state had no electricity — and in northeastern Pennsylvania, near the town of Hazelton, officials have asked residents living near Nescopeck Creek to evacuate.

Farther south, in North Carolina, Gov. Bev Perdue had declared one of the region’s numerous state of emergencies for several counties in the western part of the state due to heavy snowfall caused by moisture swept in by Hurricane Sandy.

The mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee may be hit by as much as 18 inches of snow over the next several days, while southwestern Virginia and parts of Kentucky may get even more — up to two feet, according to the National Weather Service.

In Maryland, at least two people were killed. One man died when a tree fell on his home, according to a county fire department spokesman. A second was killed in an auto collision in suburban Montgomery County, according to the governor.

Gov. Martin O’Malley said the state was “very, very fortunate to be on the kinder end of this very violent storm.”

More than 365,000 homes and businesses there lost power, including 80 percent of customers in the western part of the state, according to the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.

In Howard County in Maryland, the storm knocked out power to the county sewage treatment plant around 11 p.m. Monday. About two million gallons of water and untreated sewage began pouring each hour into the Patuxent River, which flows to the Chesapeake Bay, according to County Executive Ken Ulman.

Garrett County, in Maryland’s Allegheny Mountains, had gotten about two feet of wet, sticky snow, said Sheriff Rob Corley. In a hectic two-hour period on Monday night, Sheriff Corley said his officers had responded to some 18 car accidents.

Snow continued to fall Tuesday morning, he said, and a failed power generator had forced the evacuation of a local nursing home.

“In the 17 years that I’ve been here, this has been the worst one as far as fire calls, E.M.S. calls, car wrecks, power outages,” Sheriff Corley said.

But many areas that had feared calamity escaped with little disruption.

In Boston, public schools reopened Tuesday, and subway and bus service also resumed, although Amtrak remained closed in the Northeast Corridor. Many people seemed to be getting back to their routines, with families planning for Halloween trick-or-treating Wednesday night.

Wind whipped through the streets of downtown Chicago on early Tuesday morning, where a lakeshore flood warning will be in effect until Wednesday. The National Weather Service said winds would reach more than 50 m.p.h. by Tuesday evening, bringing waves as high as 23 feet along the city’s shoreline.

Chicago officials have warned residents to take precautions against the high winds and to avoid the lakefront.

The city sent automated phone calls to some residents in Chicago late Monday night, said Delores Robinson, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Office of Emergency Management, warning them not to take Lake Shore Drive to work in the morning, though the road remains open.


John Schwartz reported from Scranton and Timothy Williams from New York.

Reporting was contributed by Brian Stelter in Delaware, Theo Emery in Maryland,

John H. Cushman Jr. in Washington, Katharine Q. Seelye in Boston,

Kim Severson in Atlanta and Steven Yaccino in Chicago.

    Vast Area, From Georgia to Maine, in Harm’s Way, NYT, 30.10.2012,






Northeast Suffers Huge Damage in Storm’s Path;

Millions Without Power


October 30, 2012
The New York Times


As Hurricane Sandy churned inland as a downgraded storm on Tuesday, residents in battered mid-Atlantic states faced floods, power failures and the daunting task of cleaning up from once-in-a-generation storm surges and their devastating effects.

Roughly six million people, including many in a large swath of Manhattan, were without electricity. Streets were littered with debris and buildings damaged. Seven subway tunnels under the East River were flooded. While several bridges over the East River were set to reopen, other mass transit service, including commuter rails, was still suspended.

At least 26 deaths in seven states were tied to the storm, which toppled trees and sparked fires in several areas, government officials and emergency authorities said. Falling limbs became deadly bludgeons in three of the New York deaths and two in Morris County, N.J., where The Associated Press reported a man and a woman were killed when a tree fell on their car Monday evening.

There were at least 10 killed in New York City alone, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Tuesday, adding that some were killed when stepping in a puddle where a power line had fallen or when a tree fell onto a house.

“We had a storm of unprecedented proportions,” he said in a news conference.

Mr. Bloomberg said that schools would remain closed for a third day on Wednesday and that the authorities would try to restore subway service in about four days, but he did not provide an exact timetable.

By sending brackish water into so many subway tunnels, the storm became the most destructive in the 108-year history of New York’s subway system, said Joseph J. Lhota, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, in an early morning statement. “We are assessing the extent of the damage and beginning the process of recovery,” he said.

As the storm made its way across the Atlantic this week, the authorities ordered mandatory evacuations in many low-lying areas of states along the coast to clear residents from the anticipated surge and powerful winds. At one point, hurricane-force winds extended up to 175 miles from the center of the storm; tropical-storm-force winds spread out 485 miles from the center.

When it made landfall at 8 p.m. on Monday, its violent winds and lashing rains began to transform city landscapes into tableaus of destruction in the region. By Tuesday morning in New York City, one of the most dramatic scenes was 80 stories high, where a wind-tossed construction crane atop one of the city’s tallest buildings still dangled over West 57th Street, across the street from Carnegie Hall, after coming loose during the storm.

Forecasters tracked the storm’s path in a shift well to the west, with the prediction models suggesting it wouldl run up through central Pennsylvania and western New York State and to enter southern Ontario by Wednesday, said Eric Blake, a hurricane specialist with the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Rain levels are expected to diminish as the storm continues to move inland and loses contact with the ocean — its source of moisture — though wind damage is still likely across a broad stretch of the country, Mr. Blake said. “You’ve got rain or snow extending from Georgia through Maine and Michigan,” he said. “When you have something over Pennsylvania, and Lake Michigan is seeing gale-force winds, you’ve got a very large storm.”

Forecasters said tropical-storm-force winds could stretch all the way north to Canada and all the way west to the Great Lakes. Heavy snow was expected in some states.

More than 13,000 airline flights were canceled at airports across the East Coast, including the three major airports in the New York City area. Even the Erie Canal was shut down. Subways were shut down from Boston to Washington, as were Amtrak and the commuter rail lines.

In Breezy Point on the Rockaways in Queens, nearly 200 firefighters were still battling a blaze on Tuesday morning that destroyed about 80 tightly packed homes in the beach community. A Fire Department spokesman said the area was “probably the most flooded part of the city, so there are all sorts of complications.”

The surging water also caused extensive complications at NYU Langone Medical Center when a backup power system failed on Monday night, forcing the evacuation of patients to other facilities. Backup power also failed at Coney Island Hospital in southern Brooklyn, though critical patients had been evacuated in advance of the storm.

Fatalities in Several States

In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office said late Monday night that at least five deaths in the state were caused by the storm. About 7 p.m., a tree fell on a house in Queens, killing a 30-year-old man, the city police said. About the same time, two boys, ages 11 and 13, were killed in North Salem, in northern Westchester County, when a tree fell on the house they were in, according to the State Police. The storm was tied to another three deaths in Maryland, two in Connecticut and one in West Virginia, state authorities said.

Officials for Pennsylvania said two deaths — a boy in Susquehanna County and a 62-year-old man in Berks County, were being investigated but that the county coroner had not yet confirmed them as related to the storm. In North Carolina, a man was killed when his vehicle hit a tree that was crashing down in Surry Couty, said an official with the state emergency offices.

The wind-driven rain lashed sea walls and protective barriers in places like Atlantic City, where the Boardwalk was damaged as water forced its way inland. Foam was spitting, and the sand gave in to the waves along the beach at Sandy Hook, N.J., at the entrance to New York Harbor.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey called the damage to his state “incalculable” and said the Jersey Shore had been “devastated.” As he spoke on a series of morning talk shows on Tuesday, rescue teams were rushing to the aid of those stranded in Atlantic City and in areas of Bergen County where, he said, tidal waters had overwhelmed a protective natural berm.

Water was thigh-high on the streets in Sea Bright, N.J., a three-mile sand-sliver of a town where the ocean joined the Shrewsbury River.

“It’s the worst I’ve seen,” said David Arnold, watching the storm from his home in Long Branch, N.J. “The ocean is in the road, there are trees down everywhere. I’ve never seen it this bad.”

As the storm struck New York City, waves topped the sea wall in the financial district in Manhattan, sending cars floating down streets. West Street, along the western edge of Lower Manhattan, looked like a river. The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel flooded “from end to end,” the transportation authority said, hours after Mr. Cuomo had ordered it closed to traffic. Officials said water also seeped into seven subway tunnels under the East River.

Extensive Power Failures

By early Monday evening, the storm had knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of homes, stores and office buildings. Consolidated Edison said that as of 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, 634,000 customers in New York City and Westchester were without power. Con Edison, fearing damage to its electrical equipment, shut down power pre-emptively in sections of Lower Manhattan on Monday evening, and then, at 8:30 p.m., an unplanned failure, probably caused by flooding in substations, knocked out power to most of Manhattan below Midtown, affecting about 250,000 customers. Later, an explosion at a Con Ed substation on East 14th Street knocked out power to another 250,000 customers.

Much of Manhattan could be without electricity for several days after the explosion, a spokesman for Con Ed said Tuesday morning. More than 240,000 customers – and many more people – were without power more than 12 hours after the explosion; a customer can represent a single family or an entire building, utility officials said.

The blast knocked out electricity for all of Manhattan below 39th Street on the East Side and 31st Street on the West side – with the exception of a few pockets, including Battery Park City.

In New Jersey, more than two million customers were without power as of 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday, and in Connecticut the total reached nearly 500,000 customers.

President Obama declared a federal disaster area on Tuesday in New York City, Long Island and eight counties in New Jersey.

Forecasters attributed the power of the storm to a convergence of weather systems. As the hurricane swirled north in the Atlantic and then pivoted toward land, a wintry storm was heading toward it from the west, and cold air was blowing south from the Arctic. The hurricane left more than 60 people dead in the Caribbean before it began crawling toward the Northeast.

“The days ahead are going to be very difficult,” Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland said.

Alex Sosnowski, a senior meteorologist with AccuWeather, said potentially damaging winds would continue on Tuesday from Illinois to the Carolinas — and as far north as Maine — as the storm barreled toward the eastern Great Lakes.



Reporting on the storm was contributed by Peter Applebome, Charles V. Bagli, Joseph Berger, Nina Bernstein, Cara Buckley, Russ Buettner, David W. Chen, Annie Correal, Sam Dolnick, Christopher Drew, David W. Dunlap, Ann Farmer, Lisa W. Foderaro, Joseph Goldstein, David M. Halbfinger, Christine Hauser, Elizabeth A. Harris, Winnie Hu, Jon Hurdle, Thomas Kaplan, Corey Kilgannon, John Leland, Randy Leonard, Patrick McGeehan, Jad Mouawad, Colin Moynihan, Sarah Maslin Nir, Sharon Otterman, William K. Rashbaum, Ray Rivera, Liz Robbins, Wendy Ruderman, Nate Schweber, Michael Schwirtz, Mosi Secret, Kirk Semple, Joe Sharkey, Brian Stelter, Kate Taylor, Julie Turkewitz, Matthew L. Wald, Michael Wilson, Michael Winerip, Vivian Yee and Kate Zernike.

    Northeast Suffers Huge Damage in Storm’s Path; Millions Without Power, NYT, 30.10.2012,






Patients Evacuated From City Medical Center

After Power Failure


October 30, 2012
The New York Times


A backup power system failed at one of the New York City’s premier medical centers on Monday night, forcing the evacuation of all patients to nearby hospitals amid the storm’s strong gusts, officials said.

The medical center, NYU Langone Medical Center, a sprawling complex in the low 30s near the East River, began transporting all 215 patients at the hospital to other facilities on Monday evening, They were still being transported to other nearby hospitals, including Sloan Kettering and Mt. Sinai, early Tuesday morning, a spokeswoman for the hospital said.

“They evacuated everybody,” said the spokeswoman, Lorinda Klein, who said the main communications systems at NYU Langone — phones and e-mail — were down. She could not say what had caused the failure of the hospital’s emergency systems, which power critical care units there.

NYU Langone said in a statement that the evacuations were “due to the severity of Hurricane Sandy and the higher than expected storm surge.” It added: “We are having intermittent telephone access issues and for this reason the receiving hospital will notify families of their relatives arrival.”

By 11 p.m., dozens of ambulances from various companies across the city were lined up in front of hospital extending down First Avenue and West on 30th Street.

On the ground floor of the hospital, medical staff members, firefighters and emergency medical technicians moved about as patients on gurneys — at least one in an oxygen mask — were wheeled from the building and lifted into the ambulances outside.

A spokeswoman for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, on the Upper East Side, said at least 26 patients were being taken there.

Mount Sinai Medical Center issued a statement describing joint efforts to evacuate patients “in the areas of adult critical care, pediatric critical care, neonatal intensive care and obstetrics.” It said that the patients were “being transported to Mount Sinai via ambulance and will be accompanied by N.Y.U. Langone staff and physicians."

In southern Brooklyn, Coney Island Hospital also saw its backup power systems fail on Monday, said the city’s Office of Emergency Management, but there were no evacuations. Critical patients had been evacuated on Friday during storm preparations and the 209 remaining patients would be reevaluated in the morning, the office said.

The trouble at NYU Langone began Monday evening as top hospital officials began to detail in e-mails the spread of large-scale power failures in critical areas, including the emergency room, the transplant unit and labor and delivery. The emergency systems did not kick in, the hospital said.

Where necessary, patients were connected to battery-operated monitors and pumps, hospital employees reported, and the hospital appeared to have no emergency or land-line phones on some units.

    Patients Evacuated From City Medical Center After Power Failure, NYT, 30.10.2012,






A Big Storm Requires Big Government


October 29, 2012
The New York Times


Most Americans have never heard of the National Response Coordination Center, but they’re lucky it exists on days of lethal winds and flood tides. The center is the war room of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, where officials gather to decide where rescuers should go, where drinking water should be shipped, and how to assist hospitals that have to evacuate.

Disaster coordination is one of the most vital functions of “big government,” which is why Mitt Romney wants to eliminate it. At a Republican primary debate last year, Mr. Romney was asked whether emergency management was a function that should be returned to the states. He not only agreed, he went further.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.” Mr. Romney not only believes that states acting independently can handle the response to a vast East Coast storm better than Washington, but that profit-making companies can do an even better job. He said it was “immoral” for the federal government to do all these things if it means increasing the debt.

It’s an absurd notion, but it’s fully in line with decades of Republican resistance to federal emergency planning. FEMA, created by President Jimmy Carter, was elevated to cabinet rank in the Bill Clinton administration, but was then demoted by President George W. Bush, who neglected it, subsumed it into the Department of Homeland Security, and placed it in the control of political hacks. The disaster of Hurricane Katrina was just waiting to happen.

The agency was put back in working order by President Obama, but ideology still blinds Republicans to its value. Many don’t like the idea of free aid for poor people, or they think people should pay for their bad decisions, which this week includes living on the East Coast.

Over the last two years, Congressional Republicans have forced a 43 percent reduction in the primary FEMA grants that pay for disaster preparedness. Representatives Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor and other House Republicans have repeatedly tried to refuse FEMA’s budget requests when disasters are more expensive than predicted, or have demanded that other valuable programs be cut to pay for them. The Ryan budget, which Mr. Romney praised as “an excellent piece of work,” would result in severe cutbacks to the agency, as would the Republican-instigated sequester, which would cut disaster relief by 8.2 percent on top of earlier reductions.

Does Mr. Romney really believe that financially strapped states would do a better job than a properly functioning federal agency? Who would make decisions about where to send federal aid? Or perhaps there would be no federal aid, and every state would bear the burden of billions of dollars in damages. After Mr. Romney’s 2011 remarks recirculated on Monday, his nervous campaign announced that he does not want to abolish FEMA, though he still believes states should be in charge of emergency management. Those in Hurricane Sandy’s path are fortunate that, for now, that ideology has not replaced sound policy.

    A Big Storm Requires Big Government, NYT, 29.10.2012,






An Oyster in the Storm


October 29, 2012
The New York Times


DOWN here at the end of Manhattan, on the border between evacuation zones B and C, I’m prepared, mostly. My bathtub is full of water, as is every container I own. My flashlights are battery-ed up, the pantry is crammed with canned goods and I even roasted a pork shoulder that I plan to gnaw on in the darkness if ConEd shuts down the power.

But as I confidently tick off all the things that Governor Andrew M. Cuomo recommends for my defense as Hurricane Sandy bears down on me, I find I’m desperately missing one thing.

I wish I had some oysters.

I’m not talking about oysters to eat — although a dozen would be nice to go with that leftover bottle of Champagne that I really should drink if the fridge goes off. I’m talking about the oysters that once protected New Yorkers from storm surges, a bivalve population that numbered in the trillions and that played a critical role in stabilizing the shoreline from Washington to Boston.

Crassostrea virginica, the American oyster, the same one that we eat on the half shell, is endemic to New York Harbor. Which isn’t surprising: the best place for oysters is the margin between saltwater and freshwater, where river meets sea. Our harbor is chock-a-block with such places. Myriad rivers and streams, not just the Hudson and the East, but the Raritan, the Passaic, the Kill Van Kull, the Arthur Kill — the list goes on and on — flow into the upper and lower bay of the harbor, bringing nutrients from deep inland and distributing them throughout the water column.

Until European colonists arrived, oysters took advantage of the spectacular estuarine algae blooms that resulted from all these nutrients and built themselves a kingdom. Generation after generation of oyster larvae rooted themselves on layers of mature oyster shells for more than 7,000 years until enormous underwater reefs were built up around nearly every shore of greater New York.

Just as corals protect tropical islands, these oyster beds created undulation and contour on the harbor bottom that broke up wave action before it could pound the shore with its full force. Beds closer to shore clarified the water through their assiduous filtration (a single oyster can filter as much as 50 gallons of water a day); this allowed marsh grasses to grow, which in turn held the shores together with their extensive root structure.

But 400 years of poor behavior on the part of humans have ruined all that. As Mark Kurlansky details in his fine book “The Big Oyster,” during their first 300 years on these shores colonists nearly ate the wild creatures out of existence. We mined the natural beds throughout the waterways of greater New York and burned them down for lime or crushed them up for road beds.

Once we’d hurled all that against the wild New York oyster, baymen switched to farming oysters. But soon New Yorkers ruined that too. Rudimentary sewer systems dumped typhoid- and cholera-carrying bacteria onto the beds of Jamaica Bay. Large industries dumped tons of pollutants like PCBs and heavy metals like chromium into the Hudson and Raritan Rivers, rendering shellfish from those beds inedible. By the late 1930s, oysters in New York and all the benefits they brought were finished.

Fortunately, the New York oyster is making something of a comeback. Ever since the Clean Water Act was passed in the 1970s, the harbor’s waters have been getting cleaner, and there is now enough dissolved oxygen in our waterways to support oyster life. In the last 10 years, limited sets of natural oyster larvae occurred in several different waterways that make up the Greater New York Bight.

Alongside nature’s efforts, a consortium of human-run organizations that include the Hudson River Foundation, New York-New Jersey Bay Keeper, the Harbor School and even the Army Corps of Engineers have worked together to put out a handful of test reefs throughout the Bight.

Yes, there have been some setbacks. New Jersey’s state Department of Environmental Protection actually demanded that a test reef from the nearby bay at Keyport be removed for fear that people might poach those test oysters and eat them. But the program has persisted, even in New Jersey. In 2011 the Navy offered its pier at Naval Weapons Station Earle, near Sandy Hook, as a new place in New Jersey to get oysters going.

Will all of these attempts to get oysters back in New York City have any effect in defending us against Sandy? Surely not. The oyster kingdom is gone, and what we have now are a few struggling refugees just trying to get a foothold in their old territory.

But what is fairly certain is that storms like Sandy are going to grow stronger and more frequent, and our shorelines will become more vulnerable. For the present storm, all we could do was stock up on canned goods and fill up our bathtubs. But for the storms to come, we’d better start planting a lot more oysters.


Paul Greenberg, the author of “Four Fish,”

is writing a book about reviving local seafood.

    An Oyster in the Storm, NYT, 29.10.2012,






Empty of Gamblers and Full of Water, Atlantic City Reels


October 29, 2012
The New York Times


ATLANTIC CITY — The weather chased them in all its steadfast fury, as if mocking them at every haven they tried. The four of them — a mother, two children and a cousin — thought they could wait the monster out, ride the luck that Atlantic City promises.

But when water rose near their home on Monday, they retreated to a relative’s place. It flooded. They sped to a school converted into a shelter, but they could not stay with their dog, a puppy named Brooklyn. So they were shuttled to the Sheraton Atlantic City Hotel, not far from the famed Boardwalk, where last-minute evacuees were being put up.

Outside, the wind screamed and ankle-deep water lapped at the sides of the hotel. The power was out and the hotel was running a backup generator. The four of them were beyond drenched.

“We’ve never experienced anything like this,” said Cristal Millan, 21, the cousin. “Hopefully the house is still there. To be in the middle of this is scary.”

Hurricane Sandy captured Atlantic City and refused to let go. As the rainwater and surging waters of the ocean that hugged its beaches invaded its streets and wrenched apart pieces of the Boardwalk, the city was left an anxious and isolated island. Inside the casinos, no dice rolled, no cards were dealt and no slots beeped.

“The city is under siege,” said Thomas Foley, the city’s chief of emergency management. “Sandy is pretty furious at Atlantic City. She must have lost a bet or something. As we say in our slogan, ‘Do A.C.’ She’s doing A.C., all right.”

Even as the first samplings of the storm’s ravages descended on the New Jersey coastline, Atlantic City was already in big trouble. At high tide around 8 a.m., officials said 70 to 80 percent of the city was underwater. Water as much as eight feet deep coursed through some streets, leaving them impassable. Heavy rains and sustained winds of more than 40 miles an hour, with gusts of more than 60 miles an hour, battered the city.

The storm made landfall near Atlantic City around 8 p.m. with even stronger sustained winds, reaching up to 80 m.p.h. Late Monday, the bright lights of the city’s casinos remained illuminated, but water surged through its streets once again, reaching thigh-high near the Atlantic City Convention Center.

All arteries leading in were closed, and officials speculated that they might remain shuttered for days. No one could enter Atlantic City. Or leave.

The fate of the city’s residents stoked new tensions between Gov. Chris Christie and Mayor Lorenzo T. Langford, who have long been at odds.

At a news conference early in the evening, Mr. Christie criticized Mr. Langford for telling people they could seek shelter in the city and did not necessarily have to evacuate. “He was sending out a message that was counter to my message,” Mr. Christie said. The phone at the mayor’s office was not answered. The storm’s punch was something unfamiliar to even those like Mr. Foley, who had been in Atlantic City when the savage “Ash Wednesday Storm” of 1962 struck and flooded the city’s grand hotels and tore away part of the Steel Pier, destroying the tank of the diving horse.

“I’ve seen nothing like this one,” Mr. Foley said. “This one has been unbelievable.”

The storm radically transformed this gambling mecca of 40,000 into a chastened city. On the order of Governor Christie, the dozen casinos closed at 4 p.m. Sunday. It was one of only a few times in the gambling industry’s 34 years in New Jersey that wagering was silenced.

About 40,000 casino workers were sent home; each casino retained a skeleton crew of 50 to 75 people for security and surveillance.

“I’ve been working here 32 years and never saw the water this high,” said Toni Rodio, president of the Tropicana Casino and Resort.

By early evening, no flooding was reported in the casinos themselves, though some experienced wind damage.

A citywide curfew took effect at 3:30 p.m., and officials said they did not know when they would lift it.

The National Guard dispatched high-water trucks for the police and firefighters to try to evacuate about 400 people who had become stranded.

Thousands of people had fled on their own; emergency personnel previously shunted about 2,000 residents to shelters inside and outside the city. Rescuers were also using lifeboats to try to reach residents remaining in flooded areas.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people thought this was a hoax or it was not going to hit them,” Mr. Foley, the emergency-management official, said. “Then when water starts coming in their front door, they call.”

The city was taking final evacuees to four last-ditch shelters in Atlantic City. The city earlier had two other shelter options, but they became flooded and had to be abandoned. Late in the day, winds reached speeds at which city officials deemed it too risky to send out rescuers.

Amid everything else, in early afternoon a gasoline spill in City Hall from floating basement gas tanks shorted out some 911 equipment, and the city almost had to abandon its 911 system. It managed to keep it operative.

One 50-foot portion of the Boardwalk, worn down by earlier storms, was chewed apart. Chunks of wood floated down flooded streets like crude rafts. “Timbers on Atlantic Avenue” came reports from first responders on police scanners.

Still, even in the buffeting wind and pelting rain, a few souls with motives of their own dared to venture out. Leamon Davenport, 54, a hospital pediatrician, waded through ankle-deep water on a street by Caesar’s casino. He had come from the boardwalk. He wanted to snap pictures of a fury that was making history.

    Empty of Gamblers and Full of Water, Atlantic City Reels, NYT, 29.10.2012,






Crane Is Dangling Off Luxury High-Rise


October 29, 2012
The New York Times


With one mighty gust of wind, the storm on Monday announced itself at 2:30 p.m. at one of Manhattan’s most prestigious addresses.

A crane at 157 West 57th Street swayed up and up and then snapped, leaving tons of metal dangling precariously over 1,000 feet above the ground, with no evident way to secure it with the storm bearing down.

It was one of the most visible and startling moments in the city where the storm had seemed more of a major inconvenience than a serious threat. And it occurred high above Central Park at what is supposed to be the city’s tallest building with residences and which has become a trophy address for some of the world’s richest people.

The winds picked up as night fell and the crane twisted and turned, seemingly poised to fall at any moment, forcing the evacuation of several buildings.

When asked about how secure it was, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg answered bluntly: “Nobody knows.”

“We just don’t want to risk the lives of anyone trying to be a hero and secure it,” he said in an evening news conference.

Mr. Bloomberg said the main body of the crane, which rises 90-stories up the side of the building, seemed secure, as did the main cab. The arm of the crane, he said, appeared to have been lifted and flipped over the cab. The city, he said, was focused on ensuring that if it does fall, there is no loss of life.

The mayor said nearby buildings would be evacuated, steam pipes running beneath the streets shut down, electricity turned off and all the surrounding streets closed to traffic and pedestrians.

The tower, known as One57, has attracted attention around the world for the prices it is seeking to attract to live in luxury high above the Manhattan streets. It will be 90 stories high when complete and the top floor apartments are being marketed to an exclusive club of billionaires for a jaw-dropping $90 million apiece.

But on Monday, nearby restaurant workers, pedestrians and curious tourists looked skyward from rain-slicked streets and saw only a threat.

The police quickly pushed people back as they cordoned off seven square blocks around the building and began evacuating hundreds of people from the area, which is home to Carnegie Hall as well and hundreds of residential apartments and a luxury hotel.

For witnesses who saw the partial collapse, the wrenching sound of metal was jarring and could be heard more than a block away.

“We heard a big noise, and we didn’t know what it was,” said Victor Font, 40, who was eating lunch at Rue 57, a restaurant that looks out onto the high-rise building. He rushed outside and saw the huge crane drooping over the street. As the police converged on the scene, he said, his first thought was: “What are they going to do? How in the world will they bring that down?”

With the storm growing in ferocity, it was not safe to send workers to dissemble the crane, a complicated operation even in the best of conditions. .

The crane was operated by Pinnacle Industries. There have been several problems reported at the site, according to records kept by the Buildings Department. Among them were reports of hydraulic fluid leaking from the crane and problems with a wire rope that holds up the boom, which led to a temporary suspension of work.

“The crane was last inspected on Friday, Oct. 26,” said Mary Costello, a spokeswoman for Bovis Lend Lease, the construction manager on the job. “Structural engineers and the D.O.B. are investigating any additional measures that can be taken on a temporary basis to secure the boom and crane structure.”

Before the storm, the crane had been set on an angle to move somewhat with the wind, like a weather vane, as is done in hurricane-prone areas such as Florida, said a person who is involved in the construction of the project. But somehow a “double gust” of wind twisted the crane completely backward, the official said. “Right now you have to hope the backup systems hold.”

Michele Sacharow was visiting a friend at 100 West 57th, which has 385 apartments, when firefighters showed up at the door around 5 p.m. and told her that they had to leave.

“I quickly packed a bag and went to the lobby where everyone was milling around,” she said. “The doorman said they are afraid it will collapse and cause an explosion.”

    Crane Is Dangling Off Luxury High-Rise, NYT, 29.10.2012,






Storm Barrels Ashore, Leaving Path of Destruction


October 29, 2012
The New York Times


Hurricane Sandy battered the mid-Atlantic region on Monday, its powerful gusts and storm surges causing once-in-a-generation flooding in coastal communities, knocking down trees and power lines and leaving more than five million people — including a large swath of Manhattan — in the rain-soaked dark. At least seven deaths in the New York region were tied to the storm.

The mammoth and merciless storm made landfall near Atlantic City around 8 p.m., with maximum sustained winds of about 80 miles per hour, the National Hurricane Center said. That was shortly after the center had reclassified the storm as a post-tropical cyclone, a scientific renaming that had no bearing on the powerful winds, driving rains and life-threatening storm surge expected to accompany its push onto land.

The storm had unexpectedly picked up speed as it roared over the Atlantic Ocean on a slate-gray day and went on to paralyze life for millions of people in more than a half-dozen states, with extensive evacuations that turned shorefront neighborhoods into ghost towns. Even the superintendent of the Statue of Liberty left to ride out the storm at his mother’s house in New Jersey; he said the statue itself was “high and dry,” but his house in the shadow of the torch was not.

The wind-driven rain lashed sea walls and protective barriers in places like Atlantic City, where the Boardwalk was damaged as water forced its way inland. Foam was spitting, and the sand gave in to the waves along the beach at Sandy Hook, N.J., at the entrance to New York Harbor. Water was thigh-high on the streets in Sea Bright, N.J., a three-mile sand-sliver of a town where the ocean joined the Shrewsbury River.

“It’s the worst I’ve seen,” said David Arnold, watching the storm from his longtime home in Long Branch, N.J. “The ocean is in the road, there are trees down everywhere. I’ve never seen it this bad.”

In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office said late Monday night that at least five deaths in the state were attributable to the storm. At least three of those involved a falling tree. About 7 p.m., a tree fell on a house in Queens, killing a 30-year-old man, the city police said. About the same time, two boys, ages 11 and 13, were killed in North Salem in Westchester County, when a tree fell on the house they were in, according to the State Police.

In Morris County, N.J., a man and a woman were killed when a tree fell on their car Monday evening, The Associated Press reported.

In Manhattan, NYU Langone Medical Center’s backup power system failed Monday evening, forcing the evacuation of patients to other facilities.

Earlier, a construction crane atop one of the tallest buildings in the city came loose and dangled 80 stories over West 57th Street, across the street from Carnegie Hall.

Soon power was going out and water was rushing in. Waves topped the sea wall in the financial district in Manhattan, sending cars floating downstream. West Street, along the western edge of Lower Manhattan, looked like a river. The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, known officially as the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel in memory of a former governor, flooded hours after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York ordered it closed to traffic, and officials say water also seeped into subway tunnels.

“We could be fishing out our windows tomorrow,” said Garnett Wilcher, a barber who lives in the Hammells Houses, a block from the ocean in the Rockaways in Queens. Still, he said he felt safe at home. Pointing to neighboring apartment houses in the city-run housing project, he said, “We got these buildings for jetties.”

Hurricane-force winds extended up to 175 miles from the center of the storm; tropical-storm-force winds spread out 485 miles from the center. Forecasters said tropical-storm-force winds could stretch all the way north to Canada and all the way west to the Great Lakes. Snow was expected in some states.

Businesses and schools were closed; roads, bridges and tunnels were closed; and more than 13,000 airline flights were canceled. Even the Erie Canal was shut down.

Subways were shut down from Boston to Washington, as were Amtrak and the commuter rail lines. About 1,000 flights were canceled at each of the three major airports in the New York City area. Philadelphia International Airport had 1,200 canceled flights, according to FlightAware, a data provider in Houston. And late Monday night, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said cabs had been instructed to get off New York City roads.

A replica of the H.M.S. Bounty, a tall ship built for the 1962 movie “Mutiny on the Bounty” starring Marlon Brando and used in the recent “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, sank off the North Carolina coast. The Coast Guard said the 180-foot three-masted ship went down near the Outer Banks after being battered by 18-foot-high seas and thrashed by 40-m.p.h. winds. The body of one crew member, Claudene Christian, 42, was recovered. Another crew member remained missing.

Delaware banned cars and trucks from state roadways for other than “essential personnel.”

“The most important thing right now is for people to use common sense,” Gov. Jack Markell said. “We didn’t want people out on the road going to work and not being able to get home again.”

By early evening, the storm knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of homes, stores and office buildings. Consolidated Edison said that as of 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, 634,000 customers in New York City and Westchester County were without power. Con Edison, fearing damage to its electrical equipment, shut down power pre-emptively in sections of Lower Manhattan on Monday evening, and then, at 8:30 p.m., an unplanned failure, probably caused by flooding in substations, knocked out power to most of Manhattan below Midtown, about 250,000 customers. Later, an explosion at a Con Ed substation on East 14th Street knocked out power to another 250,000 customers.

In New Jersey, more than two million customers were without power as of 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, and in Connecticut nearly 500,000.

President Obama, who returned to the White House and met with top advisers, said Monday that the storm would disrupt the rhythms of daily life in the states it hit. “Transportation is going to be tied up for a long time,” he said, adding that besides flooding, there would probably be widespread power failures. He said utility companies had lined up crews to begin making repairs. But he cautioned that it could be slow going.

“The fact is, a lot of these emergency crews are not going to get into position to start restoring power until some of these winds die down,” the president said. He added, “That may take several days.”

Forecasters attributed the power of the storm to a convergence of weather systems. As the hurricane swirled north in the Atlantic and then pivoted toward land, a wintry storm was heading toward it from the west, and cold air was blowing south from the Arctic. The hurricane left more than 60 people dead in the Caribbean before it began crawling toward the Northeast.

“The days ahead are going to be very difficult, Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland said. “There will be people who die and are killed in this storm,” he said.

Alex Sosnowski, a senior meteorologist with AccuWeather, said potentially damaging winds would continue on Tuesday from Illinois to the Carolinas — and as far north as Maine — as the storm barreled toward the eastern Great Lakes.

Mr. Cuomo, who ordered many of the most heavily used bridges and tunnels in New York City closed, warned that the surge from Hurricane Sandy could go two feet higher than that associated with Tropical Storm Irene last year. The PATH system, buses and the Staten Island Ferry system were also suspended.

Joseph J. Lhota, the chairman and chief executive of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, has said he expected to restore at least some service about 12 hours after the storm ended. But possible flooding within the subway system could prevent a full-scale reopening.

The storm headed toward land with weather that was episodic: a strong gust of wind one minute, then mist. More wind. Thin sheets of rain dancing down the street. Then, for a moment, nothing. The sky lightened. Then another blast of rain. Then more wind.

The day brought a giddiness to schoolchildren who had the day off and to grown-ups who were fascinated by the rough, rising water. Some went surfing, discounting the danger. Felquin Piedra, 38, rode his Jet Ski from Queens to Lower Manhattan.

“I love the waves,” Mr. Piedra yelled from New York Harbor. “The water is warm. I’ve jumped in several times.”

But even when landfall was still hours away, there was no holding back the advance guard of the storm — fast-moving bands of rain and punishing winds.

It added up to devastation. Driving through places like Pompton Plains, N.J., late Monday afternoon was like an X-Games contest for drivers. They had to do tree-limb slaloms on side streets and gunned their engines anxiously as they passed wind funnels of leaves swirling on highways.

On City Island, off the Bronx mainland, Cheryl Brinker sprayed “Sandy Stay Away” on her boarded-up art studio, expanding a collage she started during Tropical Storm Irene last year. But by midafternoon, nearby Ditmars Street was under as much as five feet of water and Steve Van Wickler said the water had cracked the cement in his cellar. “It’s like a little river running in my basement,” he said. “There are cracks and leaks everywhere.”

In some places, caravans of power-company trucks traveled largely empty roads; Public Service Electric and Gas said that 600 line workers and 526 tree workers had arrived from across the country, but could not start the repairs and cleanup until the wind had subsided, perhaps not until Wednesday.

They will see a landscape that, in many places, was remade by the storm. In Montauk, at the end of Long Island, a 50-seat restaurant broke in half. Half of the building floated away and broke into pieces on the beach.

The 110-foot-tall lighthouse at Montauk Point — the oldest in the state, opened in 1796 — shuddered in the storm despite walls that are six feet thick at the base. The lighthouse keeper, Marge Winski, said she had never felt anything like that in 26 years on the job.

“I went up in tower and it was vibrating, it was shaking,” she said. “I got out of it real quick. I’ve been here through hurricanes, and nor’easters, but nothing this bad.”

    Storm Barrels Ashore, Leaving Path of Destruction, NYT, 29.10.2012,






Sharp Warnings as Hurricane Churns In


October 28, 2012
The New York Times


Hurricane Sandy, a menacing monster of a storm that forecasters said would bring “life-threatening” flooding, churned toward some of the nation’s most densely populated areas on Sunday, prompting widespread evacuations and the shutdown of the New York City transit system.

Officials warned that the hurricane, pushing north from the Caribbean after leaving more than 60 people dead in its wake, could disrupt life in the Northeast for days.

New York went into emergency mode, ordering the evacuations of more than 370,000 people in low-lying communities from Coney Island in Brooklyn to Battery Park City in Manhattan and giving 1.1 million schoolchildren a day off on Monday. The city opened evacuation shelters at 76 public schools.

The National Hurricane Center said it expected the storm to swing inland, probably on Monday evening. The hurricane center reported that the storm had sustained winds of almost 75 miles an hour.

“We’re going to have a lot of impact, starting with the storm surge,” said Craig Fugate, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Think, ‘Big.’ ”

The subway closing began at 7 p.m. to darken every one of the city’s 468 stations for the second time in 14 months, as officials encouraged the public to stay indoors and worked to prevent a storm surge from damaging tracks and signal equipment in the tunnels. A suspension of bus service was ordered for 9 p.m.

The closing this year seemed more ominous. The shutdown before Tropical Storm Irene last year began at noon on a Saturday, and service resumed before the workweek started on Monday. This time, officials warned, it might be Wednesday before trains were running again.

Another fear in the Northeast was that winds from the storm might knock down power lines, and that surging waters could flood utility companies’ generators and other equipment.

Forecasters said the hurricane was a strikingly powerful storm that could reach far inland. Hurricane-force winds from the storm stretched 175 miles from the center, an unusually wide span, and tropical storm winds extended outward 520 miles. Forecasters said they expected high-altitude winds to whip every state east of the Mississippi River.

President Obama, who attended a briefing with officials from FEMA in Washington called Hurricane Sandy “a big and serious storm.” He said federal officials were “making sure that we’ve got the best possible response to what is going to be a big and messy system.”

“My main message to everybody involved is that we have to take this seriously,” the president said.

The hurricane center said through the day on Sunday that Hurricane Sandy was “expected to bring life-threatening storm surge flooding to the mid-Atlantic Coast, including Long Island Sound and New York Harbor.”

The storm preparations and cancellations were not confined to New York.

Amtrak said it would cancel most trains on the Eastern Seaboard, and Philadelphia shut down its mass transit system.

In the New York area, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s commuter rail lines, which suffered the heaviest damage during Tropical Storm Irene, were suspended beginning at 7 p.m. on Sunday.

New Jersey Transit began rolling back service gradually at 4 p.m., with a full shutdown expected by 2 a.m.

The Staten Island Ferry was scheduled to stop running by 8:30 p.m., PATH trains at midnight.

The nation’s major airlines canceled thousands of flights in the Northeast. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the three major airports in the New York City area, said it expected major carriers to cease operations entirely by Sunday evening. The Coast Guard closed New York Harbor — cruise ships were told to go elsewhere — and the Northeast faced the possibility of being all but shut down on Monday.

Federal offices in the Washington area will be closed; only emergency employees will be on the job. The Washington transit system — its Metrorail subway and its buses — will also be shut down.

The United Nations canceled all meetings at its headquarters in Manhattan.

Broadway shows were canceled on Sunday and Monday, as were performances at Carnegie Hall.

Schools in Baltimore, Boston and Washington called off classes for Monday.

Many public libraries said their reading rooms would be closed for the day, and parks department workers in Central Park told people to leave on Sunday and to stay away until the storm passed.

The New York Stock Exchange, which initially said its trading floor would be open on Monday, decided to close the floor and suspend all trading on Monday. The closing was the first caused by bad weather since Hurricane Gloria in 1985, although the opening bell has been delayed a number of times — once during a blizzard in January 1996 — and the exchange was closed for three days after the Sept. 11 attacks. The Nasdaq exchange also announced it would be closed Monday.

The hurricane center said the surges could reach 11 feet in New York Harbor, Long Island Sound and Raritan Bay in New Jersey — significantly higher than previous forecasts and significantly above the levels recorded during the tropical storm last year.

Forecasters said the water could top 8 feet from Ocean City, Md., to the border between Connecticut and Rhode Island. They predicted the waves would rise to 6 feet on the south shore of Cape Cod.

Hour after hour on Sunday, long before high tide, high waves pounded the dunes that protect the boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach, Del.

And in East Hampton, N.Y., where Mabel Harmon and her neighbors had spent the day tying down patio furniture, the wind was already “blowing like crazy,” she said Sunday afternoon.

Forecasters also warned that rain could saturate the ground and that trees could tumble across roads or onto power lines.

From North Carolina to Connecticut, officials declared emergencies and directed residents to leave areas near the shore.

Delaware ordered coastal communities evacuated by 8 p.m. Sunday.

In New Jersey, gamblers scrambled to play a few last rounds of blackjack before leaving the Atlantic City casinos under orders from Gov. Chris Christie.

He also ordered residents to leave barrier islands from Sandy Hook to Cape May.

In beachfront towns from North Carolina to New Jersey, the surf was spitting, and crews were rushing to build sand walls in places where the beaches had been rebuilt after 2011, when many places were hit by what was still Hurricane Irene.

In Red Hook, Brooklyn, many residents along the streets closest to New York Harbor were in their basements checking sump pumps.

Gino Vitale, a builder and landlord there, was delivering sandbags piled high in the back of his white Ford pickup truck to tenants along Conover Street, a block from New York Bay.

“We dodged most of it with Irene,” he said, referring to the storm that flooded basements in Red Hook but not much else. “I’m hoping we can do that again.”

For the most part, residents appeared to follow officials’ advice to stock up on bottled water, canned food and flashlights — so much so that stores ran low on batteries. Some gas stations in Connecticut had little gasoline left — no regular, and not much premium.

In a flood-prone neighborhood in Philadelphia, Michael Dornblum did something he did not do during Tropical Storm Irene or earlier storms that brought high water — he put 80-pound sandbags outside his family’s furniture store. In the past, he has lined them up only inside. He put the additional protection in place as employees prepared to lift carpets and sofas off the showroom floor. Some went to a storage area on the second floor.

Con Edison did not provide an estimate of how long customers in the New York City area might be without power if the storm played havoc with its network; by contrast, the parent company of Jersey Central Power and Light warned as long ago as Friday that repairs could take 10 days after the storm passed through. Another utility in New Jersey, the Public Service Electric and Gas Company, said that restoring power could take a week.

Forecasters said Hurricane Sandy could deliver something besides wind and rain: snow. That is because a system known as a midlatitude trough — which often causes severe winter storms — was moving across the country from the west. It was expected to draw in Hurricane Sandy, giving it added energy.

A blast of arctic air is expected to sweep down through the Canadian Plains just as the two storms converge. That could lead to several feet of heavy, wet snow in West Virginia and lighter amounts in Pennsylvania and Ohio that could bring down trees and power lines if already chilly temperatures drop below freezing.

The full moon on Monday could cause even greater flooding, because tides will be at their peak.

The possibility of a higher surge was one reason that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York ordered mandatory evacuations in low-lying areas, just as he did before Tropical Storm Irene. One city official said there was particular concern about Con Edison’s Lower Manhattan infrastructure, noting that if the storm surge washed over the bulkheads, it could damage the utility’s electrical and steam networks. If the surge runs as high as forecast, Con Ed will shut off two electrical networks in Lower Manhattan,

As for the subway shutdown, Mr. Bloomberg said that if the Metropolitan Transportation Authority had not suspended service, but instead had left itself vulnerable to the storm, the city would have risked being without its mass transit network for even longer.

“They do have to make sure that their equipment doesn’t get damaged,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “Otherwise we would not have subway trains when this is over or buses when it’s over.”

Joseph J. Lhota, the chairman of the authority, said he expected the transit systems to restore at least some service about 12 hours after the storm ended. But he warned that the city could be without mass transit for as many as two full work days. “I do think Monday and Tuesday are going to be difficult days,” Mr. Lhota said.

But while the mayor said schoolchildren could take Monday off, city workers could not: He said that city offices would be open for business.



Reporting on Hurricane Sandy was contributed by Matt Flegenheimer, John Leland,

Colin Moynihan, Sharon Otterman, William K. Rashbaum, Marc Santora, Sam Sifton,

Nate Schweber, Michael Schwirtz, Kate Taylor and Vivian Yee from New York;

Angela Macropoulos from Fire Island, N.Y.;

Jeff Lebowitz and Michael Winerip from Long Beach, N.Y.;

Sarah Maslin Nir from East Hampton, N.Y.;

Elizabeth Maker from Milford, Conn.;

Kristin Hussey from Stamford, Conn.; Stacey Stowe from Yonkers;

Brian Stelter from Rehoboth Beach, Del.; Matthew L. Wald from Washington;

and Jon Hurdle from Philadelphia.

    Sharp Warnings as Hurricane Churns In, NYT, 28.10.2012,






Urgent Warnings as Hurricane Sandy Heads to Northeast


October 27, 2012
The New York Times


More than 50 million people from the mid-Atlantic to New England braced Saturday for a potentially massive storm, as Hurricane Sandy churned northward on a collision course with another storm system that is sweeping in from the west.

Thousands of people were evacuated from low-lying areas, governors across the region declared states of emergency, and federal officials issued urgent warnings for people to prepare, saying that the storm’s impact would stretch to the Ohio Valley.

While tracking models showed the center of Hurricane Sandy likely to make landfall late Monday evening or early Tuesday, the director of the National Hurricane Center, Rick Knabb, said that the weather was expected to worsen well before then, with high winds and heavy rains starting to batter the region as early as Sunday night. The exact path of the storm was unclear, complicating preparation efforts. Federal officials, in a briefing with reporters on Saturday afternoon, could not say for certain where the impact would be the worst — only that it would be major. More than 60,000 National Guard troops in nine states were ready to assist the local authorities.

In New York City, officials announced contingency plans to begin shutting down the subways and regional rail lines starting at 7 p.m. Sunday, a decision they will make only if it looks like storm surges will be severe. They also announced plans to close the bridges if there were sustained winds over 60 miles per hour.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York told residents to stay out of city parks starting on Sunday and to stock up on basic supplies. All construction was ordered to be suspended starting on Saturday night.

On Long Island, the Town of Islip ordered the mandatory evacuation of residents in low-lying areas, including Fire Island, by Sunday afternoon. Similar orders were issued in other coastal areas.

From Plymouth, Me., to Cape Hatteras, N.C., residents boarded up windows; stocked up on water, batteries and food; and prepared to hunker down. Airlines encouraged people with flights scheduled in the next few days to change their plans and waived cancellation fees.

At supply stores across the region, generators and other goods were snapped up in preparation for the possibility of extended power failures.

Sandbags joined the Halloween scarecrows along Main Street in Hightstown, N.J., on Saturday as business owners who suffered flood damage during Hurricane Irene last year braced themselves.

At a Home Depot in Yonkers, where propane cylinders were prominently displayed near the cash registers, generators were sold out by 6:30 on Saturday morning, within 30 minutes of opening, said Kareem Hiland, a store employee. “The line for them was out the door,” he said. “For batteries, too.”Experts warned that even if Hurricane Sandy decreased in strength, it would remain a danger because of the unusual convergence of several weather systems.

A system known as a midlatitude trough — which often causes severe winter storms — is moving across the country from the west. It is expected to draw in Hurricane Sandy, giving it added energy. A burst of arctic air is expected to sweep down through the Canadian Plains just as they are converging. That could lead to several feet of snow in West Virginia and lighter amounts in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

The full moon on Monday could cause even greater flooding, with tides at their peak.

The hurricane was forecast to come ashore between the Delmarva Peninsula and Long Island. But as it continued to churn north, it began to spread out, with tropical storm-force winds extending about 520 miles from its center. On Saturday, it was still moving slowly north and had yet to make its predicted westward swing, at which point it will likely become clearer where it will make landfall.

Forecasters cautioned that the course of the storm could change, but officials from the National Hurricane Center said that it was no longer a question of if the storms would converge — but where and with how much force.

Dr. Knabb of the National Hurricane Center said the storm’s intensity was unlikely to change. “The center of circulation is only going to be a very small part of the story,” he said. “This is not just going to be a coastal event.” People from Virginia northward should be prepared for a “long-duration event,” he said.

Utility companies were rushing to put crews in place to deal with power failures, which state officials warned could be extensive and long lasting. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey told residents that they should be prepared to go 7 to 10 days without electricity. On Saturday evening, Amtrak began to cancel train service to parts of the East Coast, including between Washington, D.C., and New York.

Maureen Smith, 70, and her husband, Jim Dugan, 76, have been through hurricanes before, but on Saturday they were evacuated from North Wildwood, on the south shore of New Jersey.

“There was a sense of worry, because we do believe this will be serious,” she said.

With forecasters predicting this storm would be much worse than Hurricane Irene, which caused $15 billion in damage, many people were taking no chances. Bob Parise of North Wantagh, on Long Island, was scouring a hardware store.

“We learned our lesson from Irene and are better prepared,” he said. “I’ve got the generator and the gas. Now I’m just worried about the roof.”


Reporting was contributed by Brian Stelter from New Jersey,

Colin Moynihan from New York, Jon Hurdle from Philadelphia,

Stacey Stowe from Yonkers and Angela Macropoulos from Long Island.

    Urgent Warnings as Hurricane Sandy Heads to Northeast, NYT, 27.10.2012,






A Grand Experiment to Rein In Climate Change


October 13, 2012
The New York Times


LEGGETT, Calif. — Braced against a steep slope, Robert Hrubes cinched his measuring tape around the trunk of one tree after another, barking out diameters like an auctioneer announcing bids. “Twelve point two!” “Fourteen point one!”

Mr. Hrubes’s task, a far cry from forestry of the past, was to calculate how much carbon could be stored within the tanoak, madrone and redwood trees in that plot. Every year or so, other foresters will return to make sure the trees are still standing and doing their job.

Such audits will be crucial as California embarks on its grand experiment in reining in climate change. On Jan. 1, it will become the first state in the nation to charge industries across the economy for the greenhouse gases they emit. Under the system, known as “cap and trade,” the state will set an overall ceiling on those emissions and assign allowable emission amounts for individual polluters. A portion of these so-called allowances will be allocated to utilities, manufacturers and others; the remainder will be auctioned off.

Over time, the number of allowances issued by the state will be reduced, which should force a reduction in emissions.

To obtain the allowances needed to account for their emissions, companies can buy them at auction or on the carbon market. They can secure offset credits, as they are known, either by buying leftover allowances from emitters that have met their targets or by purchasing them from projects that remove carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, like the woods where Mr. Hrubes was working.

Dozens of verifiers from different fields, from chemists to accountants to foresters, will be the first line of defense in making sure the benefits are real.

Mr. Hrubes said his goal in any audit was to ensure that the forest’s owner was “being conservative whenever a judgment call has to be made” in calculating greenhouse gas reductions.

The outsize goals of California’s new law, known as A.B. 32, are to lower California’s emissions to what they were in 1990 by 2020 — a reduction of roughly 30 percent — and, more broadly, to show that the system works and can be replicated.

The risks for California are enormous. Opponents and supporters alike worry that the program could hurt the state’s fragile economy by driving out refineries, cement makers, glass factories and other businesses. Some are concerned that companies will find a way to outmaneuver the system, causing the state to fall short of its emission reduction targets.

“The worst possible thing to happen is if it fails,” said Robert N. Stavins, a Harvard economist.

Just three years ago, California’s plan was viewed as a trial run for a national carbon market that one day might tie into existing markets in Europe and elsewhere. President Obama’s first budget proposal included a cap-and-trade program to cut national greenhouse gas emissions 14 percent by 2020; the House later passed an energy and climate bill that incorporated such a program.

But in 2010, political forces backed by the biggest emitters, oil and coal companies, blocked the plan in the Senate. In that year’s midterm elections, conservative Republicans disavowed their party’s role in creating similar programs; they continue to deride it as “cap and tax.”

California air regulators are proud of their record in leading the nation to new auto emissions standards in the 1960s and efficiency standards for appliances in the 1970s. And so the pressure is on the state’s Air Resources Board to get this right.

At first, only four means of carbon reduction will be approved for offset credits: timber management, the destruction of coolant gases, cuts in methane emissions from livestock waste and tree planting projects in urban areas. Already, developers of offset projects in more than 20 states are preparing to enter the new market, which for now accepts only credits generated in the United States. Some projects send coolant gases to be destroyed at an incinerator in Arkansas; others, tied to dairies in states like Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin, will capture methane from livestock waste.

Most of these projects already sell offset credits in other markets like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program covering utilities in the Northeast.

But offsets can be prone to misuse; some have generated significant private profits while producing questionable environmental benefits. The European Union’s eight-year-old carbon trading market has been tarnished by fake credits and audits that failed to meet minimum standards. California’s offsets have already been challenged in court by environmentalists who argue that offset developers will earn money for actions that they would have taken even if the program did not exist.

“If there is a loss of confidence because there is a sense that people have been cheating and the offsets are not real, that will be a problem,” said Kevin Kennedy, an economist with the World Resources Institute in Washington.

That is why there is such a need for qualified verifiers. This summer, four foresters from around the country gathered in a Los Angeles suburb for a $2,900 test-preparation course to master the new system in advance of a required state test.

All had experience in verification in other carbon trading systems — so much so that they offered their instructors sharp critiques on the 111 pages of rules. One even challenged the algorithms central to the forest benefit calculations.

“If they don’t get the equations right, there could be a real problem,” said Terese Walters, a forester from Oregon. She is hoping that having California credentials will lead to lucrative opportunities. Ms. Walters and Caitlin Sellers, a forester from Florida in the class, both work for Environmental Services of Jacksonville, Fla., one of the country’s largest environmental consulting firms. David Bubser, another student, is a Minnesota forester and a regional manager for the nonprofit Rainforest Alliance.

There are several basic requirements for a forest offset. Credits cannot be granted for preserving trees that were going to be left standing anyway. The change must be long-lasting: trees must be left intact for a century. And owners must hire accredited verifiers to audit their claims.

The offset marketplace is already beginning to hum as companies gear up for California’s rollout.

Independent verifiers can make $800 to $1,200 a day, according to Mr. Bubser. Scientific Certification Systems, Mr. Hrubes’s employer, which verified 4.2 million tons of carbon offsets around the world last year, added two foresters this summer, for a total of six.

Sacramento’s municipal utility recently held a conference call with potential vendors of credits to offset some of the 1.2 million tons of carbon dioxide emitted annually from its gas-fired power plant — possibly by buying 200,000 credits annually.

Utility officials made it clear during the call that the more measurable and reliable the offset, the more valuable it would be. The administrators of California’s program have set a floor price for allowances at $10 per metric ton of emissions during the first auction in November. Once the program gets going, the actual value of allowances will fluctuate as they are traded.

The Redwood Forest Foundation, created to promote sustainable forestry but also to keep timber jobs in Mendocino County, is considering selling offset credits. Its biggest asset is the 50,000-acre Usal Redwood Forest, where Mr. Hrubes was working, which the foundation acquired in 2007 with a $65 million bank loan. The foundation needs to pay down its debt. It reaped $19.5 million selling a conservation easement last year, but the idea of a new revenue source is alluring.

“When you need an economic return, one way is to maximize timber harvest,” said Tom Tuchmann, the group’s acting executive director. “The other way is to look at nontraditional value streams.”

But making strategic decisions about how many trees to harvest and how many to use to lock up carbon is an uncertain business. Other carbon markets have generally not done well by investors, and some brokerages have closed their carbon desks.

“There are so many people who are disappointed,” said Thaddeus Huetteman, the president of Power and Energy Analytic Resources of Atlanta. “What they are really looking for is for California to show we can create a new market of significance in the world’s ninth-largest economy.”

    A Grand Experiment to Rein In Climate Change, NYT, 13.10.2012,






Scientist, Candidate and Planet Earth’s Lifeguard


October 1, 2012
The New York Times


Barry Commoner, a founder of modern ecology and one of its most provocative thinkers and mobilizers in making environmentalism a people’s political cause, died on Sunday in Manhattan. He was 95 and lived in Brooklyn Heights.

His wife, Lisa Feiner, confirmed his death.

Dr. Commoner was a leader among a generation of scientist-activists who recognized the toxic consequences of America’s post-World War II technology boom, and one of the first to stir the national debate over the public’s right to comprehend the risks and make decisions about them.

Raised in Brooklyn during the Depression and trained as a biologist at Columbia and Harvard, he came armed with a combination of scientific expertise and leftist zeal. His work on the global effects of radioactive fallout, which included documenting concentrations of strontium 90 in the baby teeth of thousands of children, contributed materially to the adoption of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963.

From there it was a natural progression to a range of environmental and social issues that kept him happily in the limelight as a speaker and an author through the 1960s and ’70s, and led to a wobbly run for president in 1980.

In 1970, the year of the first Earth Day, Time magazine put Dr. Commoner on its cover and called him the Paul Revere of Ecology. He was by no means the only one sounding alarms; the movement was well under way by then, building on the impact of Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” in 1962 and the work of many others. But he was arguably the most peripatetic in his efforts to draw public attention to environmental dangers.

(The same issue of Time noted that President Richard M. Nixon had already signed on. In his State of the Union address that January, he said, “The great question of the ’70s is, shall we surrender to our surroundings, or shall we make our peace with nature and begin to make reparations for the damage we have done to our air, to our land and to our water?” And he followed through: Among other steps, the Environmental Protection Agency was established in December 1970.)

Dr. Commoner was an imposing professorial figure, with a strong face, heavy eyeglasses, black eyebrows and a thick head of hair that gradually turned pure white. He was much in demand as a speaker and a debater, especially on college campuses, where he helped supply a generation of activists with a framework that made the science of ecology accessible.

His four informal rules of ecology were catchy enough to print on a T-shirt and take to the street: Everything is connected to everything else. Everything must go somewhere. Nature knows best. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Although the rules were plain enough, the thinking behind them required leaps of faith. Dr. Commoner’s overarching concern was not ecology as such but rather a radical ideal of social justice in which everything was indeed connected to everything else. Like some other left-leaning dissenters of his time, he believed that environmental pollution, war, and racial and sexual inequality needed to be addressed as related issues of a central problem.


A Critic of Capitalism

Having been grounded, as an undergraduate, in Marxist theory, he saw his main target as capitalist “systems of production” in industry, agriculture, energy and transportation that emphasized profits and technological progress with little regard for consequences: greenhouse gases, nonbiodegradable materials, and synthetic fertilizers and toxic wastes that leached into the water supply.

He insisted that the planet’s future depended on industry’s learning not to make messes in the first place, rather than on trying to clean them up. It followed, by his logic, that scientists in the service of industry could not merely invent some new process or product and then wash their hands of moral responsibility for the side effects. He was a lasting opponent of nuclear power because of its radioactive waste; he scorned the idea of pollution credit swaps because, after all, he said, an industry would have to be fouling the environment in the first place to be rewarded by such a program.

In a “Last Word” interview with The New York Times in 2006, videotaped to accompany this obituary online, Dr. Commoner elaborated on his holistic views and lamented the inability of society to connect the dots among its multitude of challenges, calling it “an unfortunate feature of political development in this country.”

Noting the success of movements that had promoted civil rights, sexual equality, organized labor, environmentalism and an end to the war in Vietnam, he said one might think that “if they would only get together, they could remake the country.” But, he added, that has not happened.

Then he said: “I don’t believe in environmentalism as the solution to anything. What I believe is that environmentalism illuminates the things that need to be done to solve all of the problems together. For example, if you’re going to revise the productive system to make cars or anything else in such a way as to suit the environmental necessities, at the same time why not see to it that women earn as much as men for the same work?”

Dr. Commoner’s diagnoses and prescriptions sometimes put him at odds with other environmental leaders. He is rightly remembered as an important figure in the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, a nationwide teach-in conceived by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, and he himself regarded the observance as historically important. But Earth Day also illustrated the growing factionalization of a movement in which “environmentalism” comprised a number of agendas, all competing for attention and money, and could mean anything from ending the Vietnam War to growing one’s own cabbages.

That was the context for the rift between Dr. Commoner and advocates of population control, who saw environmental degradation as a byproduct of overpopulation. They had become a force on the strength of Paul R. Ehrlich’s huge best seller “The Population Bomb.” Conservationist groups like the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation were strong supporters of Dr. Ehrlich’s views.

Dr. Commoner took aim at the “neo-Malthusians,” as he called those who, like the English scholar Thomas Malthus, foresaw perils in population growth. In a panel discussion with Dr. Ehrlich in 1970, he said it was “a cop-out of the worst kind” to say that “none of our pollution problems can be solved without getting at population first.”

He elaborated in his best-known book, “The Closing Circle,” published the next year. Reducing population, Dr. Commoner wrote, was “equivalent to attempting to save a leaking ship by lightening the load and forcing passengers overboard.”

“One is constrained to ask if there isn’t something radically wrong with the ship.”

In the science establishment, Dr. Commoner’s standing was ambiguous. Along with eminent figures of the postwar years like the chemist Linus Pauling and the anthropologist Margaret Mead, he was concerned that the integrity of American science had been compromised — first by the government’s emphasis on supporting physics at the expense of other fields during the development of nuclear weapons, and second by the growing privatization of research, in which pure science took a back seat to projects that held short-range promise of marketable technologies.

It was a concern remarkably similar to that of the distinctly unradical Dwight D. Eisenhower, who warned of the dangerous power of “the military-industrial complex” as he was leaving the presidency. But although Dr. Commoner had a record of achievement as a cellular biologist and founding director of the government-financed Center for the Biology of Natural Systems, he was seen primarily as the advocate for a politics that relatively few considered practicable or even desirable. Among other positions, he advocated forgiveness of all third world debt, which he said would decrease poverty and despair and thus act as a natural curb on population growth.

His platform did not get him very far in the 1980 presidential race, which he entered as the head of his own Citizens’ Party. He won only about 234,000 votes as Ronald Reagan swept to victory. Dr. Commoner himself conceded that he would not have made a very good president. Still, he was angry that the questions he had raised had generated so little interest.

His own favorite moment of the campaign, he recalled many years later, was when a reporter in Albuquerque asked, “Dr. Commoner, are you a serious candidate, or are you just running on the issues?”

Barry Commoner was born on May 28, 1917, in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn. His parents, the former Goldie Yarmolinsky and Isidore Commoner, were Jewish immigrants from Russia, his father a tailor until he went blind. (The original family name, Comenar, was Anglicized at the suggestion of an uncle of Barry’s, Avrahm Yarmolinsky, chief of the Slavonic department at the New York Public Library.)

Young Barry grew up at a time when it was possible to be both a tough street kid and a studious sort. He spent hours in Prospect Park collecting bits of nature, which he took home to inspect under a microscope that Uncle Avrahm had given him.

He was so shy at James Madison High School that he was referred to a speech correction class, and after graduation he set out on the track of a quiet academic career. With money earned from odd jobs, he put himself through Columbia, earning honors in his major, zoology; election to Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi; and a B.A. degree in 1937, at 20. He went on to do graduate work at Harvard, where he got a Ph.D. in cellular biology. He taught for two years at Queens College and served in the Naval Air Corps in World War II, rising to lieutenant. In 1947 he joined the faculty of Washington University in St. Louis.


Role in Nuclear Test Ban

Parallel to his life as a public figure, Dr. Commoner had a reputation as a brilliant teacher and a painstaking researcher into viruses, cell metabolism and the effects of radiation on living tissue. A research team he led was the first to show that abnormal free radicals — groups of molecules with unpaired electrons — might be the earliest indicator of cancer in laboratory rats.

He found his political voice when he encountered the indifference of government authorities to the high levels of strontium 90 in the atmosphere from atomic tests. Quite simply, he said in an interview with The Chicago Tribune in 1993, “The Atomic Energy Commission turned me into an environmentalist.”

He helped organize the St. Louis Committee for Nuclear Information in 1958, and was eventually its president. Dr. Commoner told Scientific American years later that the committee’s task “was to explain to the public — first in St. Louis and then nationally — how splitting a few pounds of atoms could turn something as mild as milk into a devastating global poison.”

“At about that time,” he continued, “several of us met with Linus Pauling in St. Louis and together drafted the petition, eventually signed by thousands of scientists worldwide.” The petition was part of the scientific underpinning for President John F. Kennedy’s proposal of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963 — “the first of continuing international actions to fully cage the nuclear beast,” Dr. Commoner said.

As the founding director of the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems in St. Louis, he led a staff drawn from many disciplines in investigating, among other things, lead poisoning in slums, the ecology of ghetto rats, the economics of conventional versus organic farming, and the pollution of rivers by fertilizer leaching.

Dr. Commoner moved the center from St. Louis to Queens College in 1981. He remained in the thick of things, helping to set up New York City’s trash recycling program and defending it against critics like Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who had declared the recycling law irresponsible.

In 2000, at 82, Dr. Commoner gave up the center’s directorship to concentrate on new research projects, including work on the effects of genetically altering organisms.


Waning Influence

By then he was no longer getting anything like the attention he had enjoyed in earlier times. Some experts had begun to think that his view of the planet, as a place harmoniously balanced by the trial and error of long evolution, left out too much complexity and too much potential for the unexpected.

Stephen Jay Gould, the Harvard paleontologist and evolutionary biologist, reviewing Dr. Commoner’s book “Making Peace With the Planet” for The Times in 1990, said that it “suffers the commonest of unkind fates: to be so self-evidently true and just that we pass it by as a twice-told tale.”

“Although he has been branded by many as a maverick,” Dr. Gould added, “I regard him as right and compassionate on nearly every major issue.”

Dr. Commoner married Ms. Feiner in 1980. He is also survived by two children, Lucy Commoner and Frederic, by his first wife, the former Gloria Gordon; and one granddaughter.

Dr. Commoner practiced what he preached. In his personal habits he was as frugal as a Yankee farmer, and as common-sensical. He drove or took taxis if the route by public transit took him far out of his way. On the other hand, he saw no need to waste electricity by ironing his shirts.

And when a Times writer once asked his Queens College office to mail some material, it arrived in an old brown envelope with the crossed-out return address of the botany department at Washington University — where he had last worked 19 years earlier.

    Scientist, Candidate and Planet Earth’s Lifeguard, NYT, 1.10.2012,






New Ruling on Katrina Favors Corps of Engineers


September 24, 2012
The New York Times


A federal appeals court reversed itself, ruling Monday that the Army Corps of Engineers is not liable for devastation caused in Hurricane Katrina from a government-built navigation canal.

The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that the government is immune from lawsuits for decisions made by the corps that might have left the 76-mile channel, the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet or MR-GO, vulnerable.

“MR-GO’s size and configuration greatly aggravated the storm’s effects on the city and its environs,” wrote Judge Jerry E. Smith, writing for a three-judge panel, adding that the federal tort claims act “completely insulates the government from liability.”

In March, the same panel had ruled that the government was liable for some of the flooding, affirming a landmark ruling by Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. of federal District Court in 2009.

While the government is generally immune from flooding claims resulting from failures of flood control projects, Judge Duval ruled that damage related to the MR-GO canal was different because its purpose was navigation, not flood protection, even though it was lined with levees. The government appealed the decision, asking the full circuit to rehear the case. Instead, the three-judge panel on Monday withdrew the earlier decision and substituted a new one that cited the “discretionary-function exception” to the tort claims act.

Joseph Bruno, a lawyer in New Orleans who represents plaintiffs, called the decision “devastating. I’m just amazed that the same three-judge panel that affirmed did an abrupt about-face and gave the corps a pass.”

“We will continue to press the case,” Mr. Bruno said. It is unclear whether that will mean asking the full circuit court to reconsider the case or making an appeal to the Supreme Court.

“Katrina victims have been thrown a lot of curveballs,” said Pierce O’Donnell, a lawyer for plaintiffs in the case.

    New Ruling on Katrina Favors Corps of Engineers, NYT, 24.9.2012,






How Green Was My Lawn


September 20, 2012
The New York Times


Stony Brook, N.Y.

FIFTY years ago this month Rachel Carson, already a best-selling writer, published “Silent Spring,” the book many credit with inspiring the modern environmental movement. Nowadays, when environmental causes are often under political siege, it bears remembering that they were once extraordinarily popular, especially where both the book and the movement were born: in the suburbs.

As modern environmentalists like to remind us, the issue is a global one: climate change, pollution and nuclear radiation know no boundaries, and Public Enemy No. 1 is often the car-centric suburban lifestyle. But anyone trying to bring new energy to the movement could learn a lesson from how activists of the 1950s and ’60s picked up on, and played off of, concerns about pollution and preservation that pervaded suburban lives and neighborhoods.

Carson’s book had deep roots in the angst and activism that stirred in the postwar Northeast suburbs, in particular a 1957 lawsuit by 13 Long Island residents over DDT spraying. In 1966, academics and a lawyer sat down in a Long Island living room with a high school teacher, students and housewives to plan the trial that would give birth to the Environmental Defense Fund.

In 1970, only eight years after “Silent Spring” appeared, Americans ranked pollution as the country’s No. 1 problem, outpolling worries about Vietnam and civil rights. And worsening pollution registered most strongly neither in rural areas nor even in cities, but in suburbs.

What drove the movement’s early suburban success? It started with activists picking up on local issues like drinking-water safety and smog, concerns that directly affected suburban dwellers but had been largely overlooked by civic leaders, from health and planning experts to homeowner associations to conservation groups.

At the same time, the movement’s early leaders didn’t see themselves as working outside the suburbs; in fact, they saw themselves as coming from traditional professional realms like medicine and science, as well as the home, into neighborly civic engagement.

They then honed a nature advocacy that was pitched not just to suburban elites, but to those in mass suburbs like Levittown, and even to those in blighted downtowns. Because they could understand the environment as an intimate part of their own lives, these suburban activists could recognize nature in places where it seemingly wasn’t — the air in slums, the soil in decrepit industrial zones — and work to protect it.

By the first Earth Day, in 1970, activists in places like Long Island and suburban Los Angeles were consolidating a popular new movement with its own distinctive agenda and name.

Today, however, climate change, perhaps the most important environmental issue of our time, rarely polls among voters’ top five concerns. One reason may be that its patently global character has enervated support at environmentalism’s suburban grass roots. But it doesn’t help that blanket condemnation of suburbs as hopelessly dependent on fossil fuels comes all too easily.

Many of today’s environmental leaders have thus steered their imaginations and energies away not just from where their own movement was born, but from where a still-growing majority of Americans actually live.

Today’s movement, then, should reframe climate change as a local issue, one in which even suburban homeowners have a vital and actionable stake.

It’s not as far-fetched as it might sound. Already, one can find suburban households, churches and homeowner associations interested in how to do things “greener,” whether it’s recycling or landscaping. The trick will be finding concerns that spark imaginations and mobilize group energies at this local level, and working from there.

True, one barrier to recapturing such civic energies and innovations is the growing fragmentation of our suburbs by class and race, which has produced a yawning “nature” gap. It’s easier for wealthier neighborhoods, interwoven with green open space, to equate nature advocacy with neighborhood defense, while more easily affording the extra costs of green buildings and organic food, than it is for poor neighborhoods, whether in the city or the suburbs.

And yet this disparity offers an avenue for a revivified, close-to-home environmental altruism. Slums and industrial zones, so often the exclusive focus of environmental justice advocates, could also attract attention from newly energized activists in the suburbs, where these types of sites are increasingly found.

Wherever today’s activists choose to take the environmental movement, if the causes it espouses are to achieve the popularity they once enjoyed, then a return to its suburban foundations is absolutely vital. Taking a page from the origins of “Silent Spring” would be a good start.


Christopher C. Sellers is an associate professor of history at Stony Brook University

and the author of “Crabgrass Crucible: Suburban Nature

and the Rise of Environmentalism in Twentieth-Century America.”

    How Green Was My Lawn, NYT, 20.9.2012,






Project Aims to Harness the Power of Waves


September 3, 2012
The New York Times


PORTLAND, Ore. — About 15 years ago, this environmentally conscious state with a fir tree on its license plates began pushing the idea of making renewable energy from the ocean waves that bob and swell on the Pacific horizon. But then one of the first test-buoy generators, launched with great fanfare, promptly sank. It was not a good start.

But time and technology turned the page, and now the first commercially licensed grid-connected wave-energy device in the nation, designed by a New Jersey company, Ocean Power Technologies, is in its final weeks of testing before a planned launch in October. The federal permit for up to 10 generators came last month, enough, the company says, to power about 1,000 homes. When engineers are satisfied that everything is ready, a barge will carry the 260-ton pioneer to its anchoring spot about two and a half miles offshore near the city of Reedsport, on the central coast.

“All eyes are on the O.P.T. buoy,” said Jason Busch, the executive director of the Oregon Wave Energy Trust, a nonprofit state-financed group that has spent $10 million in the last six years on scientific wave-energy research and grants, including more than $430,000 to Ocean Power Technologies alone. Making lots of electricity on the buoy and getting it to shore to turn on lights would be great, Mr. Busch said. Riding out the storm-tossed seas through winter? Priceless. “It has to survive,” he said.

Adding to the breath-holding nature of the moment, energy experts and state officials said, is that Oregon is also in the final stages of a long-term coastal mapping and planning project that is aiming to produce, by late this year or early next, a blueprint for where wave energy could be encouraged or discouraged based on potential conflicts with fishing, crabbing and other marine uses.

The project’s leader, Paul Klarin, said wave technology is so new, compared to, say, wind energy, that the designs are like a curiosity shop — all over the place in creative thinking about how to get the energy contained in a wave into a wire in a way that is cost-effective and efficient.

“Some are on the seabed on the ocean floor, some are in the water column, some are sitting on the surface, some project up from the surface into the atmosphere, like wind — many different sizes, many different forms, many different footprints,” said Mr. Klarin, the marine program coordinator at the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development. “There’s no one-size-fits-all kind of plan.”

Energy development groups around the world are closely watching what happens here, because success or failure with the first United States commercial license could affect the flow of private investment by bigger companies that have mostly stayed on the shore while smaller entrepreneurs struggled in the surf. Ocean Power Technologies also will be seeking money to build more generators.

“Wave energy is very expensive to develop, and they need to see that there is a potential worldwide,” said António Sarmento, a professor at Lisbon Technical University and the director of the Wave Energy Centre, a private nonprofit group based in Portugal. “In that sense, having the first commercial deployment in the U.S. is very, very positive.”

Here in Oregon, the momentum of research appears to be increasing. Last month, the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center — financed by the United States Department of Energy in collaboration with Oregon State University and the University of Washington — deployed one of the first public wave energy testing systems in the nation, called Ocean Sentinel, about two and a half hours from Portland, in Newport. The first device tested was a half-scale prototype from a New Zealand company.

Fishing industry lobbyists and lawyers worry that a surge of wave energy could repeat what happened when hydroelectricity came to the Pacific Northwest in a big way starting in the 1930s. Builders then did not think through the dense ecological web that nature had devised around the tens of millions of salmon — suddenly blocked from their inland spawning routes — that had over millenniums become a cornerstone species for everything from bears to birds.

“Our greatest concern is that they don’t do what they did with dams — put a lot of them in the ocean and then just stand back and see what happens,” said John Holloway, the secretary of Oregon Anglers, a political action committee for recreational fishing. “We’re advocating a go-slow approach.”

What has not changed is that the Pacific Northwest still has a siren song for wave-energy dreamers in the big, consistent rolling ocean swells that define offshore waters — and make many a boater seasick — from Northern California through Washington State.

“Wave energy is essentially an accumulation of wind energy,” Charles F. Dunleavy, the chief executive at Ocean Power Technologies, said in a telephone interview. In the northern Pacific, he said, consistent winds fuel consistent waves, and the distance they travel in their rolling line creates a huge area of wave energy, or fetch, that a bobbing buoy can capture. Other places with good fetch include some areas off the coasts of Western Europe and South America.

But the project also hinges on squeezing out the tiniest of incremental efficiencies in tapping the waves as they come. On the Ocean Power Technologies buoy, which looks like a giant cannon stuffed with electronics, company engineers pursued an insight that sailors have known in their sea legs since the days of Odysseus: every wave is different.

The onboard computer in each buoy, in communication with an array of small devices called wave riders that float farther out in the ocean, adapts, or “tunes” to each incoming wave, adjusting the way the giant internal shaft rides up and down as the swell passes through. The up-and-down motion of the shaft creates the electricity, which goes to shore through a seabed cable.

In a nod to environmental concerns, the buoy was redesigned to remove all hydraulic fluids, which some critics feared could contaminate the water in the event of an accident; rack-and-pinion gears now drive the mechanics. The three anchoring tethers, said Michael G. Kelly, the vice president of operations at Ocean Power Technologies, were also built to withstand a 100-year storm, but also with enough redundancies that even if two anchors failed the third would be enough to keep the buoy in place.

    Project Aims to Harness the Power of Waves, NYT, 3.9.2012,












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