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




A photograph floats just below the surface of a flooded street

in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy

on Oct. 30 in Massapequa, N.Y.


Photograph: Jason DeCrow

Associated Press


Boston Globe > Big Picture > Hurricane Sandy: The Superstorm

October 31, 2012
















A Record Worth Wilting For:

Death Valley Is Hotter Than ...


December 28, 2012
The New York Times


FURNACE CREEK, Calif. — For Death Valley, a place that embraces its extremes, this has long been an affront: As furnace-hot as it gets here, it could not lay claim to being the hottest place on earth. That honor, as it were, has gone since 1922 to a city on the northwestern tip of Libya.

Until now. After a yearlong investigation by a team of climate scientists, the World Meteorological Organization, the climate agency of the United Nations, announced this fall that it was throwing out a reading of 136.4 degrees claimed by the city of Al Aziziyah on Sept. 13, 1922. It made official what anyone who has soldiered through a Death Valley summer afternoon here could attest to. There is no place hotter in the world. A 134-degree reading registered on July 10, 1913, at Greenland Ranch here is now the official world record.

And while people were not quite jumping up and down at the honor, the 134-degree reading has inspired the kind of civic pride that for most communities might come with having a winning Little League baseball team.

“For those of us who survive here in the summer, it was no surprise that it’s the hottest place on the world,” said Charlie Callaghan, a Death Valley National Park ranger who personally recorded a 129-degree day here a few years back.

The opening wall panel in a new exhibition at the National Park Service visitor center off Highway 190 has been unveiled with a burst of superlatives: “Hottest. Driest. Lowest.” (Lowest refers to a spot in Death Valley, Badwater Basin, which at 282 feet below sea level is the lowest place in North America.)

Promotional leaflets that still boast of Death Valley as being merely the hottest place in the United States are being rewritten, and resort owners say they are girding for a crush of heat-seeking visitors come next summer. There is even talk of having an official 100-year celebration of the record-setting measurement next July.

“It’s about time for science, but I think we all knew it was coming,” said Randy Banis, the editor of DeathValley.com, an online newsletter promoting the valley. “You don’t underestimate Death Valley. Most of us enthusiasts are proud that the extremes that we have known about at Death Valley are indeed the most harsh on earth.”

Still, the designation was a momentous event among this nation’s community of climatologists — or, as some of them proudly refer to themselves, “weather geeks” — the climax of a long debate set off by a blog item written by Christopher C. Burt, a meteorologist with Weather Underground. Mr. Burt cited numerous reasons to be suspicious of the Libyan claim, which he described in an interview the other day as “completely garbage.”

“The more we looked at it, the more obvious it appeared to be an error,” he said.

Mr. Burt brought his blog post to the attention of members of the World Meteorological Organization. Randall S. Cerveny, a geology professor at Arizona State University who holds the title rapporteur of climate extremes for the World Climate Organization, appointed a committee of 13 climatologists, including himself and Mr. Burt, to resolve what can often be tricky disputes.

“There are a lot of places that do like these records,” he said. “It can be a source of pride for that country or a source of contention for other countries. Politics unfortunately is going to play a role sometime in the determining of these records.”

It took a year to investigate the claim — the inquiry was hampered by the revolution in Libya, which resulted in the temporary disappearance of a Libyan scientist who was central to the work. The final report found five reasons to disqualify the Libya claim, including questionable instruments, an inexperienced observer who made the reading and the fact that the reading was anomalous for that region and in the context of other temperatures reported in Libya that day.

“The W.M.O. assessment is that the highest recorded surface temperature of 56.7 degrees C (134 degrees F) was measured on 10 July 1913” in Death Valley, the report said.

The announcement was made on Sept. 11, the same day as the attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, and thus drew little notice.

Though it is easy to forget on days when it is so hot that people dare not step out of their cars, part of the allure of Death Valley has always been — besides the staggering beauty of its canyons, mountains and sunsets — the sheer challenge of visiting it.

“I think there might be such a thing as a weather tourist,” Mr. Burt said. “I may be one.”

Ben Cassell, who runs the Panamint Springs Resort on the west side of Death Valley, said that even before the long-awaited official recognition, his summer rooms typically were booked up by the spring, mainly by Europeans seeking temperatures they cannot find back home.

“The Europeans love to visit in the summer when it is the hottest,” he said. “The Americans tend to go in the spring for the flowers.”

The European tourists, he said, “definitely are looking for the extreme.”

“We get people who get upset that today it’s 120, and the day before they got here it was 121,” he said. “They want to have bragging rights.”

Mr. Callaghan, who would know, said there most certainly was a difference between 115 degrees and, say, 125 degrees.

“You kind of get used to the 115s, the 120s,” he said. “Once it gets above 120, 125, it’s just downright miserable. It’s just so excruciatingly hot. You don’t walk outside your air-conditioned car or your office. You don’t want to have jewelry on because you feel the burning on the ears. Your eyes, your eyebrows, feel real hot.”

Truth be told, it was hard to think of Death Valley in all its hot glory on a visit the weekend before Christmas. The thermometer outside the Ranch at Furnace Creek — which measures up to 140 — read a chilly 55 degrees. People could be seen on canyon hiking trails clothed in scarfs and parkas.

“There’s no normal or abnormal,” said Bob Greenberg, a ranger on duty. “But if it gets anywhere near freezing, you hear a lot of whining around here.”

For what it is worth, Mr. Burt said he had issues as well with the Death Valley claim of 134 degrees, and suspects it may be wrong. “It’s anomalous, even for Death Valley,” he said.

But no matter. Even if 134-Death Valley goes the way of 136.4-Libya, the temperature has most assuredly reached 129 degrees here in Furnace Creek at least three times, one of them recorded by Mr. Callaghan. And 129 is just as much a world record as 134.

“Death Valley would still win, so to speak, even if the 134 was erroneous,” Mr. Burt said.

    A Record Worth Wilting For: Death Valley Is Hotter Than ..., NYT, 28.12.2012,






Time to Confront Climate Change


December 27, 2012
The New York Times


Four years ago, in sharp contrast to the torpor and denial of the George W. Bush years, President Obama described climate change as one of humanity’s most pressing challenges and pledged an all-out effort to pass a cap-and-trade bill limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

Then came one roadblock after another. Congress did not pass a climate bill, cap-and-trade became a dirty word, and, with the 2012 elections approaching, climate change disappeared from the president’s vocabulary. He spoke about green jobs and clean energy but not about why these were necessary. In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, he spoke only obliquely about the threat of rising seas and extreme weather events, both of which scientists have linked to a warming climate.

Since his re-election, Mr. Obama has agreed to foster a “conversation” on climate change and an “education process” about long-term steps to address it. He needs to do a good deal more than that. Intellectually, Mr. Obama grasps the problem as well as anyone. The question is whether he will bring the powers of the presidency to bear on the problem.

Enlisting market forces in the fight against global warming by putting a price on carbon — through cap-and-trade or a direct tax — seems out of the question for this Congress. But there are weapons at Mr. Obama’s disposal that do not require Congressional approval and could go a long way to reducing emissions and reasserting America’s global leadership.

One imperative is to make sure that natural gas — which this nation has in abundance and which emits only half the carbon as coal — can be extracted without risk to drinking water or the atmosphere. This may require national legislation to replace the often porous state regulations. Another imperative is to invest not only in familiar alternative energy sources like wind and solar power, but also in basic research, next-generation nuclear plants and experimental technologies that could smooth the path to a low-carbon economy.

Mr. Obama’s most promising near-term strategy may be to invoke the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority under the Clean Air Act to limit emissions from stationary sources, chiefly power plants.

The agency has already taken a step in that direction by proposing strict emission standards for new power plants that virtually ensure that no new coal-fired plants will be built unless they capture their carbon emissions, which would require employing new technologies that have not been proved on a commercial scale. But that leaves the bigger problem of what to do with existing coal-fired power plants, which still generate roughly 40 percent of the nation’s power and obviously cannot be shut down quickly or by fiat.

The Natural Resources Defense Council recently proposed an innovative scheme that would set overall emissions targets but let the individual states — and the utilities that operate in them — figure out how to meet them by making their boilers more efficient, switching to cleaner fuels or by subsidizing energy efficiency and encouraging reduced consumption by individuals and businesses.

Any such regulations are likely to be strongly opposed by industry and will require real persistence on the administration’s part. If Mr. Obama takes this approach, he will certainly need a determined leader at E.P.A. to devise and carry out the rules. Lisa Jackson, the E.P.A. administrator who on Thursday announced her resignation after four productive years in one of the federal government’s most thankless jobs, was just such a leader.

She suffered setbacks — most notably the White House’s regrettable decision to overrule her science-based proposal to update national health standards for ozone, or smog. But she accomplished much, including tougher standards for power plant emissions of mercury and other air toxics, new health standards for soot, and, most important, her agency’s finding that carbon dioxide and five other gases that contribute to global warming constituted a danger to public health and could thus be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

That ruling, known as the endangerment finding, made possible the administration’s historic new emissions standards for cars and light trucks. It also provided the basis for the first steps toward regulating emissions from new power plants, and, possibly, further steps requiring existing plants to reduce global warming pollution.

In 2009, at the climate summit meeting in Copenhagen, Mr. Obama pledged to reduce this country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. This seemed an impossible goal once Congress rejected the cap-and-trade bill. But the increased use of cheap natural gas, the new fuel standards, the mercury rules and other factors have already put this country on track for a 10 percent reduction by 2020.

By some estimates, reaching the 17 percent goal is well within Mr. Obama’s grasp. He has the means at hand to seize it.

    Time to Confront Climate Change, NYT, 27.12.2012,






Solar Panels for Every Home


December 12, 2012
The New York Times


WE don’t think much about pitch pine poles until storms like Hurricane Sandy litter our landscape with their splintered corpses and arcing power lines. Crews from as far away as California and Quebec have worked feverishly to repair or replace those poles as utility companies rebuild their distribution systems the way they were before.

Residents of New Jersey and New York have lived through three major storms in the past 16 months, suffering through sustained blackouts, closed roads and schools, long gas lines and disrupted lives, all caused by the destruction of our electric system. When our power industry is unable to perform its most basic mission of supplying safe, affordable and reliable power, we need to ask whether it is really sensible to run the 21st century by using an antiquated and vulnerable system of copper wires and wooden poles.

Some of our neighbors have taken matters into their own hands, purchasing portable gas-powered generators in order to give themselves varying degrees of “grid independence." But these dirty, noisy and expensive devices have no value outside of a power failure. And they’re not much help during a failure if gasoline is impossible to procure.

Having spent our careers in and around the power industry, we believe there is a better way to secure grid independence for our homes and businesses. (Disclosure: Mr. Crane’s company, based in Princeton, N.J., generates power from coal, natural gas, and nuclear, wind and solar energy.) Solar photovoltaic technology can significantly reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and our dependence on the grid. Electricity-producing photovoltaic panels installed on houses, on the roofs of warehouses and big box stores and over parking lots can be wired so that they deliver power when the grid fails.

Solar panels have dropped in price by 80 percent in the past five years and can provide electricity at a cost that is at or below the current retail cost of grid power in 20 states, including many of the Northeast states. So why isn’t there more of a push for this clean, affordable, safe and inexhaustible source of electricity?

First, the investor-owned utilities that depend on the existing system for their profits have little economic interest in promoting a technology that empowers customers to generate their own power. Second, state regulatory agencies and local governments impose burdensome permitting and siting requirements that unnecessarily raise installation costs. Today, navigating the regulatory red tape constitutes 25 percent to 30 percent of the total cost of solar installation in the United States, according to data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and, as such, represents a higher percentage of the overall cost than the solar equipment itself.

In Germany, where sensible federal rules have fast-tracked and streamlined the permit process, the costs are considerably lower. It can take as little as eight days to license and install a solar system on a house in Germany. In the United States, depending on your state, the average ranges from 120 to 180 days. More than one million Germans have installed solar panels on their roofs, enough to provide close to 50 percent of the nation’s power, even though Germany averages the same amount of sunlight as Alaska. Australia also has a streamlined permitting process and has solar panels on 10 percent of its homes. Solar photovoltaic power would give America the potential to challenge the utility monopolies, democratize energy generation and transform millions of homes and small businesses into energy generators. Rational, market-based rules could turn every American into an energy entrepreneur. That transition to renewable power could create millions of domestic jobs and power in this country with American resourcefulness, initiative and entrepreneurial energy while taking a substantial bite out of the nation’s emissions of greenhouse gases and other dangerous pollutants.

As we restore crucial infrastructure after the storm, let’s build an electricity delivery system that is more resilient, clean, democratic and reliable than the one that Sandy washed away. We can begin by eliminating the regulatory hurdles impeding solar generation and use incentives like the renewable energy tax credit — which Congress seems poised to eliminate — to balance the subsidies enjoyed by fossil fuel producers.

And as we rebuild the tens of thousands of houses and commercial buildings damaged and destroyed by the storm, let’s incorporate solar power arrays and other clean energy technologies in their designs, and let’s allow them to be wired so they still are generating even when the centralized grid system is down.

We have the technology. The economics makes sense. All we need is the political will.


David Crane is the president of NRG, an energy company.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is a senior attorney

for the Natural Resources Defense Council and president of Waterkeeper Alliance.

    Solar Panels for Every Home, NYT, 12.12.2012,






Water Piped to Denver Could Ease Stress on River


December 9, 2012
The New York Times


The federal government has come up with dozens of ways to enhance the diminishing flow of the Colorado River, which has long struggled to keep seven states and roughly 25 million people hydrated.

Among the proposals in a report by the Bureau of Reclamation, parts of which leaked out in advance of its expected release this week, are traditional solutions to water shortages, like decreasing demand through conservation and increasing supply through reuse or desalination projects.

But also in the mix, and expected to remain in the final draft of the report, is a more extreme and contentious approach. It calls for building a pipeline from the Missouri River to Denver, nearly 600 miles to the west. Water would be doled out as needed along the route in Kansas, with the rest ultimately stored in reservoirs in the Denver area.

Experts say the plan is reminiscent of those proposed in the middle of the last century, when grand and exorbitant federal water projects were commonplace — and not, with the benefit of hindsight, always advisable.

The fact that the Missouri River pipeline idea made the final draft, water experts say, shows how serious the problem has become for the states of the Colorado River basin. “I pooh-poohed this kind of stuff back in the 1960s,” said Chuck Howe, a water policy expert and emeritus professor of economics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “But it’s no longer totally unrealistic. Currently, one can say ‘It’s worth a careful look.’ ”

The pipeline would provide the Colorado River basin with 600,000 acre-feet of water annually, which could serve roughly a million single-family homes. But the loss of so much water from the Missouri and Mississippi River systems, which require flows high enough to sustain large vessel navigation, would most likely face strong political opposition.

“If this gets any traction at all, people in the flyover states of the Missouri River basin probably will scream,” said Burke W. Griggs, the counsel for the Kansas Agriculture Department’s division of water resources. But, he added, the proposal “shows you the degree to which water-short entities in the Colorado River basin are willing to go to get water” from elsewhere, rather than fight each other over dwindling supplies, as they have intermittently for about a century.

The new report addresses the adequacy of water supplies over the next 50 years in the Colorado basin, which includes the central and southern Rocky Mountains, the deserts of the Southwest and Southern California. The study, the officials said, will serve as a road map for future federal action in collaboration with the Colorado River basin states.

The Denver Post described the pipeline option in an article last week.

As far as future water supplies go, the outlook is not good. Most Colorado River water is currently used for agriculture, but that is beginning to shift as the cities of the Southwest continue to grow.

The effects of climate change could result in less precipitation over the Rockies, further stressing the supply.

Existing agreements among the states that depend on the river oblige those in the upper basin (including Colorado, Utah and Wyoming) to provide a specified amount of flow downstream. The fear, Professor Howe said, is that there will not be enough Colorado water for all, and that downstream states like Arizona and California will nonetheless call for their usual deliveries from the upstream states, renewing old water wars.

To avert that, new sources of supply or a sharp reduction in demand would be required.

Rose Davis, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation, said that during the course of the study, the analysis done on climate change and historical data led the agency “to an acknowledged gap” between future demand and future supply as early as the middle of this century.

That is when they put out a call for broader thinking to solve the water problem. “When we did have that wake-up call, we threw open the doors and said, ‘Bring it on,’ ” she said. “Nothing is too silly.”

Jason Bane of Western Resource Advocates, a conservation organization based in Boulder, Colo., described the Missouri pipeline option as “fundamentally 20th-century water-policy thinking that doesn’t work in the 21st century.” He added, “We clearly need to conserve and be more efficient with the water we have.”

It is unclear how much such a pipeline project would cost, though estimates run into the billions of dollars. That does not include the cost of the new electric power that would be needed (along with the construction of new generating capacity) to pump the water uphill from Leavenworth, Kan., to the front range reservoirs serving Denver, about a mile above sea level, according to Sharlene Leurig, an expert on water-project financing at Ceres, a nonprofit group based in Boston that works with investors to promote sustainability.

If the Denver area had this new source of water to draw on, it could reduce the supplies that come from the Colorado River basin on the other side of the Continental Divide.

But Mr. Griggs and some federal officials said that the approval of such a huge water project remained highly unlikely.

Ms. Leurig noted that local taxpayers and utility customers would be shouldering most of the expense of such a venture through their tax and water bills, which would make conservation a more palatable alternative.

    Water Piped to Denver Could Ease Stress on River, NYT, 9.12.2012,






Lower Manhattan Residents and Businesses

Still Grapple With Recovery


December 9, 2012
The New York Times


In the streets that surround the New York Stock Exchange, the air is filled with the odor of generator fuel and frustration over the slogging recovery from Hurricane Sandy.

Along the water-damaged blocks below Wall Street and around the South Street Seaport, small businesses are closed or are limping along without phone service, their regular customers, and, in some cases, their employees, who were laid off just before the holidays.

There is no official tally, but local leaders estimated that a few thousand small businesses had been shuttered or were operating at less than full strength since the storm and that as many as 10,000 jobs had been lost, at least temporarily. About 3,000 apartments in Lower Manhattan remain uninhabitable, according to Daniel L. Squadron, a Democratic state senator who represents the area.

“We’re really in disaster recovery mode down here, there’s no question about that,” said Ro Sheffe, who will lead a disaster-relief task force for small businesses in Community Board 1.

Mr. Sheffe, who has lived near the World Trade Center for 19 years, said he feared the financial district would fall into a slump, as it did after the terrorist attacks 11 years ago.

“The nightmare I’m fighting day and night is this vision of the downtown area filled with empty shops and ‘for rent’ signs,” Mr. Sheffe said. “That’s something that we saw after September 11 and I never want to see it again.”

Among the obstacles to recovery is the slow restoration of phone and Internet service, business owners and city officials said. Many merchants have been able to accept only cash payments for more than a month, an inconvenience they are loath to impose on the customers trickling in.

At Pizza Pizza N.Y.C. on Pearl Street, Eddie, the only person behind the counter one recent afternoon, has been giving his personal cellphone number to customers who want to call in for slices or pies. The restaurant is surrounded by generators and trailers providing heat and water to neighboring buildings and could not take orders on its Web site.

Many of the displaced workers had been in the business of feeding the hordes of people who work on and around Wall Street. Marcia Gordon was one.

Ms. Gordon, 55, had worked in the cafeteria at 4 New York Plaza for 26 years until Hurricane Sandy sloshed ashore. She and 40 others who worked for the Aramark food-service company in that building or the cafeteria at 55 Water Street are now collecting unemployment benefits and waiting to hear when they will be able to work again.

“What I’m getting from unemployment can’t even make my rent,” said Ms. Gordon, who said she paid $1,550 a month for her home in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn.

Guests at the New York Marriott Downtown near the 9/11 Memorial could not order room service more than a month after the storm. The restaurant and bar in the lobby had been so wrecked by flooding from the storm that the Marriott shut them and laid off all 38 of their employees.

Amanda Byron Zink has been trying to keep her dog-grooming business going even though her shop, the Salty Paw in South Street Seaport, could be washed out for months, and possibly for good. Ms. Zink and some of the groomers who worked in her shop have been operating temporarily from the basement of an animal hospital near the Seaport, but she said they “can only do little guys” because they only have a small sink to bathe the dogs in.

The Salty Paw was in the Historic Front Street development, which took on so much water that it will be closed for months. The complex of shops and apartments was powered by a set of geothermal wells drilled deep into the bedrock of Manhattan. The flood water, which Ms. Zink said rose to 11 feet in her ground-level salon, swamped the heating and electrical systems in the basement, she said.

Ms. Zink said she had received no payments from her insurance company even though she was covered for business interruption. Like most of the small businesses around hers, she had no flood insurance.

She said she had applied for a grant from the Downtown Alliance but learnedthat she would receive it only if she reopened in the same location within a few months, which seems impossible. The only other sources of financial assistance are loans, but she said she was reluctant to borrow more for a business whose future was so uncertain.

A 17-year resident of the neighborhood, Ms. Zink has been living with her husband and two young sons out of hotel rooms paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency since the storm drove them from their apartment on South Street. Hurricane Sandy arrived on her older son’s fourth birthday. She had hoped in vain to get back into their apartment before her younger son’s birthday over the weekend.

“Now, my goal is to get home before Christmas,” she said.

Even some businesses that were able to get back into their buildings quickly after the storm are suffering. In Fidelifacts at 42 Broadway, only 2 of 16 phone lines were working last week, preventing the firm’s employees from performing background checks on clients’ prospective hires. Thomas Norton, the president, said he had to let a few workers go because “business is down, there’s no question about it.”

Verizon said the saltwater that poured into Lower Manhattan had ruined most of the old copper wiring that ran under the streets. The company’s executives had been telling elected officials that it could take three or four more months to fully restore those connections. But Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said last week that he told Verizon’s chief executive that the answer was unacceptable.

Mr. Squadron, the state senator, said some of his constituents had expressed concern that Verizon was taking so long because it wanted to switch them over to FIOS, its network of fiber-optic cables that deliver phone, television and Internet service. Mr. Squadron said he had been assured that laying the fiber would take no longer than replacing the copper wires, but he said he did not know if that was true.

“We’re making sure that Verizon is doing this absolutely as quickly as possible so that people can be wired again,” Mr. Squadron said.

Residents of some of the luxury buildings downtown are also struggling to get their lives back to normal.

Some tenants at 1 West Street, who pay as much as $3,500 a month for one-bedroom apartments, said they would use the landlord’s response to the storm as grounds to break their leases. Those who wanted to return were allowed back into their homes 10 days ago. They immediately lodged complaints, saying elevators were operating erratically, they lacked heat and there was a persistent odor of oil on the upper floors.

A spokesman for the building’s owner, the Moinian Group, acknowledged that “some tenants were stuck” in an elevator last week and that “a smell lingers in some locations,” but said the landlord would try to “get the smell out of the walls and hallways” and clean the carpets this week.

“They still expect us to pay what we signed our lease for, but let’s be very clear, this building is not the same building post-Sandy,” said Laura Takasaki, who lives on the 30th floor.

Margaret S. Chin, a city councilwoman who represents the area, has expressed concern about diesel generators fouling the air. In a letter she sent on Friday to Joseph Martens, the state commissioner of environmental conservation, Ms. Chin invoked post-Sept. 11 air quality hazards and said, “We cannot leave it to private entities involved with cleanup to assure residents that the air is safe to breathe.”

    Lower Manhattan Residents and Businesses Still Grapple With Recovery, NYT, 9.12.2012,






At Climate Talks, a Struggle Over Aid for Poorer Nations


December 5, 2012
The New York Times


DOHA, Qatar — The United Nations climate conference here has settled into its typical doldrums, with most major questions unresolved as a Friday evening deadline for concluding the talks approaches. One of the thorniest issues is money, which has often bedeviled these affairs.

Since the process for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change began about 20 years ago, countries have been split into two often-warring camps: the small number of wealthy nations that provide money to help deal with the effects of global warming, and the much larger group of poorer states that receive it.

At a climate summit meeting in Copenhagen three years ago, the industrialized countries promised to secure $10 billion a year in funds for adapting to climate change over the following three years and $100 billion a year beginning in 2020. The short-term money has more or less been raised and spent, although some nations have quarreled over whether it was new money or simply repurposed foreign aid. A Green Climate Fund has been established to handle the money after 2020.

Left unclear was whether money would flow from 2013 to 2020. That is what negotiators from about 190 countries are fighting about here.

And it is a particularly difficult time for the donor nations to find new money. The United States, which traditionally provides about a quarter of such international finance, is teetering on a fiscal precipice, and few in Washington are thinking about finding several billion dollars to help sub-Saharan Africa or precarious island nations cope with drought and rising seas.

Jonathan Pershing, the State Department’s deputy special envoy for climate change, said Wednesday that the United States had “every intention” of finding money for climate adaptation. But he pointedly noted that in the United States, “like most places, the budgeting process is complicated.”

Pete Betts, the principal climate negotiator for the European Union, said that Europe would continue to provide climate money. But he, too, noted, “These are tough financial times, and many states are in difficult circumstances, so we won’t be in a position to state our target for 2015.”

This reticence by richer countries annoys the recipient countries, which see it as avoiding responsibility for decades of uncontrolled emissions that now threaten the health of the planet.

Some, like Brazil, raise legalistic objections that the wealthier countries promised in previous agreements to provide a steady flow of such financing.

André Corrêa do Lago, the chief Brazilian delegate, said, “There is a very different interpretation between developed and developing countries, which is natural because some are giving the money and some are getting the money.”

He said that most developing countries had believed that the roughly $10 billion a year in short-term money would be replaced by a gradual increase until 2020. He said he was sympathetic to the budget problems of Europe and the United States, but he also said that unless the donor countries promised to keep up their support, Brazil and other countries would not allow the negotiating process to go forward.

“If at the end you don’t, it’s a very frustrating exercise,” he said.

The most impassioned voices, as usual, are representatives of poor African nations and of low-lying island states threatened with being swamped by rising seas.

“Please, ladies and gentlemen,” the delegate from Nauru, a Pacific island nation, pleaded to the assembly, “show me on a map which countries you think are expendable.”

Todd D. Stern, the senior American diplomat here, said the United States understood the impatience and frustration of its negotiating partners from the developing world. Addressing the conference on Wednesday, he said that different countries had different abilities to cope with a changing climate and to find the money to adapt. He said that the United States was willing to discuss the concepts of equity and “common but differentiated responsibilities,” terms that carry heavy emotional and historical baggage at these gatherings.

In what was read by many here as a shift in tone, Mr. Stern said that such notions would be central to the outcome of a new global climate change treaty that is supposed to be concluded by 2015 and take effect in 2020 under an agreement reached in Durban, South Africa, a year ago.

“The United States would welcome such a discussion, because unless we can find common ground on that principle and the way in which it should apply in the world of the 2020s, we won’t succeed in producing a new Durban Platform agreement,” Mr. Stern said. “And we have to succeed.”



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: December 8, 2012

An article on Thursday about international climate change negotiations in Doha, Qatar, referred imprecisely to a pledge made by industrialized countries three years ago to help poorer nations adjust to climate change. While the countries agreed to secure funds, a mix of government and private financing, for that purpose, they did not agree to provide directly all of the money pledged.

    At Climate Talks, a Struggle Over Aid for Poorer Nations, NYT, 5.12.2012,






Obama Asking Congress for $60.4 Billion

to Help States Recover From Storm


December 7, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama proposed a $60.4 billion emergency spending bill on Friday to finance recovery efforts in areas pummeled by Hurricane Sandy, a sum that White House officials called a “robust” investment in the region but that was far less than what the states had requested.

The spending plan would pay for most, but not all, of the $82 billion in damage identified by the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, helping homeowners and small-business owners rebuild, repairing subway and other transit systems, replenishing eroded beaches and reimbursing governments for the cost of police, fire and other services.

The president’s plan would not cover several big-ticket items sought by state governments. It would not pay for damage already covered by private insurance and would extend aid only to primary residences. While small businesses would be eligible for help, larger private firms like Consolidated Edison would not.

The plan also assumes that states will have to pay about 10 percent of the cost of any repair and mitigation projects that are approved, even though they asked the federal government to cover 100 percent.

The proposal now goes to Congress, where it is likely to become the focus of a fight between fiscal conservatives seeking to limit federal spending and lawmakers from storm-battered areas bent on obtaining even more than what Mr. Obama proposed. Mr. Obama proposed no spending cuts elsewhere to pay the cost, arguing that such emergencies typically do not require offsetting measures.

Leaders from New York, New Jersey and other hard-hit states generally welcomed the proposal, even though it fell short of what they were seeking to clean up storm damage and prepare for future storms. The White House increased the overall spending request from the $45 billion to $55 billion estimated earlier in the week, attributing the change to more information received about the extent of the damage.

Govs. Andrew M. Cuomo, Democrat of New York, and Chris Christie, Republican of New Jersey, spent much of Friday negotiating the final package with the White House. In a joint statement, they praised the proposal, saying “it enables our states to recover, repair and rebuild better and stronger than before.”

Two New York lawmakers leading a hurricane recovery task force — Representatives Peter T. King, a Long Island Republican, and Nita M. Lowey, a Democrat from Westchester County — expressed support for the White House proposal but left open the possibility that additional financing might be sought.

“While more may be needed in the long term,” they said, “this robust package is a major first step that we will work to pass as quickly as possible in Congress to help devastated communities, families and businesses.”

In a joint statement, Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York and Frank R. Lautenberg and Robert Menendez of New Jersey echoed the sentiment. The senators, all Democrats, described the White House proposal as “a very good start” but noted that more aid may be “necessary as our states’ needs become more clear.”

Mr. Obama’s proposal seeks to finance an assortment of projects and programs reflecting the daunting array of storm-related needs. They include these items:

¶ $17 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Community Development Block Grant program to provide help to homeowners.

¶ $11.5 billion for the federal disaster relief fund that provides checks to individuals, reimbursement for government services and assistance to rebuild public facilities.

¶ $9 billion to repair and upgrade transit systems.

¶ $4 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers, which will be in charge of various projects including beach replenishment.

¶ $9 billion for flood insurance.

¶ $2 billion to repair federal facilities.

¶ $1 billion for the Small Business Administration’s aid program.

The proposal comes at a politically inopportune time, as Mr. Obama and Congressional leaders in both parties try to reach an agreement intended to avert a so-called fiscal cliff next month, when broad tax cuts are set to expire and automatic spending cuts are scheduled to go into effect.

As the White House finds itself locked in a showdown with Congressional Republicans over these broader budget concerns, it was seeking to present the storm spending request as a separate issue that does not affect the long-term health of the Treasury.

But it appears likely that the emergency spending measure will become entangled in the larger spending struggle between the White House and Republicans, who would like to maintain the upper hand on the deficit.

Some key Republicans have suggested that the aid requests should be taken up in phases, with emergency needs addressed in the current Congressional session and longer-term requests left for the new Congress that convenes next year.

But regional leaders want Congress to approve as much aid as possible before it adjourns in the coming weeks, partly because they fear there will be less urgency to act as the months pass.

    Obama Asking Congress for $60.4 Billion to Help States Recover From Storm, NYT, 7.12.2012,






To Stop Climate Change, Students Aim at College Portfolios


December 4, 2012
The New York Times


SWARTHMORE, Pa. — A group of Swarthmore College students is asking the school administration to take a seemingly simple step to combat pollution and climate change: sell off the endowment’s holdings in large fossil fuel companies. For months, they have been getting a simple answer: no.

As they consider how to ratchet up their campaign, the students suddenly find themselves at the vanguard of a national movement.

In recent weeks, college students on dozens of campuses have demanded that university endowment funds rid themselves of coal, oil and gas stocks. The students see it as a tactic that could force climate change, barely discussed in the presidential campaign, back onto the national political agenda.

“We’ve reached this point of intense urgency that we need to act on climate change now, but the situation is bleaker than it’s ever been from a political perspective,” said William Lawrence, a Swarthmore senior from East Lansing, Mich.

Students who have signed on see it as a conscious imitation of the successful effort in the 1980s to pressure colleges and other institutions to divest themselves of the stocks of companies doing business in South Africa under apartheid.

A small institution in Maine, Unity College, has already voted to get out of fossil fuels. Another, Hampshire College in Massachusetts, has adopted a broad investment policy that is ridding its portfolio of fossil fuel stocks.

“In the near future, the political tide will turn and the public will demand action on climate change,” Stephen Mulkey, the Unity College president, wrote in a letter to other college administrators. “Our students are already demanding action, and we must not ignore them.”

But at colleges with large endowments, many administrators are viewing the demand skeptically, saying it would undermine their goal of maximum returns in support of education. Fossil fuel companies represent a significant portion of the stock market, comprising nearly 10 percent of the value of the Russell 3000, a broad index of 3,000 American companies.

No school with an endowment exceeding $1 billion has agreed to divest itself of fossil fuel stocks. At Harvard, which holds the largest endowment in the country at $31 billion, the student body recently voted to ask the school to do so. With roughly half the undergraduates voting, 72 percent of them supported the demand.

“We always appreciate hearing from students about their viewpoints, but Harvard is not considering divesting from companies related to fossil fuels,” Kevin Galvin, a university spokesman, said by e-mail.

Several organizations have been working on some version of a divestment campaign, initially focusing on coal, for more than a year. But the recent escalation has largely been the handiwork of a grass-roots organization, 350.org, that focuses on climate change, and its leader, Bill McKibben, a writer turned advocate. The group’s name is a reference to what some scientists see as a maximum safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, 350 parts per million. The level is now about 390, an increase of 41 percent since before the Industrial Revolution.

Mr. McKibben is touring the country by bus, speaking at sold-out halls and urging students to begin local divestment initiatives focusing on 200 energy companies. Many of the students attending said they were inspired to do so by an article he wrote over the summer in Rolling Stone magazine, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.”

Speaking recently to an audience at the University of Vermont, Mr. McKibben painted the fossil fuel industry as an enemy that must be defeated, arguing that it had used money and political influence to block climate action in Washington. “This is no different than the tobacco industry — for years, they lied about the dangers of their industry,” Mr. McKibben said.

Eric Wohlschlegel, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, said that continued use of fossil fuels was essential for the country’s economy, but that energy companies were investing heavily in ways to emit less carbon dioxide.

In an interview, Mr. McKibben said he recognized that a rapid transition away from fossil fuels would be exceedingly difficult. But he said strong government policies to limit emissions were long overdue, and were being blocked in part by the political power of the incumbent industry.

Mr. McKibben’s goal is to make owning the stocks of these companies disreputable, in the way that owning tobacco stocks has become disreputable in many quarters. Many colleges will not buy them, for instance.

Mr. McKibben has laid out a series of demands that would get the fuel companies off 350.org’s blacklist. He wants them to stop exploring for new fossil fuels, given that they have already booked reserves about five times as large as scientists say society can afford to burn. He wants them to stop lobbying against emission policies in Washington. And he wants them to help devise a transition plan that will leave most of their reserves in the ground while encouraging lower-carbon energy sources.

“They need more incentive to make the transition that they must know they need to make, from fossil fuel companies to energy companies,” Mr. McKibben said.

Most college administrations, at the urging of their students, have been taking global warming seriously for years, spending money on steps like cutting energy consumption and installing solar panels.

The divestment demand is so new that most administrators are just beginning to grapple with it. Several of them, in interviews, said that even though they tended to agree with students on the seriousness of the problem, they feared divisive boardroom debates on divestment.

That was certainly the case in the 1980s, when the South African divestment campaign caused bitter arguments across the nation.

The issue then was whether divestment, potentially costly, would have much real effect on companies doing business in South Africa. Even today, historians differ on whether it did. But the campaign required prominent people to grapple with the morality of apartheid, altering the politics of the issue. Economic pressure from many countries ultimately helped to force the whites-only South African government to the bargaining table.

Mr. Lawrence, the Swarthmore senior, said that many of today’s students found that campaign inspirational because it “transformed what was seemingly an intractable problem.”

Swarthmore, a liberal arts college southwest of Philadelphia, is a small school with a substantial endowment, about $1.5 billion. The trustees acceded to divestment demands during that campaign, in 1986, but only after a series of confrontational tactics by students, including brief occupations of the president’s office.

The board later adopted a policy stating that it would be unlikely to take such a step again.

“The college’s policy is that the endowment is not to be invested for social purposes” beyond the obvious one of educating students, said Suzanne P. Welsh, vice president for finance at the school. “To use the endowment in support of other missions is not appropriate. It’s not what our donors have given money for.”

About a dozen Swarthmore students came up with the divestment tactic two years ago after working against the strip mining of coal atop mountains in Appalachia, asking the school to divest itself of investments in a short list of energy companies nicknamed the Sordid 16.

So far, the students have avoided confrontation. The campaign has featured a petition signed by nearly half the student body, small demonstrations and quirky art installations. The college president, a theologian named Rebecca Chopp, has expressed support for their goals but not their means.

Matters could escalate in coming months, with Swarthmore scheduled to host a February meeting — the students call it a “convergence” — of 150 students from other colleges who are working on divestment.

Students said they were well aware that the South Africa campaign succeeded only after on-campus actions like hunger strikes, sit-ins and the seizure of buildings. Some of them are already having talks with their parents about how far to go.

“When it comes down to it, the members of the board are not the ones who are inheriting the climate problem,” said Sachie Hopkins-Hayakawa, a Swarthmore senior from Portland, Ore. “We are.”


Brent Summers contributed reporting from Burlington, Vt.

    To Stop Climate Change, Students Aim at College Portfolios, NYT, 4.12.2012,






Spate of Harsh Weather in New England

Shifts Sentiment on Trees


December 3, 2012
The New York Times


WILBRAHAM, Mass. — First came the tornado, which felled five big trees and sent them crashing down on half their house, forcing Heather Mercier and Ellie Tobiasz to move into a mobile home on their property while the house was being repaired.

Several weeks later, a microburst with ferocious winds tore up another tree by its roots and smashed it into the mobile home. Three months after that, an early blizzard knocked down two more big trees, wrecking the remaining part of their house.

“You’d think we lived in Kansas,” said Ms. Mercier, 52, a retired police officer on disability. “Things like this don’t happen in western Massachusetts.”

But as residents across New England are realizing, violent, “Wizard of Oz”-like storms do happen here. And for some, the region’s sugar maples, birches and oaks — majestic towers that provide shade in the summer and colorful splendor in the fall — are no longer a source of pride but of terror.

“The branches were like daggers sticking out of my roof, through the windows, through the floors,” Ms. Mercier said.

Although Hurricane Sandy was not as destructive in New England as it was in New York and New Jersey, its high winds still blew over tens of thousands of trees in the region, pulling down utility lines and leaving millions of homeowners in the dark.

Last year, a half-dozen tornadoes — some with winds as high as 160 miles per hour — ripped through Springfield, Mass., just west of here, killing three people, injuring 200 and leaving 500 homeless. A few months later, Tropical Storm Irene decimated parts of Vermont, washing away homes, businesses and roadways, and bringing down more trees.

All of the wreckage, costing hundreds of millions of dollars, and the fear that it has engendered have led to something of a mini-war on trees here, with some property owners cutting them down pre-emptively, even when trunks and branches show no signs of weakness.

“People were envisioning having entire trees crashing down on their houses and there was a lot of panic,” said Phillip Cambo, president of Northern Tree Service, a tree-removal company that serves much of New England.

During the 2011 tornado, microburst and blizzard, he said, his phones rang off the hook. As Hurricane Sandy made its way up the Atlantic Coast a month ago, many homeowners were on the phone again.

“People are looking at trees near their homes in a different manner,” said Ed Miga, superintendent of Wilbraham’s Department of Public Works. “It’s no longer, ‘This is a nice shade tree.’ It’s ‘This tree could fall on my house.’ ”

Springfield lost tens of thousands of trees during last year’s tornadoes and early snowstorm, costing $38 million for tree cleanup alone, said Edward P. Casey, the city forester.

“When we were taking trees down after the tornadoes, people were terrified,” Mr. Casey said. “They would say, ‘Take the big one down, it’s going to crush my house,’ ” he said.

Despite the fear and damage, many residents, towns and organizations insist that having trees is worth the risk.

Trees add character and beauty to a property, of course, but they also benefit the environment, trapping carbon dioxide, one of the major contributing greenhouse gases, and releasing oxygen. And they help protect against erosion and maintain the balance of the ecosystem.

Several storm-battered towns across New England have undertaken extensive replanting programs — though many programs encourage planting smaller trees, like fruit trees and dogwoods, rather than the pines and maples that, when mature, can cause the most damage.

Many New England towns authorize local tree wardens to determine the health of shade trees and ban their removal unless they pose a hazard.

Springfield has a “significant tree ordinance” under which a homeowner needs a permit to trim or cut down any tree that is more than 36 inches in diameter or more than 75 years old, even if it is on private property, Mr. Casey said. If the tree is structurally unsound, he will issue a permit. But if it is healthy, the homeowner must petition the parks commission before trimming or removing it.

“Homeowners don’t want to accept that,” Mr. Casey said. “Some people are still angry and upset. But I leave them with the idea that if I thought the tree was dangerous, it would be removed.”

Utility companies often bear the brunt of complaints during a storm when homeowners lose power, and utilities blame the trees. “Trees are the No. 1 cause of power outages,” said Michael Durand, a spokesman for Nstar, which serves eastern Massachusetts.

Of particular concern are those trees near the big transmission lines, which carry power to thousands of customers.

In August, a tree that fell on a transmission line in Greenwich, Conn., took out power to 30,000 customers. The blackout of 2003 began when a tree fell on a transmission line in Ohio, setting off a cascade of events that shut off power to 55 million people in eight states and Canada.

Still, when Nstar started cutting down trees to clear transmission lines in Needham, a western suburb of Boston, homeowners were up in arms. The town is designated a “Tree City USA,” which means it receives assistance for forestry programs and takes great pride in the leafy canopies that shade its streets and homes.

Mark McDonough, a Needham resident and a real estate agent, said that losing the trees “changes the character of the town,” and that mature trees improve a property’s value. “It’s harder to sell a home if you have no trees,” he said.

Kim Pelletier, another Needham resident, said that a large tree fell on her property during Hurricane Sandy but that it did not hit the house and did not inspire her to cut down other trees.

“These trees have been here a lot longer than we have and they have withstood a lot so far,” she said. “You can’t safeguard against everything. Otherwise you lose the point of living.”

    Spate of Harsh Weather in New England Shifts Sentiment on Trees, NYT, 3.12.2012,






In Storm’s Debris, the Macabre


November 23, 2012
The New York Times


A forester working for New York City’s parks department made a horrifying discovery last week, beside a huge pile of fallen trees destined for the wood chipper.

A dead man.

And with that discovery on Nov. 15, add this to the huge list of troubles Hurricane Sandy has brought to the neighborhoods hit hardest: wreckage from the storm seems to have created inviting spots for killers to dump bodies.

Hours after the discovery, in Forest Park in Queens, a second body was found on storm-ravaged Rockaway Beach. Workers cleaning up around O’Donohue Park heard a shriek from one of their own, standing over a dune near the shoreline. There, a man’s elbow protruded from the cold sand.

There is no evidence the cases are related, but they appear to be the first victims discarded in the changing landscape that followed the storm’s landfall — places where people, especially the police, might not think to look.

On the beach, it was unclear how the man died. The medical examiner’s office said the case was pending further investigation. But the man had been tied up and placed in a garbage bag, and there were signs of blunt trauma and bruises, the police said. The body carried no identification, and facial-recognition testing on the corpse did not produce a match in city records.

Unauthorized vehicles are not allowed on the beach, something that may not have mattered to a killer during a blackout. But if the body was carried there, it was no small feat: from Seagirt Boulevard, the closest road, past a skateboard park and playground, over a boardwalk and several feet of sand to the dune. From the crime scene, one could look across the Rockaway Inlet out at Atlantic Beach on Long Island.

Days later, the man was identified as Shawn Rucker, 32, of Baltimore. Detectives called his relatives on Tuesday, ending three frantic weeks for them.

Mr. Rucker came to New York in early October to pursue a relationship, said Kym Ellison, 46, his sister-in-law.

He called his family in Baltimore in the hours before the storm arrived on Oct. 29, she said. “He said he’d call back the next day, and he never did,” she said. “Everybody was calling him, everybody was texting him, everybody was going on Facebook trying to get to him.”

There has been no arrest in the case.

The body found in Forest Park that morning was in a parking lot between the Seuffert Bandshell, where people go to enjoy free concerts on summer nights, and the old-fashioned Forest Park carousel, recently brought back to life after years of dormancy. After the hurricane, workers dumped fallen limbs and trees from the surrounding neighborhoods into a pile in the lot.

Woodhaven Boulevard is nearby, but the lot is accessible only by a park road. Someone saw the pile, and an opportunity for a hiding place. The body found by the forester was identified as that of Thomas Dudley, 21, and he had stab wounds in his neck and a footprint mark on his back.

Mr. Dudley lived miles from the park, in the Williamsburg, Brooklyn, apartment on Bedford Avenue where he was raised. The block had changed as much as the neighborhood, with a hip coffee shop on one side of his building’s door and a bar with an “absinthe drip” on the other.

But a rougher side of Brooklyn arrived at the door on Nov. 14, the police said. A man with a gun entered the apartment and demanded money, and when Mr. Dudley gave it to him, the man led him outside anyway, the police said. Detectives were investigating the possibility that the crime was drug related.

Mr. Dudley had a police record with marijuana and trespassing arrests, but his father, also Thomas Dudley, said he was a good young man.

“Marijuana, criminal trespass — things an average teenager would get,” the elder Mr. Dudley said. “Nothing violent. He wasn’t a really bad dude. Obviously, this was a really bad choice that he made, whatever had happened.”

Did whoever placed his body behind a new pile of wood know the Forest Park area? Or just happen upon this new pile of debris? And again, as in the case of Mr. Rucker, no arrest had been made as of Friday morning.

The parks department declined to comment while the police were investigating the two homicides.

On Tuesday, five days after the discovery in the dunes, parks workers were busy with rakes and garbage bags and lifting heavy rocks from the sand. I asked a supervisor if anyone was worried about finding another body, and he shrugged.

“You never know,” he said.

    In Storm’s Debris, the Macabre, NYT, 23.11.2012,






Day to Reflect After Bearing Storm’s Wrath


November 22, 2012
The New York Times


As with so many others living on the storm-battered coast, Audrey Shields did not know almost until the last minute whether Thanksgiving would be celebrated at her home this year, as it had nearly every fourth Thursday of November for a half-century.

Ms. Shields, who is 79 and uses a wheelchair, had not left her 14th-floor apartment in Coney Island, Brooklyn, since Hurricane Sandy washed ashore. But the previous days had offered small glimmers of hope. The electricity returned last week, though it failed intermittently. The gas returned on Tuesday, and the radiator clunked back to life on Wednesday, allowing her to cast off her layers of blankets and coats.

And even though the water stopped running again on Thursday, her apartment filled with family members willing to lug brimming buckets and gallon containers up all those flights of stairs. Sure enough, Ms. Shields, her children and their children managed once again to cook Thanksgiving dinner, preparing food until 2 a.m. the morning before. And then, before taking their seats to eat, they tightly gripped one another’s hands Thursday to pray in thanks for what they had.

“It was harder, but when you got your family and your life, you’ll make do,” Ms. Shields said, “And we did.”

The storm-tossed landscapes of New York and New Jersey were virtually unchanged from previous days, with entire waterfront communities cracked open to the elements. But after nearly a month of laboring at the basic task of survival, for the most affected residents, the arrival of the holiday provided a moment to pause, and again to take stock.

Some gathered around dinner tables, alongside family members or kindhearted strangers, to celebrate in steely defiance of life’s disruptions. Others massed in churches or high schools filled with more food and volunteers than anyone knew what to do with. And still others continued digging, cleaning, rebuilding and trying to stop the incessant invasion of mold, with the holiday serving as another painful reminder of how very far from a once-comfortable, distant normal life had become.

“How’re we going to celebrate?” Alex Tacoronte, 48, a retired police officer, said midday Thursday as he stood in his gutted house in New Dorp Beach, Staten Island. “The holidays don’t feel like the holidays.”

On a street nearby, Anthony Curro, 52, who has been relying on candles and flashlights, turned down invitations to dinners elsewhere because he wanted to stay in the neighborhood and feared that leaving could possibly encourage looters. The one thing that set this day apart was he had shaved for the first time in a week.

Yet others in the neighborhood were determined to bring cheer. Four women who said they were part of a hurricane-relief fund picked their way past half-ruined homes in New Dorp Beach, bearing food and envelopes filled with cash. A Red Cross truck wended its way through streets nearby.

“Turkey and apple pie!” a volunteer announced. “Wave to us, and we will stop!”

The truck trundled past a house where two teenagers wearing masks were hauling buckets filled with debris. They did not wave.

In Gerritsen Beach, a small seafront community in Brooklyn where many homes withstood damage in the storm, the annual Thanksgiving Ragamuffin Parade marched on. Firefighters dressed as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, the Cookie Monster and Clifford the Big Red Dog paraded to the tunes of the community’s marching band, the raucous peals of their Christmas carols a jarring contrast to the quiet blocks lined with totaled cars and vacant homes.

“Better days are coming! Better days are coming!” the bandleader, Lillybeth Hanson, cried out.

Sites that served free hot food became welcome, if fleeting, oases of luxury and warmth. The Wall Street outpost of Cipriani served 1,000 free Thanksgiving dinners on Wednesday to people bused in from neighborhoods hit hard in the Rockaways and Coney Island and on Staten Island. The food was served on white-cloth tables laden with flowers, as a jazz band played, and attendees were also given dinners to take home. Margarette Purvis, president and chief executive of the Food Bank for New York City, which bused in the attendees, said some were shocked to a standstill, asking timidly, “Are we in the right place?”

Donated Thanksgiving meals were also served Thursday on white-cloth tables, beneath brass chandeliers, to hundreds of hurricane victims at Fort Monmouth, a former military post in Monmouth County, N.J. At the buffet table, P. J. Harman, 67, who has had no electricity, gas or water since the storm, piled his plate high with sweet potatoes, green beans and chicken française. He walks with a cane, but needed two hands to carry his food to the table.

A few tables away, Joe Eskridge, 49, who works as a firefighter in Sea Bright and has been living with his family in a house rented through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the food made him feel moored for the first time in weeks. “When you’re displaced, you kind of don’t know what day it is sometimes,” he said. “But this is right, right where I belong.”

At New Dorp High School, volunteers lined up behind dozens of steaming foil trays prepared to serve Thanksgiving dinner to 600 people. Ronald Carrique, 56, showed up with his wife, daughter and son, taking a brief break from cleaning his house on Roma Avenue to enjoy the food, and not bothering to take off his jacket or headlamp.

“I haven’t had a salad in three weeks,” Mr. Carrique said, eyeing a heap of lettuce on his plate. “I’m saving it for the end. I want it to be the last thing I taste in my mouth when I leave.”

Volunteer efforts, which invariably peak at Thanksgiving and Christmas, formed their own tidal surge. In some places, food donations and offers of help seemed overmatched to need. In the East Village in Manhattan, Jessica Alfreds, a caterer, along with legions of volunteers, prepared hundreds of dinners to serve storm victims at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery. But those wishing to help ended up far outnumbering people seeking meals. As the afternoon wore on, someone called the Bowery Mission, offering food, and two volunteers said they would carry dinners to homeless people in a park nearby.

In New Jersey, Jennifer Kaufman set up a Facebook page to match host families with strangers displaced by the storm, yet she had trouble finding people in need. About 600 people offered to host, but just over 40 families had been matched up. Still, those who took up the offer were awash in gratitude.

“It’s wonderful,” said Joanne Rothermel, 69, who said she had lost everything in the storm and was hosted by Courtney Wood, 31, who lives in Bradley Beach. “You can sit down and relax and talk and not just eat and run out the door.”

In some still-recovering households, the most dogged of the storm victims were ensuring that Thanksgiving was unfolding as it always had.

Lisa Bungay, whose house on Staten Island was showing signs of mold and still did not have hot water or heat, had thought about going to a free dinner at the Excelsior Grand ballroom on Hylan Boulevard. Her daughter wanted to order Chinese, but her husband, John, would have none of it. As long as they had gas to cook with — and they did, as of Saturday — he was determined to prepare dinner for the family.

And so he got up at 7 a.m., made sure the dining table was clean and headed to the kitchen. “Why should this year be any different?” he asked, gesturing to a glistening turkey. Ms. Bungay smiled. “So what if we don’t have hot water?” she said. “My husband’s doing the dishes.”

Yet for some, even the mention of Thanksgiving was enough to provoke tears. In Long Beach, N.Y., Paulette Williams spooned butternut squash soup with her 9-year-old daughter in a large tent that had been stretched over a basketball court, where 200 turkeys were to be carved up and served by a local barbecue restaurant. Ms. Williams said she felt ashamed that she was unable to serve her daughter her Thanksgiving favorites: rice and peas, glazed ham and other Jamaican specialties. “I have failed as a parent,” she said, tears streaming down her face.

As the day drew to a close, it was back to a cold, dark reality for many.

After getting his fill at Fort Monmouth, Mr. Harman journeyed by free shuttle bus back to his home in Sea Bright, hobbling past sand dunes washed inland and hulking piles of ruined dishwashers, washing machines and refrigerators.

He climbed his way to his cold and cluttered second-floor apartment. Canned goods awaited him, piled high on the dining-room table — chicken potpie, beef stew and clam chowder — his usual dinners these days, and now always eaten cold.

Mr. Harman would spend the night just the way he had every night since the storm, huddled beneath two coats and heavy blankets, listening to his crackling battery-powered radio in the dark. “That’s a really nice job they did back there,” he said, happily remembering the warm meal. “I really appreciate that.”


Reporting was contributed by Kia Gregory, Sarah Maslin Nir, Amisha Padnani,

Nate Schweber, Alex Vadukul and Matthew Wolfe.

    Day to Reflect After Bearing Storm’s Wrath, NYT, 22.11.2012,






Jane Holtz Kay, a Prophet of Climate Change, Dies at 74


November 20, 2012
The New York Times


Jane Holtz Kay calculated in her 1997 book, “Asphalt Nation,” that in less time than it takes you to read this sentence, Americans riding around in cars and trucks will dump another 180,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — and thereby accelerate global warming and hasten the advent of catastrophic flooding in coastal cities like New York.

Ms. Kay, an architecture critic who died in Boston on Nov. 5 at 74, based her prediction on government statistics and well-established scientific evidence. Her book, subtitled “How the Automobile Took Over America and How We Can Take It Back,” proposed ways to reverse the environmental damage caused by suburban sprawl: by returning to the city, using public transit, living one’s daily life, as much as possible, within walking distance.

But, like so many other messengers, Ms. Kay said she felt like a voice crying in the wilderness. People either believed they were “powerless to do things” about the looming disaster, she told an interviewer, or were angry at her for being such a Cassandra-like scold. “ ‘This is kind of old stuff,’ ” she quoted them as saying. “So — ‘So what?’ ”

Ellen Goodman, Ms. Kay’s sister and a former columnist for The Boston Globe, said Ms. Kay had grown up and raised her own children in the suburbs but decided to give up her car and move to an apartment in Boston when she began writing “Asphalt Nation” in 1991. Ms. Goodman said her sister was one to act on her ideas: “She was a big believer in doing things.”

She died of complications of Alzheimer’s disease, Ms. Goodman said.

Ms. Kay wrote three books on conservation of natural resources and urban environments. “Lost Boston” (1980) was a love letter to the many architectural treasures demolished in her native city in the rush to build roads, malls and parking spaces, and an appeal to make future changes with the human biped in mind. With Pauline Chase Harrell, she made a similar appeal in “Preserving New England” (1986).

“Asphalt Nation,” considered her most ambitious book, offered a unified vision for saving the cities and the planet and achieving social harmony by overthrowing the cultural dominance of the internal combustion engine. “Here at the so-called top of the food chain,” she wrote, “the water we drink, the food we eat, the entire way we live, is corrupted by a toxic artifact. The car, its pollutants, its highways, its trips.”

The revered urbanist Jane Jacobs, the author of “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” said Ms. Kay’s book had “given us a profound way of seeing the automobile’s ruinous impact on American life.”

Jane Holtz was born in Boston on July 7, 1938, the elder of two children of Jackson and Edith Holtz. In the 1950s her father, a lawyer, twice came close to winning election as a Democrat in what was then the Republican-held 10th Congressional District in Boston. (The seat has been held since 1981 by the Democrat Barney Frank, who is retiring and will be replaced in January by Joseph Kennedy III.) Ms. Holtz graduated from Radcliffe in 1960, began her career in journalism at The Quincy (Mass.) Patriot Ledger, and worked for many years as an architecture critic, first for The Boston Globe and later for The Nation.

In addition to her sister, survivors include two daughters, Julie Kay and Jacqueline Cessou, and four grandchildren.

Until three years ago, when illness kept her from working, Ms. Kay was working a follow-up to “Asphalt Nation,” called “Last Chance Landscape.” Its subject was global warming, and how it was likely to change our lives sooner rather than later.

    Jane Holtz Kay, a Prophet of Climate Change, Dies at 74, NYT, 20.11.2012,






We Need to Retreat From the Beach


November 14, 2012
The New York Times


Durham, N.C.

AS ocean waters warm, the Northeast is likely to face more Sandy-like storms. And as sea levels continue to rise, the surges of these future storms will be higher and even more deadly. We can’t stop these powerful storms. But we can reduce the deaths and damage they cause.

Hurricane Sandy’s immense power, which destroyed or damaged thousands of homes, actually pushed the footprints of the barrier islands along the South Shore of Long Island and the Jersey Shore landward as the storm carried precious beach sand out to deep waters or swept it across the islands. This process of barrier-island migration toward the mainland has gone on for 10,000 years.

Yet there is already a push to rebuild homes close to the beach and bring back the shorelines to where they were. The federal government encourages this: there will be billions available to replace roads, pipelines and other infrastructure and to clean up storm debris, provide security and emergency housing. Claims to the National Flood Insurance Program could reach $7 billion. And the Army Corps of Engineers will be ready to mobilize its sand-pumping dredges, dump trucks and bulldozers to rebuild beaches washed away time and again.

But this “let’s come back stronger and better” attitude, though empowering, is the wrong approach to the increasing hazard of living close to the rising sea. Disaster will strike again. We should not simply replace all lost property and infrastructure. Instead, we need to take account of rising sea levels, intensifying storms and continuing shoreline erosion.

I understand the temptation to rebuild. My parents’ retirement home, built at 13 feet above sea level, five blocks from the shoreline in Waveland, Miss., was flooded to the ceiling during Hurricane Camille in 1969. They rebuilt it, but the house was completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. (They had died by then.) Even so, rebuilding continued in Waveland. A year after Katrina, one empty Waveland beachfront lot, on which successive houses had been wiped away by Hurricanes Camille and Katrina, was for sale for $800,000.

That is madness. We should strongly discourage the reconstruction of destroyed or badly damaged beachfront homes in New Jersey and New York. Some very valuable property will have to be abandoned to make the community less vulnerable to storm surges. This is tough medicine, to be sure, and taxpayers may be forced to compensate homeowners. But it should save taxpayers money in the long run by ending this cycle of repairing or rebuilding properties in the path of future storms. Surviving buildings and new construction should be elevated on pilings at least two feet above the 100-year flood level to allow future storm overwash to flow underneath. Some buildings should be moved back from the beach.

Respecting the power of these storms is not new. American Indians who occupied barrier islands during the warm months moved to the mainland during the winter storm season. In the early days of European settlement in North America, some communities restricted building to the bay sides of barrier islands to minimize damage. In Colombia and Nigeria, where some people choose to live next to beaches to reduce exposure to malarial mosquitoes, houses are routinely built to be easily moved.

We should also understand that armoring the shoreline with sea walls will not be successful in holding back major storm surges. As experience in New Jersey and elsewhere has shown, sea walls eventually cause the loss of protective beaches. These beaches can be replaced, but only at enormous cost to taxpayers. The 21-mile stretch of beach between Sandy Hook and Barnegat Inlet in New Jersey was replenished between 1999 and 2001 at a cost of $273 million (in 2011 dollars). Future replenishment will depend on finding suitable sand on the continental shelf, where it is hard to find.

And as sea levels rise, replenishment will be required more often. In Wrightsville Beach, N.C., the beach already has been replenished more than 20 times since 1965, at a cost of nearly $53 million (in 2011 dollars). Taxpayers in at least three North Carolina communities — Carteret and Dare Counties and North Topsail Beach — have voted down tax increases to pay for these projects in the last dozen years. The attitude was: we shouldn’t have to pay for the beach. We weren’t the ones irresponsible enough to build next to an eroding shoreline.

This is not the time for a solution based purely on engineering. The Army Corps undoubtedly will be heavily involved. But as New Jersey and New York move forward, officials should seek advice from oceanographers, coastal geologists, coastal and construction engineers and others who understand the future of rising seas and their impact on barrier islands. We need more resilient development, to be sure. But we also need to begin to retreat from the ocean’s edge.


Orrin H. Pilkey is an emeritus professor of earth sciences at Duke University

and a co-author of “The Rising Sea.”



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: November 15, 2012

An earlier version of this article misstated the amount spent on beach replenishment

in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., since 1965. It was about $53 million in 2011 dollars,

not $543 million.

    We Need to Retreat From the Beach, NYT, 14.11.2012,






Obama, Visiting New York,

Pledges Help in Recovery From Storm


November 15, 2012
The New York Times


President Obama got a look on Thursday at the muddy wreckage that Hurricane Sandy left in its wake, flying over ravaged neighborhoods in Queens, consoling devastated homeowners under tents and in the streets on Staten Island, and promising a strong and continuing federal role in the recovery.

“We’re reminded that we are bound together and have to look out for each other,” Mr. Obama said after walking down a block that had been all but demolished in the storm.

Mr. Obama, flanked by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, said he wanted federal officials to work with state and local leaders in New York and New Jersey on “a game plan for how we’re going to be able to resource the rebuilding process.”

The president also said he was assigning Shaun Donovan, the secretary of housing and urban development and a former New York City housing official, to oversee the federal recovery effort in the New York area.

“We’re going to have to put some of the turf battles aside,” he said. “We’re going to have to make sure everybody’s focused on doing the job, as opposed to worrying about who’s getting the credit or who’s getting the contracts and all that stuff that sometimes goes into the rebuilding process.”

But administration officials were vague when they were asked about requests for federal aid for New York, including $30 billion from Mr. Cuomo and $1 billion sought by Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand for the first phase of recovery.

Aboard Air Force One on the way to New York, the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, told reporters that the administration had not received details of Mr. Cuomo’s proposal; the president listened during the flight as the two senators made their case for a significant infusion of federal money.

Mr. Schumer said later that the president made it clear that he would push to get the money to help the region recover.

“He left us with the feeling that he was very hands-on and would work very hard to get the funds we need,” Mr. Schumer said. Mr. Obama toured the area on a day of thin, almost hazy sun, a bright contrast to the slate-gray sky on the day the storm hurled a wall of water against the coast.

He flew to Kennedy International Airport and then boarded a helicopter that took him over the Rockaway Peninsula and over Breezy Point, a shorefront community where more than 110 homes were destroyed by fire on the night the hurricane tore through. Some homes there now have plastic sheeting where the roofs used to be.

The storm killed more than 100 people as it churned its way up the East Coast, with most of the deaths in low-lying sections of New York and New Jersey. It exacted a particularly high toll on Staten Island. Of 43 deaths attributed to the storm in New York City, 23 were on Staten Island.

On Thursday, the president’s helicopter landed at a former Army Air Corps installation on Staten Island that has become a center for efforts to rebuild. A group of about 200 residents cheered as he arrived and chatted with the Staten Island borough president, James P. Molinaro, and other officials.

In another tent, volunteers told Mr. Obama they were from Texas, others from West Virginia, others from elsewhere. “We got the whole country represented here,” the president said. “We’re proud of you guys.”

He also met with two parents, Damien and Glenda Moore, whose young sons — Connor, 4, and Brandon, 2 — were swept away as the storm closed in.

Ms. Moore had packed them into her car and was trying to leave Staten Island for Brooklyn, but the car stalled. Ms. Moore climbed out, holding one child in her arms and the other by the hand. The police said at the time that she lost her grip when she was slammed by water.

“I expressed to them as a father, as a parent, my heartbreak over what they went through,” the president said.

Mr. Obama said that they were grief-stricken but that they wanted to thank those “who’ve been supportive to them,” especially Lt. Kevin Gallagher of the Police Department, who the president said had “made a point of staying with them and doing everything he could so ultimately they knew what had happened with their boys.”

“That’s not in the job description of Lieutenant Gallagher,” the president said. “He did that because that’s what so many of our first responders do.”

Mr. Obama had been expected to visit New York in the first days after the storm struck on Oct. 29, but Mr. Bloomberg asked him not to come, saying he worried that a presidential visit would be disruptive as the city took its first steps toward recovery. Mr. Obama toured the devastated New Jersey coast with Gov. Chris Christie, a visit that had political overtones, coming less than a week before what promised to be a close presidential election.

Some Staten Islanders expressed frustration with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and insurers, and others said Mr. Obama’s visit did not settle questions that troubled them, like which kinds of insurance covered what.

“I’m still lost,” said Joe Ambrosio Jr., an elevated-track inspector for New York City Transit whose house was flooded.

“It was a big show and tell. Obama came through, the mayor’s over there, the governor’s over there, but nobody’s giving you the right answer.”

Debbie Ingenito got a hug from Mr. Obama, and more.

Her husband, Joseph, had chopped the top off a tree that fell in their yard and turned it into a Christmas tree with ornaments scavenged from the rubble and lights powered by a donated generator.

Mr. Ingenito would not leave their house — he has become a one-man neighborhood watch, keeping an eye on the whole block from their unheated second floor — so Ms. Ingenito went to see the president by herself. He embraced her.

“I told him that my husband would like to be here, but he’s back protecting the house,” Ms. Ingenito said. “He said he understood. And then he hugged me a second time.”

A Secret Service agent handed her official White House holiday tree ornaments from 2011 and 2012. But they did not go up on the Ingenitos’ tree after the president left and Ms. Ingenito went home.

“No,” she said, “they’re inside, where they’ll be safe.”


Reporting was contributed by Danny Hakim, Raymond Hernandez,

Christopher Maag and Vivian Yee.

    Obama, Visiting New York, Pledges Help in Recovery From Storm, NYT, 15.11.2012,






Stuck Underground, as Water Rose to the Ceiling


November 14, 2012
The New York Times


As Hurricane Sandy lashed New York City early on a Monday evening, the parking garage ramp at 92 Laight Street in TriBeCa was transformed into a river. Water from the Hudson raced down, slamming against the cramped confines of the basement lot.

A resident of the luxury building above made his way down to the basement to check the building’s pumps, and heard an unexpected sound: the voices of two garage workers who had not evacuated.

The resident, Roger Greenberg, said he remembered yelling, “You guys have got to get out of here!”

Only one man made it.

As his co-worker climbed the stairs to safety, Anthony Narh stayed behind, seeking refuge in an early-model, two-door Toyota Land Cruiser. The Fire Department found his body there the next morning.

The storm exacted a heavy toll in the city, killing many people in or near their homes. But of the 43 people in New York City whose deaths were attributed to the storm, Mr. Narh appeared to be the only New Yorker to die at his place of work.

It was not clear if Mr. Narh’s employer, Empire Parking, had required him to work his regular Monday night shift; his bosses and those close to him offered divergent accounts of why he was there that night. It is also a mystery why Mr. Narh did not evacuate.

Mr. Greenberg said that Mr. Narh’s co-worker, whom he knew as Momo, said he had pleaded with Mr. Narh to flee, grabbing him at one point.

“Momo kept saying, ‘He won’t leave, he won’t leave the cars,’ ” Mr. Greenberg said. “Like a captain going down with the ship.”

The manager of the garage, who gave his name only as Mike, said in an interview that “nobody knows” why Mr. Narh did not flee.

“I told everybody, ‘Go,’ ” the manager said, adding that Mr. Narh had not been asked to work Monday night, but had asked to remain after his Sunday overnight shift ended. “No one forced him to stay.”

Friends and relatives said that Mr. Narh, a former army officer in his native Ghana and a proud father of three daughters, felt compelled to work his overnight shift on Sunday night, even though he knew that he could not return home to the Bronx: by then, the city’s subways and buses were not running. Without any way of getting back to the Bronx, he planned to stay at the garage until his shift began at 11 p.m. Monday.

The garage sits squarely in Zone A beneath the River Lofts, a luxury condominium building where celebrities like Meryl Streep and Gwyneth Paltrow own multimillion-dollar lofts. Residents of the building said nearby garages had been shuttered hours before the storm came. The mandatory evacuation order, in effect at 7 p.m. that Sunday, applied to businesses and homes, authorities said.

The senior management of Park Right, which owns the garage, did not reply to several calls seeking comment.

For Mr. Narh, the job at the garage was both a second career and a second sort of life.

Born in eastern Ghana in December 1953, he joined the military as a young man and became an officer, his sister, Naomi Amabley, said. He frequently entertained young soldiers in the family apartment in a military quarter in Accra, sharing a meal without attention to rank, his wife, Beverly Bartels, 48, said.

A severe car accident landed Mr. Narh in the hospital for several months in the 1970s and left him with a mild limp that worsened with age, but did not stop him from serving several tours as a United Nations peacekeeper, in Lebanon in the 1980s and Liberia in the early ’90s, the family said. His stumbling gait became more pronounced after he left for New York in 2003.

He soon found work as a parking attendant. He also found a refuge at Malata, an African goods shop on Sheridan Avenue in the Bronx, where he debated African politics or offered relationship advice, often standing quietly with his arms folded until calmly interjecting his thoughts, friends said. He followed his younger daughters’ progress through high school with keen attention.

“He was so proud,” said Ms. Bartels, who still lives in Ghana and arrived in the city on Friday. Days before his death, he congratulated the middle daughter, Georgette, 15, on her work at a prestigious Methodist boarding school. He told friends that he planned to buy her an iPad as a reward.

As Hurricane Sandy approached on Sunday, Mr. Narh followed his routine: sleep during the day and spend some time at Malata before heading to work. Friends at the shop said they tried to coax him into drinking beer that night, knowing that he would not show up to work drunk.

“He wasn’t supposed to go, and he had a phone call and they told him to come, they would pay for the taxi,” said Lukman Kareem, a cabdriver who said he was with Mr. Narh on Sunday when he got the call.

The garage manager disputed that account, saying the call had been from a fellow attendant asking Mr. Narh to relieve him early, not from the company.

When Monday came, Mr. Narh could no longer return home by subway; the trains had stopped running when the mandatory evacuation went into effect the night before. Friends said he had at least $100 on him because he had received that amount as a tip, but he did not use it to take a cab home. Mr. Narh spent Monday in and out of the garage, the manager, Mike, said.

He returned shortly before 4 p.m., said Anastasia Ratia, an interior designer who lives in her aunt’s apartment in the loft building. They had returned to fetch belongings before holing up in a nearby hotel. She recalled asking Mr. Narh, “What on earth are you doing here?” She said Mr. Narh replied that “the big, big boss” had told him to come to work. His manager disputed that account.

Around that time, the second attendant, known as Mounmouni, arrived at work. Mike said he was surprised to see him.

Around 6 p.m., the garage gate was shut with the pair of attendants inside. Shortly after, the water began to rise in to the surrounding area and tumble down the ramp into the garage.

Mike said he called the office around 7 p.m., and Mr. Narh, known to most in the building as Jackson, answered the call. “I said, ‘Jackson, everything’s O.K.?’ He said, ‘Oh no, Mr. Mike, it’s a lot of water up to my knees.’ I said, ‘Leave everything and run,’ ” adding that the fire exit had been left open. “And suddenly the line is cut.”

Upstairs in the lobby, Mounmouni sobbed as he told residents that he had tried to force Mr. Narh to follow him out. By then, the water was up to the ceiling.

The police arrived on rafts around 9 p.m. and determined that rescuing Mr. Narh was not possible. The next morning, as firefighters came for Mr. Narh, Mike said, he saw the worker’s hat floating in the basement.

A service for Mr. Narh will be held in December, Ms. Bartels said. If relatives raise enough money, his body will be sent to Ghana for burial. But for the family, questions remain. A lawsuit has not been ruled out.

“Some of his relatives are fishermen,” Ms. Bartels said, shaking her head in disbelief. “He could swim.”

    Stuck Underground, as Water Rose to the Ceiling, NYT, 14.11.2012,






Suffering on L.I. as Power Agency Shows Its Flaws


November 13, 2012
The New York Times


It was four days before Hurricane Sandy would arrive, and trustees of the Long Island Power Authority gathered as forecasters’ warnings grew dire. For more than two hours, the trustees talked about a range of issues, including a proposal to hire a branding consultant.

But discussion of the storm lasted just 39 seconds.

The trustees’ approach toward the looming disaster reflects deep-rooted problems at the authority that have hobbled its response, causing hardship for hundreds of thousands of its customers, according to an examination of its performance by The New York Times. The bungling of the storm has called into question the authority’s very future.

The examination by The Times shows that the Long Island Power Authority has repeatedly failed to plan for extreme weather, despite extensive warnings by government investigators and outside monitors. In fact, before Hurricane Sandy, the authority was significantly behind on perhaps the most basic step to prepare for storms — trimming trees that can bring down power lines.

Customers have been exasperated not only by a lack of power, but also by the authority’s inability to communicate basic information. Long Islanders have recounted tales of phones unanswered at authority offices, of wildly inaccurate service maps and of broken promises to dispatch repair crews.

Of course, the storm was highly unusual, and utilities across the Northeast have come under criticism for delays in restoring power. The authority said it was “on plan” to restore power.

Still, the recovery has been slowest on Long Island, where roughly 90 percent of the authority’s 1.1 million customers lost power. As of Tuesday, more than 10,000 customers were still in the dark.

“Resources came late,” said Frank P. Petrone, chief executive of the Town of Huntington and a former official with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “When they came, there was no management to utilize those resources effectively. And it took 10 days for them to get their act together.”

Senior officials, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, have excoriated the authority, but in the past, they have paid little attention to its management.

The authority has not had a permanent chief executive for two years. Five spots on the 15-member board are vacant, 3 of which are Mr. Cuomo’s to fill.

The authority’s chairman, Howard E. Steinberg, has stayed on past an expired term. He was originally appointed by Gov. George E. Pataki, who left office almost six years ago.

Trying to fend off attacks on his oversight of the Long Island Power Authority, Mr. Cuomo on Tuesday established a high-level panel, called a Moreland Commission, to investigate how utilities across New York, including the authority, handled Hurricane Sandy and other storms.

He also revived a proposal that he made in his 2010 campaign to combine the authority with other state energy agencies, but has not ruled out privatizing the authority.

“I don’t believe you can fix it,” he said. “I believe it has to be overhauled and you need a new system.”

Also on Tuesday, the authority’s acting chief executive, Michael D. Hervey, announced his resignation effective at the end of the year.

The authority’s chairman, Mr. Steinberg, said the trustees spent only 39 seconds discussing the storm at the meeting because the board was confident that a plan was in place. He noted that the trustees were not utility professionals, but rather “an oversight board of citizens.”

“At that point, a few days before, there is nothing the board can do one way or another,” he said.

In many ways, the Long Island Power Authority, known as LIPA, reflects the shortcomings of the state’s quasi-independent public authorities, which are often criticized as a shadow government that resists scrutiny. Long Island is the only region of New York where the main electrical utility is run by the government.

While oversight has drifted, politicians have installed relatives and friends in executive positions at the authority, turning it into a rich source of patronage jobs, according to interviews and a review of state records.

These positions have an average salary of $110,000, the records show.

“There are many, many people who have been placed at LIPA during my tenure here who have no utility experience or training in the job that they have been placed in,” said Tracy Burgess-Levy, the authority’s director of community relations.

“Quite frankly, I think that’s a far bigger issue,” she said.

Ms. Burgess-Levy is herself married to a former congressman, David A. Levy, though she said she had extensive utility experience, having worked for the authority or its predecessor for nearly 20 years. She is paid $121,000 a year.

The examination of the authority by The Times was based on a review of public records, financial reports and board minutes. It included dozens of interviews with officials, utility customers, workers and outside experts.

In an interview last week, before he stepped down, Mr. Hervey defended the authority and indicated that he believed some customers had unrealistic expectations.

“We are on plan,” he said. “We cannot tell each of our 1.1 million customers exactly what is happening with their service. You can tell them generalities. So we cannot fully supply that information needed for individual customers.

“But I think, all said, when we look around at neighboring utilities, and the damage that we had, we are progressing very well.”

The interview took place at an office in Hicksville, where the scene was tense. A stream of frustrated customers knocked on doors, pleading for information and shouting at security guards, who turned them away.

“We haven’t had power since it happened,” Sophonie Sylvain, 30, a nursing home worker from Amityville, told the guards, her two young daughters and baby in tow. “Every day I call,” she said, adding that she always received the same response. “It will be on tomorrow.”


Flawed Paper Maps

As utility crews try to restore power on Long Island, they are hindered by an antiquated record system that consultants have repeatedly criticized, according to interviews and state reports.

Workers have often had to use paper maps and documents to locate damage. The record system has made it extremely hard for the authority to describe where power is out and where it will be restored, as well as when crews will arrive.

The map on the authority’s Web site was so flawed that a few days after the storm, it showed that power had been restored to more customers in Lawrence, in Nassau County, than there are homes in the village, its mayor, Martin Oliner, said.

“It was totally fictional, just preposterous,” Mayor Oliner said.

He asked the authority to reroute power to the village from an undamaged substation, which would take a few days. The authority eventually agreed, but continued telling Lawrence residents that they would not have power for three weeks.

Besieged by complaints about its map, the authority removed it from the Web and replaced it with a less detailed version.

These problems were first highlighted last year during Tropical Storm Irene, when it took the authority nine days to restore power to 523,000 customers.

After that storm, the State Public Service Commission issued a report that upbraided the authority. The authority’s monitoring and information systems were nowhere “near the industry standard,” said Walter P. Drabinski, a consultant on the report.

He said the authority had put off spending the $30 million or $40 million it would have cost for a state-of-the-art system.

“Without it during Irene, they were blind and it caused them a great deal of grief,” he said.

The authority’s board promised to install a new system, but it is not yet in place.

“It’s a huge computer upgrade that will take until next spring,” Mr. Hervey, the authority’s acting chief executive, said. “That will help us get a lot more information to customers.”


Contracted Service

Experts said the storm highlighted a fundamental flaw in the way that electricity is delivered on Long Island: the authority does not operate the power grid.

The authority is akin to a holding company, with fewer than 100 employees. It turns over service and maintenance to a contractor, impeding its ability to move nimbly during a crisis.

To complicate matters, the authority is switching to a new contractor in 2014, but its old one, National Grid, has been handling the grid during the storm and its aftermath. (National Grid was outbid for the contract by Public Service Enterprise Group.)

As a result, the authority has had less leverage over National Grid during the storm recovery.

National Grid has defended its performance.

“We are progressing very well, given the unprecedented damage from the storm,” John Bruckner, a senior vice president, said in a news conference.

The authority’s structure is a legacy of its creation.

Gov. Mario M. Cuomo set up the authority in the 1980s when the Long Island Lighting Company enraged customers by failing to restore service quickly after Hurricane Gloria. The company had also stirred controversy over high rates and plans to open the Shoreham nuclear power plant.

The elder Mr. Cuomo vowed that the authority would keep costs down and communicate better, but even before Tropical Storm Irene and Hurricane Sandy, it had alienated customers, who pay some of the highest rates in the nation.

The authority ranked last in two recent national satisfaction surveys of utility customers, one by J. D. Power & Associates and another by American Consumer Satisfaction Index.

Politicians often seem to focus on the authority when they are looking to place relatives and friends at jobs there, according to interviews, local news reports and payroll records.

Lynda Nicolino, the former counsel to the Suffolk County Republican Party, earns $260,000 a year as the authority’s general counsel. Barbara Ann Dillon, a $125,000 compliance officer, is the daughter of Denis Dillon, the former Nassau County district attorney. Andrew McCabe, an assistant general counsel paid $117,000 a year, is the son of a former top judge in Nassau County.

Other top executives include former aides to the state comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, the former Suffolk County executive, Steve Levy, and the former head of the Suffolk Republican Party.

The executives did not respond to requests for comment.


Seeking Help, Gradually

A week before Hurricane Sandy, Mr. Petrone, of the Town of Huntington in Suffolk County, was preparing for the worst.

Using his battle plans for removing snow, he prepared 23 municipal crews to work with the Long Island Power Authority to deal with damage to the power grid.

But after the storm hit, the authority’s workers, overwhelmed by calls for help, did not show up.

Two authority crews eventually showed up in Huntington, but it was not much help, Mr. Petrone said.

“The upper management couldn’t communicate with the middle management,” he said. “The middle management couldn’t communicate with the crews. And finally, when we had sufficient crews coming in — resources that should have been arranged before — they came in and had very little direction and they were flabbergasted at the condition of the infrastructure, the wiring, the entire system.”

Such stories have been echoed by local officials across Long Island.

Mr. Hervey, the authority’s departing acting chief executive, said the agency had taken a gradual approach to calling in help from other states. He said the authority had asked for only 1,250 workers before Hurricane Sandy, but when it became clear how serious the storm would be, increased its request.

“That set up a competition regionwide for the scarce resource of linemen,” he said.

Eventually, the authority’s force increased to 11,000 outside workers, from as far as away as California.

Some customers said they sympathized with the authority’s challenge.

A 70-foot-tall oak knocked out power to Patricia Cammer’s home in Huntington Station on the night of the storm. The authority restored power six days later, but then the northeaster last week knocked it out again.

“LIPA is not prepared for this, but then who is?” she said.

Others were less forgiving.

Kathleen A. Desio, a mother of two boys in Baldwin Harbor, said she had spent two weeks without power in a house so chilly that her family’s 17-year-old African gray parrot died. “I think my children could do a better job managing that company than their current staff does,” Ms. Desio said.

    Suffering on L.I. as Power Agency Shows Its Flaws, NYT, 13.11.2012,






Flood Insurance, Already Fragile, Faces New Stress


November 12, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The federal government’s flood insurance program, which fell $18 billion into debt after Hurricane Katrina, is once again at risk of running out of money as the daunting reconstruction from Hurricane Sandy gets under way.

Early estimates suggest that Hurricane Sandy will rank as the nation’s second-worst storm for claims paid out by the National Flood Insurance Program. With 115,000 new claims submitted and thousands more being filed each day, the cost could reach $7 billion at a time when the program is allowed, by law, to add only an additional $3 billion to its onerous debt.

Congress, just this summer, overhauled the flawed program by allowing large increases in premiums paid by vacation home owners and those repeatedly hit by floods. But critics say taxpayer money should not be used to bail it out again — essentially subsidizing the rebuilding of homes in risky areas — without Congress’ mandating even more radical changes.

“We are now just throwing money to support something that is going to end up creating more victims and costing more money in the future,” Representative Earl Blumenauer, Democrat of Oregon, said of the program, which insures 5.7 million homes nationwide near coasts or flood-prone rivers.

Even with the new rules, critics argue, it will be many years, if ever, before many homeowners are required to pay premiums that accurately reflect the market cost of the coverage. Some communities have long resisted imposing more appropriate building codes to prevent damage, putting the program at further risk of devastating losses when storms like Hurricane Sandy hit. And despite some efforts in recent years, many of the flood maps the program relies on are out of date — which can have expensive, and even deadly, consequences in this era of rising sea levels if homeowners are not cognizant of the risks they face.

The program’s giant debt makes matters worse because simply covering the interest owed the Treasury consumes from $90 million to $750 million a year, depending on interest rates. This means it is much harder to build reserves for future catastrophes.

But others on Capitol Hill argue that the changes adopted in July are an important first step, and that Congress must give the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which runs the program, a chance to apply them before any additional changes are considered.

Already, 44 members of the House of Representatives have called for Congress to appropriate whatever money is needed to help victims recover from Hurricane Sandy, and aides on Capitol Hill say that under such extreme losses, they expect lawmakers will do what they have to do to keep the program solvent — even amid a federal budget crisis.

“It is a program we require people to participate in, so we have to make sure it is adequately funded to handle claims,” said Representative Timothy H. Bishop, Democrat of New York, whose district in Long Island has more than 100 miles of coastline. “You can’t say: ‘Awfully sorry. Hope this works out for you.’ ”

The federal government’s flood insurance program, established in 1968, is one of the world’s largest. The insurance is mandatory for homeowners with a federally backed mortgage if they live in an area subject to flooding at least once every 100 years. The average annual flood insurance premium is about $615, but for homeowners in areas at higher risk of flooding, an annual policy can cost from $1,200 to $3,000, according to Steve Harty, president of National Flood Services, a claims-processing company, depending on the level of coverage.

The federal program collects about $3.5 billion in annual premiums. But in four of the past eight years, claims will have eclipsed premiums, most glaringly in 2005 — the year of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma — when claims totaled $17.7 billion. Private insurance companies have long avoided offering flood insurance to homeowners.

“It’s like rat poison to them,” said Tony Bullock, an insurance industry lobbyist, explaining how the risk outweighs the benefit for private insurers. “You need the federal backstop.”

But the program is still a moneymaker for the private insurance industry. Even though these companies bear none of the risk, they take, on average, $1 billion a year of the premiums the government collects, as compensation for help in selling and servicing the policies. Federal auditors argue the payments are excessive.

FEMA officials declined to address whether changes beyond the already passed legislation are needed to strengthen the program.

“These reforms are being implemented,” the agency said in a written statement. “Right now, we’re focused on helping survivors.”

More than one million property owners who live in homes at least four decades old also have historically paid only about 40 percent of the estimated true cost of the coverage the government provides — in large part because of lobbying by the real estate industry, mortgage brokers, homeowners associations and other groups to keep federal authorities from charging more.

Perhaps the most troubling problem, program officials acknowledge, is that only a tiny share of enrolled properties accounts for a giant share of the overall claims, as the properties are repeatedly flooded and rebuilt in low coastal regions and in hurricane flight paths.

One Biloxi, Miss., property valued at $183,000 flooded 15 times over a decade, costing the program $1.47 million, according to federal data provided by the agency to a member of Congress. Another in Humble, Tex., has resulted in over $2 million in flood payouts even though it was worth just $116,000.

An analysis of two decades of claims by the Wharton Risk Center at the University of Pennsylvania shows that certain states, like Texas, which has the second-largest number of policies, pay much less in insurance premiums than the homeowners there collect in damage claims, evidence of the inherent inequity in the national program.

The problem of repetitive claims is much less prevalent in coastal New York and New Jersey, where FEMA estimates Hurricane Sandy flooded 100,000 insured homes.

But homeowners in those two states have fought measures that would reduce storm damage. Barrier island communities in the Northeast, for example, have resisted overtures from the Army Corps of Engineers to build sand dunes as a natural flood barrier, arguing that the dunes would block ocean views or harm the local tourism industry.

Other communities, like Tuckerton, N.J., have failed to take steps recommended by FEMA to better protect homes after flooding through a program that pushes owners to elevate new homes above minimum required heights or to move flood-prone buildings.

Hurricane Sandy damaged more than 300 of the 660 houses in Tuckerton’s beach area, including 22 that were washed away, according to Phil Reed, the town building inspector.

Fifteen years ago, Don Horneff, 74, had his Tuckerton house raised on pilings nine feet above ground level. As a result, he said, Hurricane Sandy’s floodwaters ran only through his basement.

That is the kind of protective measure that federal officials want mandated into all new or rebuilt homes in flood zones.

Last week, piles of mattresses, fencing, chairs, appliances and other debris sat outside many of the homes on Mr. Horneff’s street — and a backhoe worked to clear the mess. “All around me, the homes that were lower, most of them will have to be demolished,” he said, surveying his neighborhood. “It’s very sad. They have lost everything.”

The pending costs for Hurricane Sandy would have been even higher if a greater share of residents along the East Coast had signed up for the insurance, which is voluntary outside the 100-year-flood zones. There would also have been more premium dollars, though not enough to pay the claims.

The fact that many homeowners hit by Hurricane Sandy have no flood or homeowners insurance could prompt Congress to provide assistance to the uninsured, too, as happened after Hurricane Katrina, further raising the cost to the federal Treasury.

Officials in New Jersey and New York say the federal government must move quickly to put the flood insurance program back on stable footing, even if it means increasing the federal deficit.

“All we want in our community — not any more and absolutely not less — is what is due to Sea Isle,” said Leonard C. Desiderio, the mayor of Sea Isle City, N.J., one of the coastal towns hit hard by Hurricane Sandy.

Hurricane Katrina put the program so deeply into debt that federal officials have acknowledged they will never be able to fully repay the $18 billion Treasury-financed loan that bailed the program out.

FEMA, as a result of this year’s legislation, has the authority to raise premiums by as much as 25 percent per year over the next five years. The increases will be imposed mostly on vacation homes and other properties that repeatedly flood, but whose owners have paid far below market insurance rates. The legislation also authorizes the creation of a national reserve fund to help the program handle major flood catastrophes, and urges Congress to appropriate $400 million a year to update the thousands of out-of-date flood control maps. That would likely force new homes to be built elevated off the ground in spots where rising sea levels or recent major storms have had an impact.

Lawmakers who pushed the legislation call it major progress in fixing the program’s well-documented failings.

“The program is on a much more responsible path than it had been just one year ago,” said Zachary Cikanek, a spokesman for Representative Judy Biggert, Republican of Illinois, who co-sponsored the legislation.

But others say much more needs to be done. The federal government should ensure continuous coverage in flood-prone areas, spreading the risk among a larger pool of homeowners, who now often allow their coverage to lapse, said Robert Hunter, an insurance administrator in the Ford and Carter administrations.

The 20,000 communities that participate should also be adopting stronger building or flood prevention codes the way Florida has since Hurricane Andrew did $23 billion worth of damage in 1992. Mr. Hunter pointed to earthquake-prone Chile, where builders must assume the liability for catastrophic earthquake damage for 10 years after construction. “This program still encourages unwise construction instead of discouraging it, and to me that means the program has failed, even with the reforms Congress just adopted,” Mr. Hunter said. “People are being killed and their properties are being destroyed because of a government that gives the false impression that there is less of a flood risk than there really is.”


Eric Lipton reported from Washington, Felicity Barringer from San Francisco,

and Mary Williams Walsh from Philadelphia.

Jon Hurdle contributed reporting from Tuckerton, N.J.

    Flood Insurance, Already Fragile, Faces New Stress, NYT, 12.11.2012,






Farmworkers’ Endless Worry: Tainted Tap Water


November 13, 2012
The New York Times


SEVILLE, Calif. — Like most children, the students at Stone Corral Elementary School here rejoice when the bell rings for recess and delight in christening a classroom pet.

But while growing up in this impoverished agricultural community of numbered roads and lush citrus orchards, young people have learned a harsh life lesson: “No tomes el agua!” — “Don’t drink the water!”

Seville, with a population of about 300, is one of dozens of predominantly Latino unincorporated communities in the Central Valley plagued for decades by contaminated drinking water. It is the grim result of more than half a century in which chemical fertilizers, animal wastes, pesticides and other substances have infiltrated aquifers, seeping into the groundwater and eventually into the tap. An estimated 20 percent of small public water systems in Tulare County are unable to meet safe nitrate levels, according to a United Nations representative.

In farmworker communities like Seville, a place of rusty rural mailboxes and backyard roosters where the average yearly income is $14,000, residents like Rebecca Quintana pay double for water: both for the tap water they use only to shower and wash clothes, and for the five-gallon bottles they must buy weekly for drinking, cooking and brushing their teeth.

It is a life teeming with worry: about children accidentally sipping contaminated water while cooling off with a garden hose, about not having enough clean water for an elderly parent’s medications, about finding a rock while cleaning the feeding tube of a severely disabled daughter, as Lorie Nieto did. She vowed never to use tap water again.

Chris Kemper, the school’s principal, budgets $100 to $500 a month for bottled water. He recalled his astonishment, upon his arrival four years ago, at encountering the “ghost” drinking fountains, shut off to protect students from “weird foggyish water,” as one sixth grader, Jacob Cabrera, put it. Mr. Kemper said he associated such conditions with third world countries. “I always picture it as a laptop a month for the school,” he said of the added cost of water.

Here in Tulare County, one of the country’s leading dairy producers, where animal waste lagoons penetrate the air and soil, most residents rely on groundwater as the source for drinking water. A study by the University of California, Davis, this year estimated that 254,000 people in the Tulare Basin and Salinas Valley, prime agricultural regions with about 2.6 million residents, were at risk for nitrate contamination of their drinking water. Nitrates have been linked to thyroid disease and make infants susceptible to “blue baby syndrome,” a potentially fatal condition that interferes with the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen.

Communities like Seville, where corroded piping runs through a murky irrigation ditch and into a solitary well, are particularly vulnerable to nitrate contamination, lacking financial resources for backup systems. Fertilizer and other chemicals applied to cropland decades ago will continue to affect groundwater for years, according to the Davis study.

“You can’t smell it,” Mrs. Quintana said of the dangers of the tap. “You can’t see it. It looks like plain beautiful water.”

Situated off the state’s psychic map, lacking political clout and even mayors, places like Seville and Tooleville to the south have long been excluded from regional land use and investment decisions, said Phoebe S. Seaton, the director of a community initiative for California Rural Legal Assistance. Residents rely on county governments and tiny resident-run public utility districts. The result of this jurisdictional patchwork is a fragmented water delivery system and frequently deteriorating infrastructure.

Many such communities started as farm labor camps without infrastructure, said John A. Capitman, a professor at California State University, Fresno, and the executive director of the Central Valley Health Policy Institute. Today, one in five residents in the Central Valley live below the federal poverty line. Many spend up to 10 percent of their income on water. “The laborers and residents of this region have borne a lot of the social costs of food production,” Professor Capitman said.

Bertha Diaz, a farmworker and single mother of four in East Orosi, rises at 4 in the morning to pick grapefruit and other crops. Her chief concern, she said, was how she would afford bottled water.

She comes home to an additional chore — filling five-gallon jugs at the Watermill Express, a self-serve drinking water company in nearby Orosi. When she began receiving cautionary notices from the local water district, she formed a neighborhood committee and also joined AGUA — the Association of People United for Water — a network of residents working with the nonprofit Community Water Center.

Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Human Right to Water bill, which directs state agencies to make clean water a financing priority. “Clean water ought to be a right,” said Bill Chiat, who educates government officials on water issues. “The question is, how are you going to pay for it?”

The answer is sometimes a twisted tale: In Lanare, in Fresno County, the local community services district received $1.3 million in federal money to construct a treatment plant for arsenic-tainted water. But when the system began operating, the cost of water skyrocketed — the result of lowball estimates by construction engineers, as well as the siphoning of treated water to nearby farms. “Before, it was dirty water,” said Isabel Solorio, a part-time housecleaner. “But at least it wasn’t expensive dirty water.” The plant currently sits unused.

But there is a growing recognition by state and local officials that rural communities need regional solutions. One option is consolidation, in which small systems band together to create a larger system with a bigger customer base. Another might be partnering with Alta Irrigation District, which has delivered surface water for agriculture from the Kings River for 130 years. Conserved water in upstream reservoirs could also be a source for Seville and elsewhere. “It would require a new governance structure,” said Chris Kapheim, the irrigation district’s general manager. “But it would give these areas a long-term fix.”

The state is allocating $4 million for interim solutions like filters under sinks that can remove arsenic and nitrates.

Even temporary solutions cannot come quickly enough for residents like Eunice Martinez, 47, who lives in Tooleville, where water has been contaminated with arsenic and bacteria.

Mobile homes rented by farmworkers sit temptingly near the Friant-Kern Canal, a 152-mile aqueduct that supplies water for one million acres of farmland.

Long before they knew there was a health problem, Ms. Martinez and her 72-year-old mother, Margaret, had stopped drinking the water. “Honestly, it was the taste,” she said. “It just wasn’t right.”

Ms. Martinez sometimes visits family in a nearby town where the water is clean and clear, just to freshen up. “I turn on the tap and it’s, ‘Wow, I’m amazed,’ ” she said. “It’s something so simple in life. And it’s gone.”

    Farmworkers’ Endless Worry: Tainted Tap Water, NYT, 13.11.2012,






Cold, Dark and Damp,

Pockets of Misery Persist 2 Weeks Later


November 12, 2012
The New York Times


In Coney Island, a 67-year-old man sleeps with plastic bottles from the bodega, filled with hot water, tucked in his armpits. Toilets unflushed by modern means for a fortnight have created a stench in the Rockaways that is so bad that one man keeps incense burning in his apartment day and night.

On Staten Island, people sit in “warming buses,” cozy and, like time itself these days, going nowhere. In a town in New Jersey where wells do not pump because the power is out, residents collect rainwater in empty jars. In Long Beach, on Long Island, a couple bicycles through the autumn chill to the charging station at City Hall to keep their cellphones powered.

Two weeks. Monday was the 14th day since Hurricane Sandy upended lives on the Eastern Seaboard, the longest two weeks of many people’s lives. Plastic bottles. Warming buses. Charging stations. These are just a few of the signposts in a changed world. Help is coming, the people are told, but some have lost the desire to trust.

“I don’t believe,” said Lioudmila Korableva, 71, a resident of a darkened Coney Island building project filled with older people.

“In the wall goes water,” she said, describing the humid conditions with her Russian accent. There is just too much moisture in the air. “The blanket is wet.”

Power companies in New York and New Jersey worked on Monday to free these remaining communities from the stubborn blackout. There was progress, with housing projects in Coney Island and the Rockaways flickering to life on Saturday and Sunday. There was light, if not heat. Families that had warmed their apartments with stovetop burners could now use the electric oven, with its door wide open. A woman used the burner for its intended purpose on Monday morning, handing her granddaughter a pancake on a paper plate.

New Jersey announced an end to gas rationing. Long Island Rail Road service returned to nearly prestorm timetables. Progress was everywhere, it seemed, but for the man getting his news from a radio with batteries, not here.

“I talk to God,” said Mark Kremer, the Coney Island man whose bedtime routine includes the hot water bottles. “What I did, to suffer like this?”

A former home health attendant, he climbs from his second-floor apartment up the pitch black stairs to the 12th floor, to check on his friend Asya Kaplan, 82, who fell in the hall a few days ago and opened up a gash at her hairline.

In the Ocean Village Apartments at the Shore in the Rockaways, there now exists a dividing line at the 10th floor. Below, there is running water. Above, none. A resident on the 14th floor, Lola Idowu, straps on her miner’s helmet with its flashlight and treks down to 10 for buckets of water, four times a day. The older residents have stopped flushing their toilets, neighbors said, and they gather in the lobby, bringing their apartments’ odors with them.

Only small children have accepted this new life in the Rockaways without complaint. Very small: Jayleb, a boy now one month old, has lived half his life this way. He sleeps in a duffel coat, inside a baby blanket that is under two quilts. “To even change his Pampers is an ordeal,” his mother, Tonya Ranero, 35, said.

In Long Beach on Long Island, a mother, Evelyn Hogarth, 32, frightened by the conditions in a shelter, returned home with her three children and ailing mother. “There are roaches everywhere,” she said. “I don’t know what to do.”

Nearby, Michael Hardy and Denaya Hardy, both 38, celebrated their 16th wedding anniversary in the dark, between trips to the basement to fill a bucket with floodwater, to flush the toilets.

“We celebrated by eating rations and drinking water,” Mr. Hardy said.

Elsewhere in Long Beach, as he spoke, the National Guard handed out water at a shopping center. People brought dead cellphones to a charging station at City Hall, near the portable toilets. In the Silverton section of Toms River, N.J., the surge and the wind knocked out the 10-foot windows from Wayne Whitall’s home. His pool table had become a floating battering ram, knocking through a wall and landing in a yard. The boat was across the street, where he was trying to free it from debris on Monday.

In Seaside Heights after two weeks, a first: residents were allowed to visit stricken parts of the town for a few hours on Monday morning.

Wayne Cimorelli, an owner of Coin Castle Amusements and two restaurants in a three-story building on the Boardwalk, said his expectations had been raised when he saw a picture of the area before he returned. Then he entered his 21,000-square-foot basement and found six feet of sand and debris. Equipment was ruined. A $14,000 ice machine lay on its side.

“This is the nightmare that doesn’t want to end,” he said. “The longer we wait, the more disgusting it gets. I would imagine we are up against maggots and whatnot.”

A mile north, Danielle Feigenbaum, 49, sat outside the house her grandfather had built 60 years ago, the scene of countless Thanksgivings and celebrations. Now the house carried a bright orange sticker on the door. Condemned.

“It’s just devastating to think that my mother grew up here, I grew up here, my daughter grew up here, but her kids won’t,” she said, yet tried to sound hopeful. “Well, we just don’t know.”

In the township of Tewksbury, N.J., with its 12-acre lots, stone walls, horses and wells, the notion of suffering is relative. But it is present.

Jon and Angela Holt, partners in both marriage and a small public relations firm, cannot pump water from their well until power is restored, a service traditionally late in arriving to the area. They collect rainwater from the downspout in empty kitty-litter jugs for the toilet. The world around them showers, and they do not, so they canceled a meeting on Monday, aware of their appearance.

They felt lucky compared with others facing so much destruction, but now, after two weeks, they find it difficult to explain how they remain in the dark.

“It is a struggle, whether you’re of means or poor,” Mr. Holt said.

Hours later, his power was returned.

A mile or two away, on Burrell Road, John and Tracy Rosendahl arranged to leave their powerless home to stay at yet another motel room. One of their young sons was urinating against the house Monday afternoon, as he had been instructed to do in the absence of a working toilet.

“They’re turning feral,” Mr. Rosendahl said.

In Coney Island, in the building for older tenants, a surprise: the lights snapped on at 1:08 p.m., according to Mr. Kremer’s clock. Just as quickly, the man who had asked God why he was being punished went from aggrieved to compassionate.

“It says on TV not everybody has power,” he said. “I feel sorry for them.”

Then, after Mr. Kremer had spent three hours and one minute in the new world, the power went out again. Aggrieved once more: “Now I have to take everything from refrigerator again, put again near my window.”

Another resident in the building, Angelita Torres, 72, paused on her journey from the 14th floor, which took the better part of an hour because of her weak heart. Asked how she was doing, her face lit up like the flashlight her home attendant carried beside her.

“I feel good,” she said. “Thank you, God.” She paused, and added, still smiling, “I’m freezing.”


Reporting was contributed by Ruth Bashinsky, Russ Buettner, Stephen Farrell,

David M. Halbfinger and Sarah Maslin Nir.

    Cold, Dark and Damp, Pockets of Misery Persist 2 Weeks Later, NYT, 12.11.2012,






As Storm Raged, 15 Fled New Jersey Halfway House


November 11, 2012
The New York Times


When the power failed at Logan Hall, a sprawling halfway house in Newark that resembles a prison, the rooms went dark.

Then the locks clicked open.

What happened next is likely to fuel the debate over the future of the large, privately run halfway houses in New Jersey, which have been criticized for mismanagement and lax oversight.

As Hurricane Sandy raged outside, dozens of male inmates burst into Logan Hall’s corridors. They threatened female inmates, tore apart furniture and ripped signs inscribed with inspirational sayings from the walls, witnesses said.

At least 15 inmates escaped from the halfway house, including some who had served time for aggravated assault, weapons possession and armed robbery.

It was one of the largest mass escapes in the recent history of New Jersey’s corrections system, according to official statistics. All but one of the escapees have since been recaptured.

After the violence broke out on Oct. 29, about 50 law enforcement officers from at least four state and county agencies converged on Logan Hall, officials said. Many were called at home and told to report immediately to the halfway house.

Community Education Centers, the politically connected company that runs the 650-bed halfway house, appears to have done little if anything to prepare for the storm. The workers on duty, many of whom were poorly paid, did not know how to operate the backup generator, witnesses said. They did not even have flashlights.

Gov. Chris Christie has long been an outspoken supporter of Community Education, which dominates the halfway house system in New Jersey. The Christie administration has not publicly disclosed that there was a disturbance that night at Logan Hall.

Mr. Christie’s close friend and political adviser, William J. Palatucci, is a senior executive at Community Education. Mr. Palatucci announced last week that he would step down from the company. The company said the resignation was not related to the events at Logan Hall.

A spokesman for Mr. Christie referred questions about Logan Hall to the State Department of Corrections.

Both the Corrections Department and Community Education played down the violence and the escapes.

“To characterize this as some sort of mass prison break is a reckless exaggeration in support of a false narrative,” a department spokesman, Matthew Schuman, said.

He said any assessment of what happened had to take into consideration “the extraordinary circumstances” of the storm.

Community Education said in a statement, “A small number of the 547 residents did take advantage of the storm to create a minor disturbance and damaged a few vending machines.”

The company noted that no one suffered serious injuries at Logan Hall, and added that it did not experience problems during the storm at its five other large halfway houses in New Jersey.

Law enforcement officials, workers and others who were at Logan Hall acknowledged that Hurricane Sandy was highly unusual and caused difficulties for institutions across the New York region.

But they pointed out that none of New Jersey’s prisons or jails suffered such a violent outbreak during the storm.

Mayor Cory A. Booker of Newark, whose police force responded to the disturbance, called it “obviously a serious event.”

David Thomas, executive director of the State Parole Board, said in a statement that the disturbance was quelled by officers from four law enforcement agencies: the Newark police, the Essex County Sheriff’s Department, the Essex County Corrections Department and the Parole Board.

Essex County officials said they were investigating what happened and had assigned extra law enforcement officers to Logan Hall, which typically houses parolees and inmates from the county jail.

Democratic lawmakers in Trenton have called for an overhaul of the halfway houses since The New York Times published a series of articles in June that described escapes, violence, drug use and other problems in the system.

Since 2005, roughly 5,200 inmates and parolees have escaped from the state’s halfway houses, according to state records. Corrections experts said the high number of escapes was an indication that the system was troubled. The Christie administration has said in recent months that it has put in place measures to crack down on the escapes.

New Jersey has been at the forefront of the movement to use privately operated halfway houses to reduce corrections costs. The system handles thousands of inmates annually.

The disturbance at Logan Hall may have an impact on the Legislature’s scrutiny of the system.

Assemblyman Charles Mainor, a Hudson County Democrat who is chairman of the Law and Public Safety Committee, said he was troubled that the administration had not disclosed what happened.

“I did not know,” Mr. Mainor said. “Of course, they wouldn’t want me to know.”

A law enforcement officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to a reporter, recounted harrowing moments early on when the disturbance could have spiraled out of control. “The place was turned upside down,” said Joe Amato, president of the union representing Essex County corrections officers, which has long opposed the privately run halfway houses. “The inmates basically rioted.”

At one point, a group of men, many wearing improvised masks that revealed only their eyes, headed toward the back of the building, where the female inmates were held, according to workers and correction officers.

A supervisor tried to stop them, demanding to know where they were going.

“You know why we’re here!” an inmate replied, according to a halfway house worker and a corrections officer who were there.

The supervisor managed to fend them off. Workers then took the group of female inmates to a closed-off reception area, where they huddled together for safety until law enforcement officers arrived.

“With the power out, no generator, no flashlights — you can’t not be scared,” said a worker who was there.

Dozens of men then headed through the unlocked front door to an open lot facing the street. They took blankets to throw over the barbed wire and chairs to scale the fence, but soon saw that the equipment was unnecessary.

The gate was open.

Six of those who escaped were arrested quickly. Six others were caught more than three days later. Two were on the run for about a week, and one is still missing, officials said.

When calm was restored, corrections officers and workers said they discovered that one target of the inmates’ rage had been the signs in the hallways.

The signs bore motivational slogans like “Stop Lying” and “Admit When You Are Wrong.” They had been torn down and stomped on.

    As Storm Raged, 15 Fled New Jersey Halfway House, NYT, 11.11.2012,






New York Subway Repairs Border ‘on the Edge of Magic’


November 8, 2012
The New York Times


Inside a sprawling Manhattan command center, a board that detects subway activity by sensor had gone quiet. No trains were running; the Metropolitan Transportation Authority had shut the system down as Hurricane Sandy approached.

Suddenly, the screens inexplicably crackled to life.

Something was moving down there. And it was not the trains.

To the subway’s chief maintenance officer, the storm’s encroaching waters were even more obvious. He was forced to flee with his flashlight from the South Ferry station in Lower Manhattan as the waters charged over the platform and up the terminal stairs, chasing him like an attack dog.

It has been less than two weeks since the most devastating storm in the New York City subway system’s 108-year history. Seven tunnels beneath the East River flooded. Entire platforms were submerged. Underground equipment, some of it decades old, was destroyed.

The damage was the worst that the system had ever seen. And yet, the subways have come back — quicker than almost anyone could have imagined.

Less than three days after the storm hit, partial subway service was restored. Most major lines were back within a week. Repairs came so quickly in some cases that the authority was ready before Consolidated Edison had restored power.

“Some of what they’re doing borders on the edge of magic,” said Gene Russianoff, the staff lawyer for the Straphangers Campaign, a rider advocacy group that is frequently critical of the authority.

Across the region’s transportation network, scars from Hurricane Sandy are still keenly visible. PATH service remains out between Hoboken and New York. New Jersey Transit’s Midtown Direct service is not running at all. At the Port Authority Bus Terminal, commuters endure chaos and winding lines that have lasted for hours.

But nearly everything under the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s auspices, from its commuter railroads to its bridges and tunnels, is running close to normal. Each restoration presented its own challenge, but none more daunting than the task of resurrecting the subways.

Interviews with those who oversaw the recovery suggest a rescue mission both thrilling and frightful, with officials at times alternating between a compulsion to cling to protocol and to toss it aside. Workers traversed darkened, slippery tunnels, inspecting sludgy tracks, equipment and third rails. Even the subway map itself was reimagined, as bright lines were faded to represent downed service.

None of this was truly expected in the days leading up to the storm.

In a morning radio interview on Oct. 25, the Thursday before the hurricane was projected to arrive, Joseph J. Lhota, the chairman of the transportation authority, recalled Tropical Storm Irene, which spurred an unprecedented systemwide shutdown last year.

“I don’t think we’re looking at anything like that,” he told WNYC.

By the afternoon, the tone had changed. During a 2 p.m. conference call with the governor’s office, Mr. Lhota recalled, state officials asked of the storm’s arrival: “What is zero hour?”

From there, officials worked backward. The authority’s storm plan included triggers for closing trains, bridges and tunnels, based on minimum thresholds of sustained winds. Waiting for these winds to arrive before acting was not an option.

“If we got everybody in on Monday morning,” Mr. Lhota said, “we couldn’t get them home.”

By Sunday morning, Mr. Lhota recalled, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo told him he had made a decision: the system would be taken offline at 7 p.m.

Thomas F. Prendergast, the president of New York City Transit, had already dispatched workers to cover vents and place sandbags at stations, and by Friday, the agency had begun coordinating with the Police Department and union leadership for the possibility of a shutdown. Barriers were placed at station entrances, including at South Ferry, near the tip of Lower Manhattan.

With a forecast for a storm surge of over 11 feet, Mr. Prendergast knew that flooding was possible. He predicted that three tunnels might have some flooding, which would equal the most in his career.

“I never anticipated seven,” he said. As the storm neared, pump trains were placed strategically at the center of the system, where crews could easily access them and approach the likely flood zones.

The dual tasks — shutting down the system and moving trains to safe ground — were often carried out simultaneously, Mr. Lhota said. Some trains continued taking passengers after 7 p.m. on Sunday, he said, but only if their route took them near their protected storage plot.

By early Monday, an eerie quiet had fallen over the agency. The subway was off, the trains were stored, but the storm had not yet arrived.

Around 8 p.m., after a local television appearance, Mr. Lhota decided to head downtown. But the West Side Highway was already submerged. Soon, he found, Greenwich Street was also impassable. He headed down Broadway, as far as he could.

Moments later, Mr. Lhota happened upon Mr. Prendergast, who had covered himself in a yellow jacket and a hard hat. Then the men in charge of trains and buses realized that another mode of travel might be required. “We’re talking about, ‘We’re going to need a bigger boat,’ ” Mr. Lhota recalled.

At the same time, Joseph Leader, the subway’s chief maintenance officer, went into South Ferry. No one knew the barriers outside the station had given way, Mr. Leader said, breached apparently by 15-foot hunks of wood that, late last week, remained strewed across the mezzanine, beside the turnstiles.

As he lurched into the terminal, the water had already risen over the platform. When it began climbing the stairs, Mr. Leader fled. He made his way on foot toward the darkened loop track, approaching Rector Street, training his flashlight ahead. “You could just see it rising, coming up the tracks,” he said. “I realized, I can’t stay here much longer.”

At the rail command center, the boards began to light up. “Everything just started to look like there was a train everywhere,” said Tom Calandrella, the senior director of rapid transit operations. “Once it gets wet, that same thing that conducts the train wheels, water, if it pulls up to a certain height, conducts everything.”

Mr. Lhota spent Monday night at a hotel in Midtown, near the authority’s headquarters on Madison Avenue. He got in around 3 a.m. and returned to the office hours later. In between, he found a deli open nearby. He ordered an omelet.

By late Monday night, teams had already been dispatched to inspect sections of the system, particularly those out of the surge’s path. Some work trains even ran during the storm, in areas removed from the surge, to check for water buildups, Mr. Leader said.

But restoration options were few, at least in the short term.

“It’s triage,” Mr. Lhota said.

Strategy turned on a simple question, Mr. Leader said, posed often in meetings with agency officials: “Well, what works?”

It seemed likely that buses could return quickly, as they soon would on a limited schedule, but the subways required painstaking decisions on how to deploy the agency’s resources.

“We had 7 under-river tunnels flooded out of 14,” Mr. Prendergast said. “And we have three pump trains. The first thing we have to do is, which tunnels do you go after first?”

The Joralemon Street tunnel was an obvious target, given the heavy ridership of the No. 4 and 5 trains and what appeared to be relatively little damage to the tube. It was dry almost immediately. Other tunnels, like the 14th Street tube that carries the L train or the Greenpoint tunnel for the G, had to wait.

Water in the L tunnel stretched 3,400 feet and was 15 feet deep. It was not dry until this week. For the Montague Street tunnel, which carries the R line, 4,000 feet of water, 10 feet deep, had still not been entirely pumped as of Thursday.

Publicly, the authority did not provide a timeline for service restoration. But Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg offered a guess at a news conference the day after the storm, estimating that service would not return for “a good four or five days.”

Mr. Lhota recalled seeing the announcement and wondering where the mayor was getting his information.

“It obviously wasn’t true, either,” Mr. Lhota said. “I have no idea who was briefing him.”

(A spokeswoman for the mayor said Mr. Lhota and Deputy Mayor Caswell F. Holloway corresponded frequently, but added that a briefing for the mayor before the news conference had focused on more immediate city concerns and included little about transportation.)

Nonetheless, the estimate may have succeeded in tempering public expectations for the system’s recovery. Mr. Lhota said the authority also made a point of publishing images from the tunnels, both to communicate progress and to relay the scope of the tasks, allowing riders to set expectations accordingly.

Beyond deploying the pump trains, which are diesel-powered, Mr. Calandrella said detritus on the tracks could affect draining.

And even if tunnels were pumped, obstacles remained. Workers had to inspect tracks, third rails and signals. There could be no dangerous debris in the tunnels. Some cables needed to be reattached.

Mr. Lhota said that despite the authority’s trove of ancient underground equipment, the authority’s warehouses in Queens and the Bronx were rarely without a required replacement part.

“Things break all the time,” he said. “We have inventory.”

Test trains began running partial routes on Wednesday. But with power still out in Lower Manhattan, no trains could run between Manhattan and Brooklyn. If not for the power loss, officials said, the No. 4 and 5 trains could have very likely returned during the week.

A so-called bus bridge — service to plug the gaps in the limited subway routes — emerged as the only option, Mr. Lhota said. Some officials worried about offering a below-average experience underground.

“There was a debate here about, ‘Do we bring them back if we can’t bring the countdown clocks?’ ” Mr. Lhota recalled, incredulously. “I was saying, ‘Yeah, we bring them back.’ ”

Charles Gordanier, the authority’s chief map designer, began drafting changes to the old subway map, fading out the lines that were without service. Copies were released to the public on Wednesday, and have since been updated as service is restored.

The bus bridges created winding lines and widespread gridlock, resulting from a simple math problem, Mr. Prendergast said: Between 1,500 and 2,000 people can pile into a train. A bus can fit no more than 75 or so.

Accordingly, connecting the boroughs by subway was the next priority. Late Friday, as the power returned, officials were confident they could restore full service to some trains, like the Lexington Avenue line and the No. 7, almost immediately. By Saturday morning, they had, and several other connections between boroughs followed.

After a news conference Saturday with Mr. Cuomo, Mr. Lhota held up a sheet of paper with a bar graph, depicting how much subway service had returned. By day’s end, it was expected to be 80 percent.

There were some hiccups. At West Fourth Street, unexpected third-rail and switch problems delayed the return of the D, F and M trains. As the authority prepared to bring the G train back this week, a transformer blew, keeping the train offline for the morning rush hour on Wednesday. There were still service gaps on the N train, the A train in Far Rockaway and the R line, among others.

On Thursday morning, inside his office, Mr. Lhota checked his BlackBerry often, hoping for an update on the L train. Moments later, he placed a call to Howard B. Glaser, Mr. Cuomo’s director of state operations, whom he wanted to brief on the Queens-Midtown Tunnel.

The tunnel could open Friday, he told Mr. Glaser, remarking that Mr. Bloomberg, “like an idiot,” had predicted publicly that the tunnel might open over the weekend. “He’s making it up,” he said, after a brief hail of profanity in which Mr. Lhota wondered aloud who, exactly, Mr. Bloomberg had been talking to.

“It’s wrong,” he told Mr. Glaser. “It’s just wrong.”

Mr. Lhota also spoke of the L line’s importance, as if his audience needed convincing.

“You know who knows where the L train goes?” he barked into the phone. “All the hipsters in Williamsburg.”

The BlackBerry buzzed on the table in front of him. He grabbed it quickly, then put it back. No good news yet on the L, he said. Hours later, that would change. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he wrote on Twitter. “The L train is back. Enjoy your trip home tonight.”

    New York Subway Repairs Border ‘on the Edge of Magic’, NYT, 8.11.2012,






Where Hurricane Sandy Still Hurts


November 8, 2012
The New York Times


For all the efforts of federal, state and local officials to help people after Hurricane Sandy, unacceptable pockets of suffering remain. Ten days after the hurricane struck, thousands of people in New York City’s public housing are still without heat, water, electricity or food. Many people needed assistance after the storm, but the most vulnerable of the city’s inhabitants seem to be among the last in line to get it.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration estimated that Sandy had initially left more than 800,000 city customers without power, including many people in public housing. Many have since had their power and heat restored. Yet Steven Banks of the Legal Aid Society estimated on Thursday that more than 15,000 units of public housing closest to the city’s shoreline — mostly in the Rockaways, Coney Island and Red Hook — were still without heat and hot water or electricity.

“We’re into the second week of this,” he said, “and there is no real urgency to get it fixed. ...No can-do New York attitude here.”

More than 400 buildings run by the New York City Housing Authority were affected by the storm. Mr. Bloomberg said Thursday that 70 percent of these buildings now have heat and hot water and 82 percent have electricity. But that leaves 120 buildings and the people who live in them without heat or hot water and 72 buildings and their residents without electricity.

Whatever the precise numbers, by any accounting, life for these people is grim. On Wednesday afternoon, in the Far Rockaways, hundreds lined up for as much as three hours in the cold to get hot food promised by a makeshift delegation of volunteers. The multiple government agencies promising help were nowhere to be seen.

In a public housing building in Red Hook, residents received official notices warning that “Since Hurricane Sandy, the electricity and water will be out indefinitely.” Meanwhile, Mr. Bloomberg has been urging older residents and other vulnerable citizens to “go someplace warm,” like shelters.

On Thursday, Mr. Bloomberg expressed the hope that private contractors would be able to restore electricity by the weekend and heat “sometime early next week” to affected buildings. This is hardly comforting news to people huddled in blankets as temperatures drop. There seems to be no clear answer for why it has taken so long to send out temporary generators and boilers to help these residents.

City Hall leaders argue that restoring power is a process that is more complicated than simply bringing in generators, especially in buildings where electrical systems have been badly compromised. They promise to dispatch additional workers to public housing and a phased-in schedule to bring more power and heat each day to devastated areas like the Rockaways. To us, that sounds late and insufficient. Mr. Bloomberg needs to redouble his efforts to help those most in need.

    Where Hurricane Sandy Still Hurts, NYT, 8.11.2012,






How a Race in the Balance Went to Obama


November 7, 2012T
The New York Times


Seven minutes into the first presidential debate, the mood turned from tense to grim inside the room at the University of Denver where Obama staff members were following the encounter. Top aides monitoring focus groups — voters who registered their minute-by-minute reactions with the turn of a dial — watched as enthusiasm for Mitt Romney spiked. “We are getting bombed on Twitter,” announced Stephanie Cutter, a deputy campaign manager, while tracking the early postings by political analysts and journalists whom the Obama campaign viewed as critical in setting debate perceptions.

By the time President Obama had waded through a convoluted answer about health care — “He’s not mentioning voucher-care?” someone called out — a pall had fallen over the room. When the president closed by declaring, “This was a terrific debate,” his re-election team grimaced. There was the obligatory huddle to discuss how to explain his performance to the nation, and then a moment of paralysis: No one wanted to go to the spin room and speak with reporters.

Mr. Romney’s advisers monitored the debate up the hall from the Obama team, as well as at campaign headquarters in Boston. Giddy smiles flashed across their faces as their focus groups showed the same results.

“Boy, the president is off tonight,” said Stuart Stevens, the senior Romney strategist, sounding mystified, according to aides in the room. Russ Schriefer, a senior adviser, immediately began planning television spots based entirely on clips from the debate. As it drew to a close, Gail Gitcho, Mr. Romney’s communications director in Boston, warned surrogates heading out to television studios: “No chest thumping.”

The Oct. 3 debate sharply exposed Mr. Obama’s vulnerabilities and forced the president and his advisers to work to reclaim the campaign over a grueling 30 days, ending with his triumph on Tuesday. After a summer of growing confidence, Mr. Obama suddenly confronted the possibility of a loss that would diminish his legacy and threaten his signature achievement, the health care law. He emerged newly combative, newly contrite and newly willing to recognize how his disdain for Mr. Romney had blinded him to his opponent’s strengths and ability to inflict damage.

After watching a videotape of his debate performance, Mr. Obama began calling panicked donors and supporters to reassure them he would do better. “This is on me,” the president said, again and again.

Mr. Obama, who had dismissed warnings about being caught off guard in the debate, told his advisers that he would now accept and deploy the prewritten attack lines that he had sniffed at earlier. “If I give up a couple of points of likability and come across as snarky, so be it,” Mr. Obama told his staff.

As his campaign began an all-out assault on Mr. Romney’s credibility and conservative views, the president soon was denouncing Mr. Romney’s budget proposals as a “sketchy deal” and charging that the Republican nominee was not telling Americans the truth.

Mr. Obama recognized that to a certain extent, he had walked into a trap that Mr. Romney’s advisers had anticipated: His antipathy toward Mr. Romney — which advisers described as deeper than what Mr. Obama had felt for John McCain in 2008 — led the incumbent to underestimate his opponent as he began moving to the center before the debate audience of millions of television viewers.

But as concerned as the White House was during the last 30 days of the campaign, its polls never showed Mr. Obama slipping behind Mr. Romney, aides said. The president was helped in no small part by the tremendous amount of money the campaign built up, which had permitted him to pound his Republican rival before he had ever had a chance to fully introduce himself to the nation.

That was just one of several ways that Mr. Obama’s campaign operations, some unnoticed by Mr. Romney’s aides in Boston, helped save the president’s candidacy. In Chicago, the campaign recruited a team of behavioral scientists to build an extraordinarily sophisticated database packed with names of millions of undecided voters and potential supporters. The ever-expanding list let the campaign find and register new voters who fit the demographic pattern of Obama backers and methodically track their views through thousands of telephone calls every night.

That allowed the Obama campaign not only to alter the very nature of the electorate, making it younger and less white, but also to create a portrait of shifting voter allegiances. The power of this operation stunned Mr. Romney’s aides on election night, as they saw voters they never even knew existed turn out in places like Osceola County, Fla. “It’s one thing to say you are going to do it; it’s another thing to actually get out there and do it,” said Brian Jones, a senior adviser.

In the last days of the campaign, Mr. Romney cast himself as the candidate that he may have wanted to be all along: moderate in tone, an agent of change who promised to bring bipartisan cooperation back to Washington, sounding very much like Barack Obama in 2008.

But he could never overcome the harm that Mr. Obama’s advertising had done over the summer or the weight of the ideological baggage he carried from the primary. On Tuesday night, a crestfallen Mr. Romney and his family watched as the television networks showed him losing all but one battleground state.

Even as the networks declared Mr. Obama the winner, Mr. Romney, who had earlier told reporters he had written only a victory speech, paused before the walk downstairs from his hotel room in Boston. It was 11:30 p.m., and Romney field teams in Ohio, Virginia and Florida called in, saying the race was too close for the candidate to give up. At least four planes were ready to go, and aides had bags packed for recount battles in narrowly divided states. Bob White, a close Romney friend and adviser, was prepared to tell the waiting crowd that Mr. Romney would not yet concede.

But then, Mr. Romney quietly decided it was over. “It’s not going to happen,” he said.

As Ann Romney cried softly, he headed down to deliver his speech, ending his second, and presumably last, bid for the White House. Four decades earlier, his father and inspiration, George Romney, a former Michigan governor failed in his own such quest.

By the end of the 30 days, after Air Force One carried Mr. Obama on an almost round-the-clock series of rallies, the president had reverted back to the agent of change battling the forces of the status quo, drawing contrasts between himself and Mr. Romney with an urgency that had been absent earlier in the race. Mr. Obama had returned, if not to the candidate that he was in 2008, as a man hungry for four more years to pursue his agenda in the White House.


A Difficult September

As the summer came to a close, the Romney campaign was stuck in a tense debate over how to rescue a struggling candidacy. On some nights, it did not even bother with the daily tracking poll. Why waste money on more bad news? Mr. Obama’s attack on Mr. Romney’s role at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he founded, was in full swing, the Democratic convention had been an unequivocal boost for the president, and a videotape had surfaced that caught Mr. Romney at a private fund-raiser saying that 47 percent of the nation did not pay taxes, a line that reinforced Democrats’ efforts to portray him as an out-of-touch elitist.

“We had struggled pretty dramatically in September,” said Neil Newhouse, Mr. Romney’s pollster. “The 47 percent remark came out, and that was on top of the bounce that Obama got from his convention, so needless to say September was not our best month. It showed in our data. It was grim.”

There was, advisers decided, one last opportunity on the horizon: the presidential debate in Denver.

Mr. Stevens argued that Mr. Obama’s dislike of Mr. Romney would lead the president to underestimate him. “They think there’s something intellectually inferior there,” he said later. Mr. Romney’s advisers also believed that Mr. Obama had demonized Mr. Romney to such an extent that their candidate would benefit when judged against the caricature.

In August, Mr. Romney began testing out one-liners on friends flying with him on his campaign plane. On issue after issue, Mr. Romney led discussions on how to frame his answers, to move away from the conservative tone of his primary contests in front of the largest audience he would have as a candidate.

Senator Rob Portman of Ohio was recruited to play Mr. Obama, and he embraced the role, even anticipating how the president would open his first debate, which fell on his wedding anniversary. “I’ve got to tell you, tonight’s a really special night,” Mr. Portman said, playing Mr. Obama. “I see my sweetie out there, boy, 20 years ago.”

(Mr. Romney’s advisers broke out in laughter when the real Mr. Obama opened with a similar line, and nodded approvingly when a very prepared Mr. Romney countered with a gracious response that even Democrats said put Mr. Obama off balance.)

Nothing had been left to chance: Mr. Romney put on full makeup and did his final practice in a room set up to replicate, down to the lighting and temperature, the hall where he would meet Mr. Obama.

On the Sunday before the debate, a group of top advisers and elected Republican officials from across the country, calling themselves the War Council, gathered in Boston to reassure Mr. Romney after his rough month — essentially saying “this is a place in the race, but it isn’t a destiny” as Beth Myers, a senior adviser, put it — and to boost his confidence. George W. Bush phoned Mr. Romney, too. Pointing to his own history, he predicted that Mr. Obama would fumble, according to aides.

Democrats advising Mr. Obama saw the same peril for the president in the first debate that Mr. Romney’s aides did. Ronald A. Klain, a Democratic strategist who has overseen debate preparation for presidential candidates for nearly 20 years, warned Mr. Obama at his very first debate session, a PowerPoint presentation in the Roosevelt Room on a sweltering day in mid-July, that incumbent presidents almost invariably lose their first debate.

“It’s easier for a candidate to schedule the time to prepare; it’s easy for the challenger to get away; the president has competing needs,” Mr. Klain told Mr. Obama, according to aides who witnessed the exchange.

Ken Mehlman, who had managed Mr. Bush’s re-election campaign in 2004, ran into one of Mr. Obama’s advisers at a party, and warned him that presidents are not used to being challenged, and unlike candidates, are out of practice at verbal jousting. Mr. Romney had gone through 20 debates over the past year.

Mr. Obama showed no interest in watching the Republican debates. But his aides studied them closely, and concluded that Mr. Romney was a powerful debater, hard to intimidate and fast to throw out assertions that would later prove wrong or exaggerated. At one debate, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas criticized Mr. Romney for having praised Arne Duncan, the education secretary, days earlier. Mr. Romney flatly denied it, leaving Mr. Perry speechless.

At the White House, Mr. Obama’s communications director, Dan Pfeiffer, took note of that moment, intending to mention it to Mr. Obama. He would later fault himself for failing to fully understand “the magnitude of the challenge” Mr. Romney’s debate style presented.

Mr. Obama displayed little concern. When he went to a resort outside Las Vegas for several days of debate preparation in September, his impatience with the exercise was evident when he escaped for an excursion to the Hoover Dam.

Mr. Klain and David Axelrod, a senior strategist, told Mr. Obama that he seemed distracted, but he shrugged them off. “I’ll be there on game day,” he said. “I’m a game day player.”

Shortly after the debate began, Mr. Obama’s aides realized they had made their own mistakes in advising Mr. Obama to avoid combative exchanges that might sacrifice the good will many Americans felt toward him. In Mr. Obama’s mock debates with Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, Mr. Kerry drew Mr. Obama into a series of intense exchanges, and Mr. Axelrod decided that they were damaging to the president.

In 90 minutes, Mr. Obama crystallized what had been gnawing concerns among many Americans about the president. He came across, as Mr. Obama’s advisers told him over the next few days, as professorial, arrogant, entitled and detached from the turmoil tearing the nation. He appeared to be disdainful not only of his opponent but also of the political process itself. Mr. Obama showed no passion for the job, and allowed Mr. Romney to explode the characterization of him as a wealthy, job-destroying venture capitalist that the Obama campaign had spent months creating.

The voter-analysis database back in Chicago noted a precipitous drop in perceptions of Mr. Obama among independent voters, starting that night and lasting for four days, long before the public polls picked it up. Voters who had begun turning to Mr. Obama were newly willing to give Mr. Romney another look.

What was arguably the most dismal night of Mr. Obama’s political career could hardly have come at a worse time: Early voting was already under way in some states. Absentee ballots were on voters’ coffee tables that very night.

After the debate, Mr. Obama called Mr. Axelrod on his way back to the hotel room. He had read the early reviews on his iPad.

“I guess the consensus is that we didn’t have a very good night,” Mr. Obama told Mr. Axelrod.

“That is the consensus,” Mr. Axelrod said.

For the next 30 days, Mr. Romney and his advisers tried to capitalize on Mr. Obama’s mistakes. And Mr. Romney continued his drift toward the center, softening his language on abortion and immigration from the positions that had defined him during the Republican primaries. It was something that the White House had expected he would do. Perhaps most important, the debate gave him a swagger, confidence and presidential bearing that had been absent.

Mr. Romney soon recognized the scope of his accomplishment. He flew from Denver to Virginia for a rally the next day, and as the motorcade headed toward the event, there was so much traffic that Mr. Romney and his top advisers thought there must have been an accident. In fact, the roads were jammed with people on their way to see him.


A Storm’s Effect

It was clear that Hurricane Sandy was going to upend Mr. Obama’s final week of campaigning, but aides in Chicago were determined to squeeze in one more visit to Florida. It almost became a calamity.

To get ahead of the storm, the president flew to Orlando on Oct. 28, the evening before a morning event. But overnight, the storm intensified and accelerated. Well before dawn, the Air Force One crew told the president’s advisers that if he was going to beat the storm back to Washington, he had to leave at once. His aides blanched at the image of Mr. Obama stuck in sunny Florida as the storm roared up the Eastern Seaboard.

The White House announced the change of plans at 6:45 a.m. The president returned to the White House at 11:07 a.m. and went directly into the Situation Room, canceling his political events. The decision was costly to a campaign so dependent on organization: Mr. Obama used his rallies to collect supporters’ telephone numbers and e-mail addresses.

Once the storm struck, it was more of a problem for Mr. Romney. It put him in the position of struggling to explain the skepticism he had expressed during the Republican primaries about a federal role in disaster relief. Even worse, the hurricane pushed him off the stage at a crucial time.

In Boston, Mr. Romney’s aides broke out in a chorus of groans as they watched on television as Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey offered effusive praise of the president’s handling of the disaster. They viewed it as a self-serving act of disloyalty from a man whom they had expected to deploy that very weekend on Mr. Romney’s behalf. The praise of Mr. Obama from a Republican governor came at the same time Mr. Romney had been portraying Mr. Obama as partisan and polarizing.

The same week, the president’s campaign released an advertisement in which another Republican, Colin Powell, a former secretary of state, endorsed Mr. Obama. The ad, Mr. Obama’s aides said, produced a spike of support from independent voters. (Mr. Obama’s aides grabbed the clip from a television interview with Mr. Powell, deciding not to chance asking him for permission).

Mr. Romney was finding Ohio, a state central to his victory, a stubborn target, as Mr. Obama benefited from the auto industry rescue he championed and that Mr. Romney had opposed. The Romney campaign sought to undermine Mr. Obama with an advertisement misleadingly implying that Jeep was moving jobs from Ohio to China. By every measure, the ad backfired, drawing attacks by leaders of auto companies that employed many of the blue-collar voters that Mr. Romney was trying to reach.

The futility of that effort was apparent outside the sprawling Jeep assembly plant in Toledo, which had just had a $500 million renovation for production of a new line of vehicles, a project requiring 1,100 new workers.

“Everyone here knows someone who works at Jeep,” Jim Wessel, a supply representative making a sales visit. He said no one would believe the ad. Speaking of Mr. Obama’s efforts to rescue the auto industry, he said,“I can just tell you I’m glad he did it.”

Mr. Romney was running out of states. He made an impulsive run on Pennsylvania, chasing what his aides said were tightening polls there. Mr. Romney had spent little time or money there before roaring in during the campaign’s final hours.

On the last weekend of the race, Mr. Romney scheduled a rally in Bucks County. Supporters began arriving at 2 p.m. But his plane was delayed, and as the hours rolled on — and the temperatures dropped — dozens of people were temporarily blocked by the Secret Service as they sought to leave. Mr. Romney arrived to an unpleasant scene: clusters of angry, cold supporters.

That Tuesday, Mr. Romney lost the state by 5 percentage points and watched Mr. Obama hold a 50,000-vote lead in Florida — a state that he had once been confident of winning.


Michael Barbaro, Michael D. Shear and Peter Baker contributed reporting.

    How a Race in the Balance Went to Obama, NYT, 7.11.2012,






Long Lines Form at Polling Places

as Displaced Residents Find Ways to Vote


November 6, 2012
The New York Times


People whose lives were upended by Hurricane Sandy joined other voters on Tuesday to cast ballots after elected officials in New York and New Jersey rushed to relocate scores of polling places that had become unusable because of power failures, flooding or evacuations.

With neighborhoods still inundated by debris, silt and water, many people had to go to great lengths to cast a ballot in places that are little recovered from what officials describe as the worst storm damage to hit the New York City region, and where the prospect of more violent wind and torrential rain is looming this week.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said that a powerful northeaster expected to hit the area late on Wednesday could bring a surge in the water level of 2 to 4.5 feet at high tides — far less than the hurricane brought ashore, but enough to reflood low-lying areas.

Mr. Bloomberg said that the city would not require an evacuation of Zone A — its low-lying waterfront areas — but that police cars with loudspeakers would travel through several shorefront neighborhoods to alert residents. He implored residents to use shelters. The storm is expected to carry winds of 25 to 35 miles per hour to the city, with gusts up to 55 m.p.h. late Wednesday afternoon.

With one eye on the approaching storm, untold thousands of residents in the region devoted their energy, patience and, in some cases, ingenuity to voting.

Just after daybreak in Bay Head, N.J., Shelly Coleman and her husband, Terrance, bundled up in winter jackets, left their sodden, water-damaged home and headed to the Bay Head firehouse, where a makeshift polling place had sprouted — literally overnight.

The couple walked through the sand-blown and mucky streets, sidestepping the occasional dead fish that lay on its side, a lifeless eye staring up at them. The firehouse, powered by an industrial-size generator that rumbled like the engine of a jet airliner, was one of the few places with heat in the tiny seaside borough, just below Point Pleasant Beach.

“Guess what? We got water back on Friday. It was so exciting,” Ms. Coleman said, approaching the borough’s clerk.

Another voter, Leslie Wentz, 58, said she had no heat and had not showered in days. The election, she said, was not her top priority, but she voted anyway.

“I think everybody is just in survival mode,” she said. “Everybody is trying to survive. The town is doing a great job. The church is doing a great job, but I feel like the federal government is not coming in and doing anything. I can’t get anybody to help me.”

Though the region hit by Hurricane Sandy is not expected to be in play in the presidential election, the combination of the storm and heavy turnout yielded long lines, confusion, frustration and anger.

At several polling sites in New York City, the vote scanning machines being used for the first time in a presidential election malfunctioned, forcing workers to resort to paper ballots and slowing the process even more.

Maura Green was trying to vote in the East Village but her ballot was rejected by the scanning machine, and she had a hard time getting help from poll workers some of whom were blaming one another for the problems.

“It seemed the poll workers were not very organized or didn’t prepare,” Ms. Green said. “It was very chaotic. They didn’t seem to have a plan.”

Mr. Bloomberg said in a briefing that he was aware of the problems. He said machines were delivered late to some sites, others opened late, there were long, confusing lines and some polling sites did not have sufficient fuel to power generators.

“Be patient; it is worth the wait to be part of the process,” the mayor said. But he also criticized some of what was happening, like the jamming of ballot scanners and the collation of paper ballots for results.

“It is just a nightmare and it is really hard to understand in this day and age how you could do that,” he said.

Mr. Bloomberg and other officials have emphasized the efforts the city has exerted to recover after the storm and provide tens of thousands of New Yorkers with food aid and emergency shelter, while also trying to coordinate the logistics of holding a presidential election so even voters in the worst-hit areas, like Staten Island and the Rockaways, can take part in it.

As of Tuesday, about 350,000 homes are still dark, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said. Although power has been restored to more than 1.7 million homes in New York since the storm hit, Mr. Cuomo affirmed his annoyance with Consolidated Edison and the Long Island Power Authority for the pace of restorations, a message that resonated among some voters as they made the trek to the ballot box.

Randy Harter, 66, an artist and designer, voted in Westchester County, where his frustration at what he described as an incompetent government response to the storm had transformed into frustration with his voting experience.

When Mr. Harter asked an election worker for help to fill out a paper ballot he had never seen before, he was told: “Just fill it out.” When his ballot was inserted, the machine jammed. A second machine also jammed. He eventually was given an envelope in which to place a ballot that would be hand-counted. The entire voting experience took 45 minutes, Mr. Harter said.

On the Upper West Side of Manhattan, hundreds of voters waited on the sidewalk and packed into a gym at Public School 163. Voters had to wait in different lines to determine their election district, to get a ballot, to fill out the ballot and to get the ballot scanned. The process took an hour. There was no help for the disabled, and people grew increasingly upset.

Officials tried to make the process work smoothly especially for those living in areas hard hit by the hurricane.

New Jersey and New York both said they would allow voters uprooted by Hurricane Sandy to cast provisional ballots anywhere in their states.

But the provisional ballots would, in many cases, allow residents to vote only in statewide contests and in the presidential election, in which President Obama is heavily favored in both states. The ballots could not be used in local and Congressional races, which in some areas are far more competitive.

New Jersey went further, saying it will let displaced voters vote by fax or e-mail. Ballot-integrity advocates warned that this raised risks of fraud by hackers, or mischief by partisan local officials because electronic ballots lack secrecy and are not safeguarded by witnesses.

Across the storm-damaged region on Monday, some residents voted early, saying it felt like an important step back toward normalcy.

On Tuesday, the line to vote at an East Village polling station extended half a block down First Avenue and rapidly built westward on Ninth Street. By 8:40 a.m., at least 175 people were patiently reading papers, manipulating smartphones and drinking coffee, advancing not even a foot a minute.

Alex Schroder, 23, said she hoped it would be no longer than an hour, because she had to get to her job as a preschool teacher.

“I am really excited to vote,” she said, “so I don’t mind waiting.” She said that she really wanted Mr. Obama to win, and that the issues in this election — women’s roles, economics, gay rights, the environment — were deeply important to her.

In Forest Hills, Queens, Ann Dichter, 63, said she had never seen as busy a polling place in her 10-plus years there as she did Tuesday. Asked what was on her mind this day, she began a tirade against one of the presidential candidates, then stopped and summed up her mind-set thusly: “Women’s rights.”

In New York, there are very tight Congressional or legislative races in Queens, on Staten Island, on Long Island and in Westchester County, all of which were hit hard by the storm. Candidates in those races went to great lengths to ensure that their supporters could surmount the extraordinary obstacles to voting this year.

On Staten Island, the Congressional campaign of Mark Murphy, a Democrat running against Representative Michael G. Grimm, a Republican, sent volunteers to gasoline lines across the borough with iPhones to help idling voters figure out where they should go on Tuesday. Mr. Grimm’s campaign said it was recruiting volunteers with full gas tanks to transport to the polls voters whose cars were destroyed or had no gas.

Just before the election, local and state officials were plainly having trouble conveying information about Election Day obstacles and remedies. New Jersey officials could not say how many polling places had been moved — though they said fewer than 100 still needed “some resolution.” Polling places require power to run their electronic machines. As of Monday night, more than 100 polling places in New York State had been changed, including about 60 in the city. Most were in Brooklyn and Queens; in two cases, in the Rockaways and the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx, the city was setting up polling places in tents powered by generators and outfitted with portable heaters.

The city’s Board of Elections also arranged for shuttle buses that would run every 15 minutes to ferry voters to and from polling places in three areas hit particularly hard by the storm: the Rockaways, Coney Island and Staten Island.

Juan Carlos Polanco, a commissioner on the Board of Elections, said it had done everything in its power to publicize the new locations of polling places.

But the board has a troubled track record, even when elections are not preceded by hurricanes. In 2010, computer malfunctions and delayed openings of polling places led Mr. Bloomberg to pronounce the board’s handling of the election a “royal screw-up.” In June, the five-way Democratic primary for Representative Charles B. Rangel’s seat took weeks to be counted.

Local elected officials were not optimistic about Tuesday. Councilwoman Gale A. Brewer, a Manhattan Democrat, said she had heard from utility workers scheduled to work 12-hour shifts on Election Day who had no idea how they were supposed to vote. And Councilman Jumaane D. Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat, questioned why thousands of voters taking refuge at evacuation shelters would not be able to cast provisional ballots at their shelters.

In Ocean County, officials took extra steps to allow displaced residents to vote. They sent a mobile voting bus to shelters there and in adjacent Burlington County. They also sought to address the problem of provisional ballots by printing 50,000 generic ballots and allowing voters to fill in the names of their local candidates.

For candidates in tight races, the effort to get voters to the polls was both frantic and delicate.

On Long Island, volunteers for Randy Altschuler, the Republican challenging Representative Timothy H. Bishop, a Democrat, called voters to make sure they knew that the election was still taking place and to offer rides. But every conversation began with a question about whether the voters needed help.


Reporting was contributed by Joseph Berger, Christine Hauser,

Andrea Kannapell and Michael Paulson.

    Long Lines Form at Polling Places as Displaced Residents Find Ways to Vote, NYT, 6.11.2012,






With $200 Million in U.S. Housing Aid,

Officials Begin Relocating the Displaced


November 5, 2012
The New York Times


Officials said they were working on Monday to provide temporary housing for people displaced by Hurricane Sandy despite confusion and conflicting accounts of how many needed places to live.

“We don’t really know yet, in truth,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said at a briefing, adding that the estimates ranged from 10,000 to 40,000 people. “You’re going to have some people who need short-term housing solutions and some who need long-term housing solutions, and those are two different things.”

“It is manageable; it is large,” Mr. Cuomo added, saying the federal government “would defray the cost with us.”

Federal officials said more than 45,000 families had been approved for housing assistance totaling more than $203 million — money that would let them find a temporary place to live or repair damage to their homes.

The approvals were the start of a housing assistance program that will accelerate in the coming weeks, as tens of thousands of people left homeless by the storm look for places to stay while their homes or apartment buildings are repaired.

A small number of families — about 450 who have checked into hotels so far, officials said — have been approved for stays in hotels paid directly by the federal government. Federal officials said they were approving the rental assistance and hotel stays because even after utilities were reconnected, thousands of people could not simply return to houses that had sustained serious damage and needed major work.

“As power comes on, it is becoming clear for many people the longer-term issue will be rebuilding and repairing their homes,” said W. Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Shaun Donovan, the secretary of housing and urban development, which subsidizes tens of thousands of its housing units in New York and New Jersey, said the agency was still working on figuring out how many units would need to be renovated, forcing residents to relocate until the work was done.

So far, that count is relatively small, he said, including one complex in Atlantic City. But it will climb in the coming days as the assessments are completed.

The homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, who visited Coney Island on Monday, noted that the storm had hit public housing particularly hard. She said that for housing-project residents and others displaced by the storm, “no option is off the table” for temporary housing, including rental units, hotel and motel rooms, trailers and prefabricated units.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said housing projects in New York City were recovering. Of 402 buildings run by the New York City Housing Authority that were hit by the storm, 174 buildings still lacked heat and hot water and 114 lacked power. He said the authority had pumped out all its flooded buildings.

“The big numbers come down quickly,” Mr. Bloomberg said at a briefing. “The challenge is that when we get down to the hard core of real problems where there’s no quick, easy, inexpensive fix, that’s when we’re going to really going to be challenged.”

He said he had appointed a former deputy commissioner of the city’s Office of Emergency Management and former federal recovery officer for 9/11, Brad Gair, to direct housing recovery operations, overseeing the city’s efforts to find housing for people displaced by the storm.

The mayor said Mr. Gair would start by preparing an inventory of “transitional and temporary housing options” and coordinate efforts to move people into short-term quarters.

Officials in New Jersey said they had asked for assistance from out-of-state inspectors to help let people back into their homes faster, and a unit of the State Department of Community Affairs planned to start electrical and building inspections later in the week. FEMA officials said that more than 1,070 housing inspectors were at work in New York, with another 700 in New Jersey and 46 in Connecticut.

In some communities on Long Island, building inspectors were already going from one storm-damaged house to the next, inspecting circuit breakers and notifying the Long Island Power Authority whether power could be turned on safely.

Communication and coordination remained spotty. Officials in Nassau and Suffolk Counties, saying they were still reaching out to towns and villages to assess temporary housing needs, declined to provide estimates. Vanessa Baird-Streeter, the communications director for Suffolk County, said about 10,000 homes had been damaged, but she said officials were still determining how many were uninhabitable.

Up and down the storm-ravaged South Shore, local officials reported widespread needs.

“We need housing bad,” said Mayor Andrew Hardwick of Freeport, a seaside community of about 43,000 in Nassau County.

He said that flooding had damaged 2,000 to 3,000 homes in Freeport and that many families had continued to occupy their damaged homes. Many may be forced out as the weather turns colder and mold in their waterlogged homes grows and spreads.

Mr. Hardwick said he had asked for 100 FEMA trailers and would install them on athletic fields and in schoolyards.

But he had a more immediate — and potentially more permanent — idea in mind. He said he had asked the federal government to intercede with banks to convert two private housing developments that were completed but went unoccupied after the housing market collapsed.

“We could put in a team of tradespeople to go in and bring the electrical systems and plumbing up to code,” he said. “That could be a lot quicker than putting mobile homes in place.”

    With $200 Million in U.S. Housing Aid, Officials Begin Relocating the Displaced, NYT, 5.11.2012,






In Brooklyn, Worrying About Not Only Flooding

but Also What’s in Water


November 5, 2012
The New York Times


When Hurricane Sandy sent water tearing into Tony Locane’s basement last week, he rushed down the stairs to save what he could — his computer, a few pieces of his artwork — as the water climbed up the walls and up his legs from one foot to two feet, to three and to four. And when he retreated to the safety of higher ground, he noticed something on his skin. His body was covered in a “greasy, oily slick,” Mr. Locane said.

The water that rushed into his basement that night came over the banks of the nearby Gowanus Canal, a narrow waterway that cuts a winding path through a section of South Brooklyn, and which the Environmental Protection Agency considers to be one of the most contaminated bodies of water in the country.

“It’s a Superfund site,” said Christopher Webb, a filmmaker whose office right on the Gowanus banks was thick with sediment and a vicious odor of sewers and gasoline last week. “And it’s in here!”

The Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn had many of the aching hallmarks of the storm last week: Homes ravaged by fire, caravans of useless vehicles, family photographs left to dry on every available flat surface. But it fared far better than some, and its residents were grateful.

Nonetheless, the floodwaters and their polluted source have raised questions in this rapidly gentrifying stretch of Brooklyn — dotted with fast-appreciating brick homes, lingering artists’ studios and auto repair shops — about inadequate infrastructure and filthy waters. The concerns are especially pressing in the face of a great deal of looming development, scheduled to kick off next year with a 700-unit rental building, breaking ground right at the water’s edge.

“I’m not against development, but we need the infrastructure to be upgraded if we’re going to have it,” said Linda LaViolette, who owns two small buildings that took on five feet of Gowanus water in the basement. “There are health and safety concerns we’re going to have to deal with.”

The Gowanus Canal was carved out of a wetland in the 1860s for use as an industrial waterway. Over the years, it has been lined by coal yards, chemical plants, heavy industry and tanneries, according to the E.P.A. It was also used as a dumping ground for raw sewage and industrial waste.

Until the last few years it was famous for its smell, because it horribly and constantly stank.

While that situation has improved considerably, the canal can still smell like a mildewed bathroom on a hot day, especially after a rainstorm when the local sewer system, easily overwhelmed by storm runoff, has a nasty habit of dumping raw sewage into the canal.

But the neighborhood has been attracting new residents and investment in recent years all the same. Gowanus is sandwiched between Park Slope, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens, and its quaint brick carriage houses and warehouses have stood with arms open to greet a small hodgepodge of restaurants, artists and home buyers.

Despite last week’s storm, residents who have laid down roots say they have no intention of selling their homes.

“I think we need to have an honest discussion about how we’re going to go forward,” said Michael King, an architect who has lived on Second Street for more than 10 years. But he added, “I’m not going anywhere.”

E.P.A. officials say that the water that came out of the Gowanus, and turned Bond and Nevins Streets into rushing rivers last week, was extremely diluted with saltwater coming in with the tide. All floodwaters, they added, can be hazardous.

But the water that flowed out of the Gowanus may have been carrying some frightful passengers, including raw sewage, toxic materials picked up from the street — there are fuel businesses in the area and perhaps oil on their sidewalks — as well as contaminants in the soil that are decades old.

“How do you decontaminate that?” Ms. LaViolette said.

Environmental officials recommend cleaning with bleach, wearing goggles and gloves, and getting the water out of homes and buildings as quickly as possible.

Officials have surveyed the area and are testing samples at certain sites to see what was in the water, and to be sure that toxic sediment (volatile organic compounds, coal tar, lead) did not rise from the bottom and spread into the streets.

Rob McKenna, whose basement on Bond Street was inundated, piled his ruined belongings at the curb — a lumpy mountain of furniture and paintings atop heavy black garbage bags — and made sure to warn would-be scavengers away.

“Hey, man!” he said, calling out his second-story window to a man who stopped to pick up a discarded camping stove. “That stuff was in the basement sitting in Gowanus water. It might not be stuff you want to take home.”

The man nodded, and quickly put the stove down.

Water from the Gowanus reached about a block from the canal in either direction, soaking a black 1940 Plymouth in a repair shop on Degraw Street, a newly constructed theater set on Bond Street, and the first floor of an apartment building on Nevins Street. Some blocks were hit much harder than others. Certain buildings were filled with a noxious odor in the following days, while others had just the faintest whiff of gasoline.

Justin Burke, a neighborhood resident and journalist who went out in the storm to see where the water would go, said that it climbed three to four feet high on a grayish warehouse that will be the site of the 700-unit rental property, which is being developed by the Lightstone Group.

Ethan Geto, a spokesman for Lightstone, said that the plans for the project already take into account significant flooding and will not need to be altered. The buildings will be raised above the sidewalks, nine feet above high-tide level. The plans also call for state-of-the-art bulkheads and a new storm drain system to keep sewage from spilling into the canal.

Many current residents, meanwhile, are still grappling with what it means to live in such an extremely flood-prone area.

Some people in the neighborhood acquired flood insurance after Tropical Storm Irene hit last year — though there was much less flooding around the Gowanus. Many did not. Mr. Locane, the artist, said that he was not required to get flood insurance when he bought his house on Bond Street two years ago, but when he tried to refinance this year, he was told he could not get a new mortgage without it.

But all the residents, it seems, are preparing for this to happen again, starting with their own homes.

“I stayed because I wanted to see how the water was going to get into my house,” said Mr. King, the architect, who rode out most of the storm in his home less than a block from the canal. “I wanted to fix it for next time, because there’s going to be a next time. We have a lot better idea now.”

    In Brooklyn, Worrying About Not Only Flooding but Also What’s in Water, NYT, 5.11.2012,






Where Boardwalks Beckoned, a Way of Life Lies in Splinters


November 5, 2012
The New York Times


BELMAR, N.J. — Of course the boardwalk had changed over the last 100 years: Carousels switched to electric from gas power, sunblock replaced baby oil, stuffed animals supplanted cigarettes as prizes at the booths where the barkers found new ways to wrangle dollar bills from the tourists who flocked to the Jersey Shore.

But mostly, it played the role of a constant, linking a century of summers.

Just the word “boardwalk” evoked timeless images of warm breezes, dates walking arm-in-arm, the sticky sweet of Italian Ice — “our carnival life forever” as the state bard, Bruce Springsteen, sings in a song, “Sandy,” that local radio stations have turned into the anthem of the Fourth of July.

And in a stroke, it became a symbol of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction, with boardwalks shredded, buckled, gone, from shore towns in New Jersey and on Long Island.

The bigger casualties were almost incalculable: the homes, businesses and lives lost to fire and flooding. But for many wading through the wreckage, the boardwalks summed up a ruined way of life.

These wood-plank promenades sustained businesses and tied together communities, serving as something akin to town squares on stilts. But blasted three blocks into town or dumped implausibly onto roofs of seaside retreats, their destruction served notice that for all the romance of the ocean, it can also wreak havoc — and in a warming world, increasingly does.

In Seaside Heights, south of here, the 17-block Boardwalk settled in splintered heaps, the Star Jet roller coaster that once stood on it now ducking in and out of the waves like a skeletal serpent.

In the Rockaways, in Queens, some residents returned as soon as the storm had subsided to check on the planks clustered like a game of pickup sticks, while others said they could not bear the sight.

In Long Beach, on Long Island, the police tried unsuccessfully to keep residents from mourning over the ruins of the 2.2-mile Boardwalk, parts of which were whipped half a mile away.

“The first thing I had to do was check out the Boardwalk,” said Chris Cori, 19, a Long Beach native, looking down and biting his lip. “I just couldn’t believe it.”

With strips blown away from shore towns up and down the East Coast, it was the rare exception that the celebrated Boardwalks in Atlantic City and Coney Island, where much of the wooden structure was recently replaced with concrete, remained largely intact.

In the less fortunate communities along the New Jersey and New York coastlines, longtime residents and seasonal faithful talked of what has become a sad seaside ritual, rebuilding a storm-damaged boardwalk.

They generally were not at all ready or willing to question the wisdom of rebuilding on a ribbon of sand buffeted by the Atlantic Ocean and directed by nature to shift with winds and tides.

Perhaps it is because the Jersey Shore drives so much of the state’s $38 billion tourism industry.

Perhaps it is because they have seen this before: The Great Hurricane of 1938 and the Ash Wednesday storm of 1962 struck the East Coast like freight trains, ripping up these beach-town boulevards from Virginia to New England. The boardwalks were built back, at great expense.

The destruction now seems faster and more severe; last year, the boardwalks along the Jersey Shore suffered damage from the one-two punch of an earthquake and Hurricane Irene in the same week. Here, the town merely continued, replacing wooden planks with composite lumber supposed to last decades.

The Belmar Boardwalk served as the staging ground of summer for Matt Doherty, the mayor of this town, and his daughters, 5 and 8.

“I would come home from work, we would ride our bikes, go up to the boardwalk, get our ice cream if they were good that day, go play on the Boardwalk, they would get all sandy,” Mayor Doherty said.

“They would always want to go down to the water, that would always be an argument, and they would go into the water because I would lose that argument. They would get wet. They would get back on the bikes. They would complain that they were wet. And we’d go home. And we’d repeat.”

Now, James Robinson, 46, who grew up here, sat on his bicycle, sniffing rot in the air and watching planks floating in deep pools of water.

“I’ve seen the Boardwalk get beat up back in ’70s but never to this point. It’s just sad,” he said, adding, “It will take years to get back to where we were.”

In Toms River, Dana Shanley stood by the water and recalled so many teenage rites of passage along boardwalks now obliterated, in Ortley Beach, Seaside Heights, Seaside Beach.

She looked out over Barnegat Bay to the bridge that had ferried generations to Seaside Heights, first by horse and buggy for 25 cents and later by candy-colored convertibles. Now police officers turned the cars away, telling people this was not the Seaside they knew, it was too dangerous to enter.

“I never gave it a second thought: ‘I’m bored. Let’s take a ride into Seaside,’ ” Ms. Shanley, 24, said. “I had so many dates in Seaside, just walking the Boardwalk.”

In Far Rockaway, Terrence Nottingham, 32, spoke of the Boardwalk as a kind of talisman.

“If I’m ever going through something or feeling a certain way, I can come to the Boardwalk and it’s very serene,” he said. “I just look out at the water and I can just clear my head and think about how to help myself.”

“I just hope that they hurry up and build another one, like this one but make it stronger,” he added.

That was the sentiment up and down the shore about rebuilding. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey called it resilience.

Mr. Christie, who is 50, had rented a house in Seaside Heights with high school friends after his graduation, and he returned to the rides and boardwalks here with his wife and four children in the summers.

“We’ll rebuild it,” he said last week. “There is no question in my mind we’ll rebuild it, but for those of us who are my age, it won’t be the same. It will be different because many of the iconic things that made it what it was are now gone and washed into the ocean.”

    Where Boardwalks Beckoned, a Way of Life Lies in Splinters, NYT, 5.11.2012,






Schools Reopen to Snarls; Transit Headaches Persist


November 5, 2012
The New York Times


In Lower Manhattan, students shivered in school buildings that had lights, but no heat; on Staten Island, they sat by classmates whose homes had been destroyed; and in every borough, some students stayed home as the city used their classrooms, hallways and gymnasiums as shelters.

All day Monday, the city scrambled to deal with a Rubik’s Cube of displacements, delayed openings, modified schedules and new plans for evacuees using school buildings in an attempt to return as many students to classrooms as soon as possible.

Buses arrived to take homeless men, uprooted hospital patients and evacuated residents from a makeshift shelter in Midtown Manhattan at the High School of Graphic Communication Arts, which was closed to students, to another location. That move was part of the city’s effort to consolidate the eight school buildings that are being used as shelters to free up space for students to return to classes.

But even Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has emphasized repeatedly the importance of restoring order to schools, acknowledged on Monday that many of those shelters were not likely to clear out quickly. “For every two that come in, three leave,” said Jeff Pedersen, the facility manager of the shelter at Susan E. Wagner High School on Staten Island, describing the situation on Monday.

The day was supposed to be a major step toward restoring New York City to what it had been before Hurricane Sandy struck. After the longest unplanned vacation in recent memory, most of the city’s 1.1 million public school students attended school, many of them making their way around downed trees and through streets that only recently had their traffic lights turn back on.

Commuters on Monday discovered just how much the hurricane had transformed the transit system. Almost every subway line had at least partial service restored, and Amtrak and intercity buses had resumed weekday service. But long lines at bus stops and impossibly packed trains were the norm, particularly on Long Island and in New Jersey. The scene at the Port Authority Bus Terminal during the evening rush hour featured long, snaking lines and frustrated commuters.

Persistent gas shortages compounded the headaches, with long lines of cars still crawling slowly toward the pumps. Mr. Bloomberg said that the police had assigned an officer to every gas station that was open.

And there was more bad news from forecasters: Another bout of perilous weather was coming, a northeaster that was expected to send gusts of up to 60 miles an hour between the Delmarva Peninsula and Long Island by Wednesday afternoon, along with sleet, snow and rain to parts of the metropolitan region. It could also bring a moderate storm surge, which could further damage properties where protective dunes were flattened by Hurricane Sandy.

Federal officials said that more than 30,000 families had been approved for temporary rental assistance, totaling more than $95 million for apartments. The approvals were the start of a housing assistance program that will accelerate in the coming weeks, as tens of thousands of people left homeless look for places to stay while their homes or apartment buildings are repaired.

Meanwhile, more than 700,000 customers in New York and New Jersey still awaited the return of power. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York called the performance of the utility companies “unacceptable” and again suggested that they might be punished for moving too slowly to restore power after Hurricane Sandy.

Consolidated Edison responded by saying that the company had already restored four times as many customers as it has ever had to restore after a storm. “The 800,000 or so we’ve restored is equivalent to four Hurricane Irenes,” said John Miksad, senior vice president for electric operations at Con Edison.

Despite the efforts of Con Edison crews, 19 schools remained shut in New York City and without power on Monday afternoon, down from 29 Sunday evening. Others had power, but lacked Internet connections and working phone lines. Another 48 schools were closed on Monday because of storm damage.

Confusion reigned at some schools over the weekend as Department of Education robocalls telling students to stay home crossed paths with messages from principals telling students to show up. Some staff members arrived at schools in Queens and Brooklyn that had been marked as structurally damaged; they were rebuffed by hazmat crews.

Inside the Seward Park Educational Campus on the Lower East Side, students and teachers at the five small high schools that are housed inside reported that half of the students and some teachers had not shown up on Monday, preoccupied with power failures and damaged homes. With schedules upended, teachers gave up lesson plans to talk to students about their experiences of the storm, students said. And then there was the cold.

“We can’t learn in these conditions,” said Manny Rivera, a sophomore. “Conditions are really uncomfortable.”

They wandered the frigid hallways wearing hats and gloves and jamming hands into parka pockets; they avoided windy bathrooms and a window-filled gym that was deemed too cold for exercise. They could see their breath inside.

The principal of Lower Manhattan Arts Academy doled out extra sweaters. In the classrooms he oversaw, homeroom meant jumping jacks, racing in place and swapping information about which teachers had brought portable heaters. By lunchtime, staff members had told students they could go home.

Dennis M. Walcott, the schools chancellor, said 86 percent of students were back in schools on Monday.

Some intricate shuffling will have to take place before all the students can return. Thousands of students are scheduled to return to the high schools housed in the eight school-shelter buildings on Wednesday. The mayor said any schools that were still housing evacuees by midweek would isolate them from students.

School and shelter officials at Brooklyn Tech High School are planning to shepherd the building’s more than 250 evacuees, many of whom are psychiatric patients, onto the top two floors of the school, including the cafeteria area, so that classes can resume on the bottom six floors. Students will eat boxed lunches in the auditorium, said Elizabeth Johnson, the school’s United Federation of Teachers chapter leader. The principal has asked for extra security for the school starting on Wednesday, she said. But she remained skeptical that the transition would be smooth.

“It smells of garbage and human waste, and people have been sleeping in our classrooms,” Ms. Johnson said. “We understand these people need a place to go, but we’re also worried about students — when they come back, they need it to be safe and clean. People are doing the best they can, but it’s just overwhelming.”

Meanwhile, students at structurally damaged schools or ones without power are being sent to other schools with extra space.

On Monday morning, Melessa Avery, the principal of Public School 273 in East New York, Brooklyn, sat at a conference table with Oswaldo Roman, the principal of a special needs school, who would be sending 156 students to P.S. 273 on Wednesday. The issues were many: space for the 13 new classes, gym time, lunchtime, dismissal procedures, transportation, security and how the students would adjust to the new arrivals.

“We have a calm building,” Ms. Avery said. “I am hoping this doesn’t upset the apple cart.”

Whether warm or chilly, however, the classrooms were a welcome change from days spent playing UNO by candlelight, flushing toilets with buckets of water hauled upstairs or, in some cases, bouncing from temporary shelter to temporary shelter.

“ ‘Mommy, I can’t take this!’ ” Aura Salcedo, 43, recalled her 8-year-old son saying as he endured a week with no computer or TV. She rolled her eyes as she dropped him off at school on the Lower East Side. “I tell him, ‘Honey, back in the day this is how people lived!’ ”

On hard-hit Staten Island, Veronica Dato, 9, a fourth grader at P.S. 38 whose house was partially flooded, accepted a kiss from her mother before running into the school.

“She’s so happy to be here,” said her mother, Maribel Dato, describing how Veronica had made her own breakfast and got ready to leave for school by 6:30 a.m. — more than an hour before school was to begin. “She saw three neighbors lose their homes. Two of her friends were stranded for two days. She’s seen things that would traumatize adults.”

The lights were on and the doors open at the Spruce Street School near City Hall, where Nancy Harris, the principal, was welcoming parents and their colorfully bundled children. Ms. Harris said classrooms that morning were about 60 degrees. But Trina Mcfield, the mother of 5-year-old twins, had not heard about the lack of heat.

“He’s got extra clothes, thank God,” she said, sounding relieved to leave her children to someone else’s care for the first time in days. “It was a long week. Long and hard.”



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: November 5, 2012

An earlier version of this article said Gov. Mario M. Cuomo criticized the performance

of utility companies in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

The criticism came from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

    Schools Reopen to Snarls; Transit Headaches Persist, NYT, 5.11.2012,






Gas Lines Ease,

but Shortages and Closed Stations

Persist Across New York Region


November 5, 2012
The New York Times


The gas shortage that has strained the New York region seemed to ease on Monday as lines at many pumps shrank, more gas stations reopened and mandatory rationing was enforced in some areas.

In northern New Jersey, gas lines dwindled at some stations after state officials adopted a rationing system over the weekend that restricted gas sales to cars with license plates ending in even numbers on even days, and license plates ending in odd numbers (or not displaying a number) on odd days.

“That cut the lines in half,” said the Essex County executive, Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. “Instead of six miles, you have three miles, but there’s been improvement.”

Shorter lines — and waiting times — were reported across New Jersey and New York by elated drivers who posted their good news on Twitter, blogs and Web sites. In the Westchester suburbs, where the county executive, Robert P. Astorino, has urged residents not to top off their gas tanks, the Villages of Pleasantville and Pelham noted shorter gas lines in a conference call with county officials.

According to AAA, 60 to 65 percent of New York City gas stations were open Monday, up from 40 to 45 percent Friday, and 50 to 55 percent of Long Island stations were open, up from 35 to 40 percent. In New Jersey, it reported 55 to 60 percent of stations were open, up from 45 to 50 percent.

Even so, lines remained long enough at some stations that people posted ads on Craigslist offering to sell gas for a premium — $20 per gallon in one case.

Jeyaul Hoque, 31, a Queens cabdriver, said he paid two people $30 each to wait in line for him at a station on Sunday. “If I don’t get any gas, I’m going to lose more than $60,” he said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said drivers’ hoarding of gas was contributing to the long lines.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said that 21 million gallons of gasoline had been delivered by barges to regional terminals over the weekend “and there’s more coming in.” He said the supply from interstate pipelines also continued to increase.

“It will take a little while to get the distribution to stations,” he said. “Until the bottleneck clears, lines at the pump probably will remain long.”

Mr. Bloomberg added that the city had stationed a police officer at every open gas station to help maintain order. “We ask motorists to be patient,” the mayor said. “And to please use mass transit as much as you can.”

The Homeland Security secretary, Janet Napolitano, who was visiting Coney Island, also urged people to conserve gas even as she reassured them that the shortage was temporary. “The gasoline is here,” she said. “It’s just a matter of getting it distributed.”

But some critics said that such efforts to reduce the gas shortage came too little, too late.

“It’s still a very bad situation,” said Anthony Michael Sabino, a Long Island lawyer specializing in the oil and gas industry who has been monitoring the gas shortage. “It’s been six full days since Sandy has hit and things are still far from normal.”

Sal Risalvato, executive director of NJGCA, the former New Jersey Gasoline Retailers Association, estimated that about 80 percent of the roughly 1,500 New Jersey gas stations north of Trenton were still closed on Monday. He said that many station owners were frustrated because they had no power, or no more gas to sell.

“People they can’t sell to are screaming at them,” he said.

    Gas Lines Ease, but Shortages and Closed Stations Persist Across New York Region, NYT, 5.11.2012,







Sandy Versus Katrina


November 4, 2012
The New York Times


As Sandy barreled toward New Jersey, there were hopeful mutters on the right to the effect that it might become President Obama’s Katrina, with voters blaming him for the damage, and that this might matter on Tuesday. Sorry, guys: polls show overwhelming approval for Mr. Obama’s handling of the storm, and a significant rise in his overall favorability ratings.

And he deserves the bump. For the response to Sandy, like the success of the auto bailout, is a demonstration that Mr. Obama’s philosophy of government — which holds that the government can and should provide crucial aid in times of crisis — works. And conversely, the contrast between Sandy and Katrina demonstrates that leaders who hold government in contempt cannot provide that aid when it is needed.

So, about that response: Much of the greater New York area (including my house) is still without power; gasoline is scarce; and some outlying areas are feeling neglected. Right-wing news media are portraying these continuing difficulties as a disaster comparable to, nay greater than, the aftermath of Katrina. But there’s really no comparison.

I could do a point-by-point — and it’s definitely worth it, if you’re curious, to revisit the 2005 Katrina timeline to get a sense of just how bad the response really was. But for me the difference is summed up in two images. One is the nightmare at the New Orleans convention center, where thousands were stranded for days amid inconceivable squalor, an outrage that all of America watched live on TV, but to which top officials seemed oblivious. The other is the scene in flooded Hoboken, with the National Guard moving in the day after the storm struck to deliver food and water and rescue stranded residents.

The point is that after Katrina the government seemed to have no idea what it was doing; this time it did. And that’s no accident: the federal government’s ability to respond effectively to disaster always collapses when antigovernment Republicans hold the White House, and always recovers when Democrats take it back.

Consider, in particular, the history of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Under President George H. W. Bush, FEMA became a dumping ground for unqualified political hacks. Faced with a major test in the form of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the agency failed completely.

Then Bill Clinton came in, put FEMA under professional management, and saw the agency’s reputation restored.

Given this experience, you might have expected George W. Bush to preserve Mr. Clinton’s gains. But no: he appointed his campaign manager, Joe Allbaugh, to head the agency, and Mr. Allbaugh immediately signaled his intention both to devolve disaster relief to the state and local level and to downgrade the whole effort, declaring, “Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level.” After Mr. Allbaugh left for the private sector, he was replaced with Michael “heckuva job” Brown, and the rest is history.

Like Mr. Clinton, President Obama restored FEMA’s professionalism, effectiveness, and reputation. But would Mitt Romney destroy the agency again? Yes, he would. As everyone now knows — despite the Romney campaign’s efforts to Etch A Sketch the issue away — during the primary Mr. Romney used language almost identical to Mr. Allbaugh’s, declaring that disaster relief should be turned back to the states and to the private sector.

The best line on this, I have to admit, comes from Stephen Colbert: “Who better to respond to what’s going on inside its own borders than the state whose infrastructure has just been swept out to sea?”

Look, Republicans love to quote Ronald Reagan’s old joke that the most dangerous words you can hear are “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Of course they’ll do their best, whenever they’re in power, to destroy an agency whose job is to say exactly that. And yes, it’s hypocritical that the right-wing news media are now attacking Mr. Obama for, they say, not helping enough people.

Back to the politics. Some Republicans have already started using Sandy as an excuse for a possible Romney defeat. It’s a weak argument: state-level polls have been signaling a clear and perhaps widening Obama advantage for weeks. But as I said, to the extent that the storm helps Mr. Obama, it’s well deserved.

The fact is that if Mr. Romney had been president these past four years the federal response to disasters of all kinds would have been far weaker than it was. There would have been no auto bailout, because Mr. Romney opposed the federal financing that was crucial to the rescue. And FEMA would have remained mired in Bush-era incompetence.

So this storm probably won’t swing the election — but if it does, it will do so for very good reasons.

    Sandy Versus Katrina, NYT, 4.11.2012,






While Fuel Is Promised, Drivers Wait Hours for Gas


November 4, 2012
The New York Times


As long lines persisted at pumps across the region, government officials and gas station owners in New York and New Jersey said Sunday that the fuel shortage could last for several more days as stations struggled to maintain supplies or reopen after losing power.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo reported that tankers and barges laden with fuel were en route to New York-area ports, but he also called on drivers to help by staying off the roads. “Now is not the time to be using the car, if you don’t need to,” he said at a news briefing. “Now is not the time to be hoarding fuel,” he added.

On Long Island, the Northville fuel distribution terminal at Port Jefferson was scheduled to get up to nine million gallons of gasoline by the end of Monday, according to state officials. A second Long Island terminal, in Inwood, was also open and ready to accept deliveries, the officials said.

The federal Energy Department said Sunday that only 27 percent of gas stations in the New York area reported being out of gas, down from 67 percent on Friday. The improvement was attributed to the continued restoration of power to the area and the reopening of the Port of New York and New Jersey and other pipelines and terminals handling fuel delivery. The Defense Department also started delivering fuel over the weekend.

“Things are getting a little better, not tremendously,” said Kevin Beyer, president of the Long Island Gasoline Retailers Association. Mr. Beyer’s own gas station in Smithtown, N.Y., reopened Saturday after electricity was restored. “It’s going to be a long process,” he said.

In New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie has imposed a rationing system limiting gas sales to even-numbered license plates on even days, and odd-numbered license plates on odd days, lines were noticeably shorter in some places, including Essex County, though many stations remained closed around the state.

Near Newark Liberty Airport, Havier Nazario, 36, a school principal, said he stood in line with dozens of people to fill up a five-gallon container for his car, which was parked in front of his house with an empty tank. After two hours, and with two people ahead of him, the station ran out.

Mr. Nazario said that one man had helped deplete the supply by filling a 25-gallon container with $101 worth of gas. “I don’t know what he’s trying to power,” Mr. Nazario said. “But I think folks should pretty much just take what they need for their vehicle, otherwise the ration doesn’t have its effect.”

He finally found gas at another station — after four more hours in line. The story was the same at many stations: long waits, uncertain results. Even stations that were tapped out found that people kept coming.

In New Dorp on Staten Island, Cassie Arizmendy, 23, said she had been waiting in line at a Hess station for more than 17 hours by Sunday afternoon for the next delivery of gas. “I’m here and I’m not leaving because I’m in the front,” said Ms. Arizmendy, who wore pajamas under her coat.

In Westchester County on Sunday, a Mobil station reopened in Larchmont after receiving a delivery of 5,000 gallons from a distributor in Newburgh, N.Y., less than half of its normal delivery, the owner said. The line — cash-only with a $40 limit — was four blocks long and had a police officer directing customers.

“I lived through the 1970s so I’ve been there,” said Rainor Sick, 69, who spent a half-hour waiting to fill up.

At a Getty station in Pelham Manor, in Westchester, the owner, Dave Randhawa, stood outside telling drivers that he had nothing left after selling about 8,000 gallons in the two previous days. He said there had only been one minor confrontation, when a woman who said her car had run out of gas tried to jump the line.

“I was told it will come today but I doubt it,” he told one woman in a van that rolled up.

    While Fuel Is Promised, Drivers Wait Hours for Gas, NYT, 4.11.2012,






Back to School, Bundled Up, but With Lingering Questions


November 4, 2012
The New York Times


Cots lined the hallways, and toilets were limited or clogged, so some evacuees went to the bathroom on the floor. Volunteers, gagging at air made more fetid by unwashed bodies, took to wearing masks. “We gave them wipes,” a volunteer said, “but there’s only so much you can do with wipes.”

Custodians spent Sunday scrubbing and mopping, preparing this makeshift storm shelter in Hell’s Kitchen, which at one point housed some 1,000 displaced men, women and children, for the return to its day job — as the High School of Graphic Communication Arts.

The rush to sanitize the school was just one piece of the sprawling, shifting logistical puzzle, some would say nightmare, as the city’s 1.1 million public school students faced an educational landscape drastically altered by Hurricane Sandy. The city said that 57 schools were too damaged to reopen, which meant the city had to find new places for their 34,000 students. Eight buildings that normally house 24,000 students currently serve as shelters, and are set to reopen on Wednesday, a target several educators believed unfeasible. It was still unclear on Sunday whether students and teachers would be sharing their buildings with people now using them for shelter. (Graphic Communication Arts housed people evacuated from Bellevue Hospital Center.)

As of Sunday afternoon, 29 schools remained without power, with parents, teachers and students — many of them storm victims themselves — unsure when classes might resume, though the Department of Education said they were hoping to open Wednesday. Some of those that will reopen Monday might not have heat; the mayor advised that students wear extra sweaters.

The state Education Department was updating its schools Web site Sunday with the latest information and placing full-page advertisements in some newspapers. The mayor said the city made 1.1 million robocalls to parents over the weekend, telling them the status of their schools, though many families received follow-up calls with different information as situations changed by the hour.

“It is complex and people are going to make mistakes, and people are going to get misinformed,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said at a news conference Sunday. Noting that schools would be closed, as planned, for Election Day, he added: “We know that, but it’s better to have another day of school, get most kids to school, find out where we need more resources, and then we’ll have Tuesday to try to adjust.”

Around 300 of New Jersey’s 589 school districts were to remain closed on Monday, said Barbara Morgan, a spokeswoman for the state Education Department. In a message Friday, John Bulina, president of the New Jersey School Boards Association, said it was possible some schools would “be unusable as educational facilities for quite some time.”

Some officials said they hoped to open schools by Wednesday, but cautioned against too much optimism. “Not all roads are safe for travel, student walkers, pickups and buses,” said an online note from Anthony Cacciola, the superintendent of the West Babylon school district, one of several on Long Island that were to be closed Monday. “The gas crisis,” he said, “has added another layer of great concern for staff travel and bus fuel.”

Students at the 57 New York City schools that cannot reopen will not relocate to their new schools until Wednesday. Sixteen schools in the eight buildings that have doubled as shelters were supposed to reopen Monday, but that date got bumped back two days after Department of Education officials toured the sites.

At Susan E. Wagner High School on Staten Island on Sunday, row upon row of cots made the gym look more like a Civil War field hospital than a high school. Piles of clothes and canned goods competed for space in the cafeteria with evacuees eating and milling about. Several dozen dogs, cats and birds — evacuees themselves — had taken up residence in the basement.

Because Staten Island was so brutally hit by Hurricane Sandy, it was not clear where all of the people housed in Wagner High School, which has 3,400 students, would go: many no longer had homes to return to.

Dennis M. Walcott, the New York City schools chancellor, said the city was working with the Department of Homeless Services to ensure safe reopenings on Wednesday. But some staff members at schools being used as shelters were skeptical.

“Everyone was kind of shocked to think they’d go through with this,” said Serge Avery, a social science teacher at Brooklyn Technical High School, one of the eight buildings. “It just did not seem feasible logistically.”

Ahmed Abdelqader, Brooklyn Tech’s senior class president, said many students were eager to return to class, especially seniors preparing for college admission, but, he said, “A lot of people were questioning whether they’d be safe at school.”

One teacher visiting Graphic Communications Arts, on West 49th Street, said it would be impossible for the site to be cleaned up in time. Evacuees and homeless men filled six floors, the teacher said and, unlike students, entered the building without being searched. “It had become a homeless shelter,” the teacher said. “The custodial staff would need an entire week.”

Some schools too damaged to open to students continued to serve multiple purposes. On Sunday, donations of clothes, shoes, nonperishable food, blankets and toys piled up at George L. Egbert Intermediate School, in Midland Beach on Staten Island. Adrienne Stallone, the principal, said floodwaters had bent the school’s doors, eaten away some walls and pushed others into different rooms. On Sunday, the school’s boiler was still under five feet of salt water in the basement.

The school has 1,000 students in grades six through eight who, starting Wednesday, will be taken to New Dorp High School for at least a week. Meanwhile, in Egbert’s gymnasium, gray voting machines lined one wall, draped with clear plastic tarps — the school was still scheduled to serve as a voting site on Tuesday, with the help of a generator, lights and heating tents.

“The transformer across the street is still underwater, and Con Ed says they can’t think of turning the power on until that’s dry,” Ms. Stallone said.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, estimated that 40 to 45 schools were most likely too damaged to reopen by the end of the school year, most of them in the hardest hit neighborhoods — Coney Island, the Rockaways and Midland Beach. “It’s going to be somewhat chaotic in these hard hit areas,” he said, “There are families and children who haven’t had heat or hot food for days. There are going to be problems.”

Chiara Coletti, a spokeswoman for the principals’ union, said principals were “very sympathetic” and committed to streamlining the integration of dislocated schools. And Marina Vinitskaya, the principal of the It Takes a Village Academy, which shares the old Samuel J. Tilden High School building in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, with two other schools, is expecting some 750 middle school students on Wednesday. The four principals would meet Monday, she said, to discuss the details. “We will be using every space that will be available and put our schools on a different schedule to make this happen.”

Guidance staff members at many schools were preparing counseling centers to tend to the psychological needs of students who might have been living without power or heat, or who had lost their homes.

The last time the city’s school system was so broadly disrupted was after the Sept. 11 attack. But Harold O. Levy, who led the Education Department then, said the terrorist attack left a broader psychological wound on students, with the logistics of finding classrooms for dislocated students being a secondary concern. “It’s unfortunate, it’s disruptive, and it’s particularly a concern within the context of our really awful truancy problems in this country,” Mr. Levy said, of the effects of school days lost to Hurricane Sandy, “But seen in this perspective it’s manageable.”

M. Carole Schafenberg, the principal at Public School 76 in Queens, is expecting up to 200 students from Public School 78, which cannot reopen because of water damage. Ms. Schafenberg said her school was underutilized anyway, and that now every empty classroom would be filled. She was most concerned however with busing problems — she heard that much of the bus company’s fleet that served her school was ruined, and worried about the lack of gas. She also wondered how to reach displaced children who might have moved in with other family members — should they instead enroll in the nearest school? “I don’t think anybody has found that out,” she said.

    Back to School, Bundled Up, but With Lingering Questions, NYT, 4.11.2012,






Housing Nightmare Looms in Wake of Storm


November 4, 2012
The New York Times


New York City officials said on Sunday that they faced the daunting challenge of finding homes for as many as 40,000 people who were left homeless after the devastation of last week’s storm, a situation that the city’s mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, compared to New Orleans’s after Hurricane Katrina.

The mayor said that the 40,000 figure was the worst possible case given by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and that a more realistic assessment was 20,000 people — most of them residents of public housing. Even in the best possible case, he said, the task will be formidable.

“We don’t have a lot of empty housing in this city,” Mr. Bloomberg said at a news conference on Sunday. “We are not going to let anybody go sleeping in the streets or go without blankets, but it’s a challenge, and we’re working on that as fast as we can.”

It is a task shared throughout the region, as officials in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut struggle to meet the demands of those whose homes have been left uninhabitable. In some cases, the solution may be a familiar, if unwelcome sight: the trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after Hurricane Katrina.

Craig Fugate, director of the agency, said most displaced people would probably be housed in hotels or apartments. But in some regions, like Long Island with its many single-family homes and few large apartment blocks, he said there was a shortage of vacant housing.

“It has got to make sense for the neighborhood,” Mr. Fugate said, adding that it was up to the states to request the trailers. “We are going to bring all potential housing solutions and look at what works best for each neighborhood.”

Even as utility companies work to restore power to millions of customers, a northeaster, projected to land midweek, may hit the already battered coastal areas with heavy winds and strong waves that could cause more flooding and tear down power lines recently replaced and stop repair workers in their tracks.

“The first concern is slowing the army that we’ve got down; the second is more outages,” said John Miksad, Consolidated Edison’s senior vice president for electric operations. “It certainly does complicate the restoration.”

A week after Hurricane Sandy tore through the region, millions have regained electricity, mass transit is on the mend, and volunteers have rushed in to help those who are desperate. On Sunday, some runners who had expected to compete in the New York City Marathon, which was canceled, instead pitched in to haul fallen trees and to distribute clothing and food in the city’s most heavily damaged regions. Others ran a modified marathon route in Central Park.

In many regions, power is still lacking and fuel is nowhere to be found. As of Sunday, the number of utility customers without power was over 1.8 million, the Energy Department said; that included more than 900,000 in New Jersey, 280,000 served by the Long Island Power Authority and 198,000 Con Edison customers — nearly half of them in Westchester County. Gas shortages persisted with rationing imposed in New Jersey and lines at some gas stations stretching for miles.

And with recovery times in some areas projected to last not days or weeks, but months, a sense of desperation appeared to have set in. In parts of Staten Island, Long Island and coastal New Jersey, many still reside in dank, waterlogged houses and survive on food handouts from federal agencies and the National Guard.

FEMA announced over the weekend that it would begin providing free hotel rooms for up to two weeks to victims whose homes are not habitable, as authorities try to move people out of emergency shelters. Individuals must register with the agency to get the assistance, which also in some cases can include rental assistance for temporary apartments.

As of 3 p.m. Sunday, 182,000 residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut had applied for disaster assistance, and a total of $158 million has been approved, he said. Some share of that total will need a temporary place to stay.

Word that some may have to leave their homes permanently caused further confusion and fear, particularly in public housing complexes heavily damaged by the storm.

At the Hammel Houses, a public housing complex in the Rockaways, saltwater stains from the storm surge were visible above first-floor windows, which like many in this part of New York City were all dark.

“They tell us we might evacuate,” said Gloria Evans, 47, who has lived at apartment 1B at the houses since she moved there 26 years ago as a new mother.

“Are they going to help us? They can’t just move everyone out and have no place to put them,” she said.

It is still uncertain how many people would ultimately need housing, temporary or otherwise. In New Jersey alone, over 5,000 people remain in shelters and tens of thousands who evacuated their homes now reside with relatives and friends. Those with no homes to return to will have to find a new place to live.

“We lost a lot of housing here in New Jersey,” Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security secretary, said in Hoboken with Gov. Chris Christie. “We don’t even know yet which houses are reparable.”

In making his reference to Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Bloomberg said that to his recollection the number of displaced people in New York may have been similar to that in New Orleans. That estimation seemed inaccurate since several hundred thousand people were placed in federal housing in the months after that storm.

Officials were scrambling to prepare for the onset of cold weather. New York City has opened heating shelters and is passing out blankets to residents without electricity.

Temperatures throughout the region were expected to fall Sunday evening into the 30s, and the National Weather Service issued a freeze watch for parts of New Jersey, including the coast, the scene of some of the worst damage. Officials have urged residents across the region to head to shelters.

Volunteers were also trying to help. In the narrow streets of Midland Beach, one of the hardest hit areas on Staten Island, they carried hoes, rakes, brooms and shovels as they went door to door offering their labor. Others circled the blocks in pickup trucks full of food, blankets, clothes and cleaning supplies. Impromptu distribution centers, piled high with food and secondhand clothes, sprung up on every other corner.

On Sunday morning, runners dressed in orange marathon gear crowded onto the Staten Island Ferry and headed to the storm-ravaged borough to help. They packed blankets, food, water and flashlights in shoulder bags. Some planned to run to battered areas once the ferry docked.

“There are people suffering on Staten Island, and we’ve got to do something about it,” said Neil Cohen, 42, from Riverdale in the Bronx.

On Sunday, gas lines seemed slightly shorter in some places than in the previous few days, but many stations were still closed. The authorities set up three fuel depots in New Jersey to provide doctors and nurses with up to 15 gallons apiece to allow them to get to work.

The gas crisis in the New York metropolitan area appeared to be easing, according to information released late Sunday by the Energy Department. As of Sunday, only 27 percent of the gas stations in the region reported to be out of fuel, down from 67 percent on Friday.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a news conference that tankers and barges were on the way to ease shortages. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced that Port Elizabeth, N.J., reopened on Sunday to receive its first shipments. Other Port Authority seaports remained closed.

“We do believe it is a short-term problem,” Mr. Cuomo said, adding that shortages could continue for several days.

As for the subways, all of the numbered lines were running to some degree, said Joseph J. Lhota, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The No. 1 train has been extended south to 14th Street, and transit officials said they hoped that it would reach Rector Street by Monday. On Sunday evening, Mr. Lhota announced that Q train service had been partially restored to Kings Highway.

The South Ferry station, although the water has been pumped out, remains unusable. The L train from Brooklyn to Manhattan and the G train from Brooklyn to Queens also remain suspended with no estimated time for resuming service.

Mr. Lhota said trains would arrive at stations less often on Monday than on a normal weekday. “It’s an old system,” Mr. Lhota said in televised remarks. “It needs tender loving care, and it just had a major accident.”

Monday morning would also bring another change: the return to school of nearly a million children. About 96 percent of the city’s school buses are expected to be operating, and a vast majority of schools should be open, Mr. Bloomberg said. Students at closed schools will be sent to other locations, though the mayor said that keeping everyone informed about who goes where was proving difficult. The city has made over a million robocalls to parents and has purchased full-page advertisements in Monday’s newspapers with information about scheduling changes.

Mr. Bloomberg also set the stage for possible confusion at polling places during the election on Tuesday. About 143,000 voters in the city will be assigned to polling sites outside their districts, and the mayor expressed hope that the New York Board of Elections, which he has criticized for mismanagement, would be prepared.

Asked whether he thought the board was up to the task, he replied: “I have absolutely no idea.”


Reporting was contributed by Michael M. Grynbaum, Mary Pilon, Eric Lipton, Steve Eder, Vivian Yee, Patrick McGeehan and Thomas Kaplan.



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: November 4, 2012

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated

the number of customers without power in Connecticut. It is 70,000, not 700,000.

    Housing Nightmare Looms in Wake of Storm, NYT, 4.11.2012,






In Sight of Manhattan Skyline, Living Forlorn and in the Dark


November 4, 2012
The New York Times


Watching the Manhattan skyline shimmer over Jamaica Bay had always been one of the charms of life in the Rockaways. But now, when the Empire State Building winks on each night, those lights feel almost like a punch in the gut.

It felt that way to the two women caked in the sandy silt that still blankets most streets here, as they trudged up Rockaway Beach Boulevard on Saturday, pushing shopping carts they had dug out of wreckage piled beside the boarded-up C-Town Supermarket.

The women, Monique Arkward and her neighbor Eyvette Martin, pushed the carts more than 40 blocks from their battered bungalows to St. Francis de Sales Church, where they had heard — by word of mouth, since phones hardly work here — that they might find bottled water, batteries and some measure of warmth.

“We’re living like cavemen,” Ms. Arkward said. “It’s like we’re forgotten. It’s like they say, ‘O.K., when we get to them, we’ll get to them.’ ”

The Rockaways, a narrow peninsula of working-class communities in Queens, have become one of the epicenters for the simmering sense of abandonment felt in still-darkened areas of New York City, and out into the suburbs and beyond, including large swaths of New Jersey and Long Island, where the lack of power was made more problematic by persistent gas shortages.

Around the city, particularly in places already sensitive to the afterthought status conveyed in the Manhattan-centric characterization “outer boroughs,” the accusations of neglect seemed colored by a growing belief that the recovery from Hurricane Sandy has cleaved along predictable class lines. That sentiment was captured in a much-publicized street-corner confrontation over the weekend when residents shrieked their frustrations at Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg as he visited the Rockaways on Saturday.

“It’s all about Manhattan,” said Nora McDermott, who lives in the Rockaways, as she stood in a relief center on Saturday. “It was unbelievable, to see Manhattan get power,” she said. “Was I surprised they got it quicker? Not really. But I was like, ‘Damn.’ ”

Echoes of that thought abounded in places like Red Hook in Brooklyn, Gerritsen Beach in Brooklyn, and New Dorp Beach on Staten Island, where thousands are struggling to rebuild their lives without electricity — and, residents insisted with growing vehemence, sufficient help from leaders — even as the rest of the city powers up and moves on.

At the Red Hook Houses, a public housing complex of nearly 3,000 apartments, power was still out on Sunday.

For almost a week now, Mario Davila, 64, who is in a wheelchair and lives on the third floor of one building, has eased his way downstairs for cigarettes and food from Meals on Wheels, a step at a time, one hand on the railing and one on his chair, and then waited for his brother to help him crawl back up. Across the East River, he knew, the elevators were once again ferrying passengers.

Mr. Davila said he wished they were as lucky as those residents.

As the storm sent the waters of Shell Bank Creek on the westernmost edge of Jamaica Bay overflowing into Gerritsen Beach last Monday night, Jennifer Avena, 35, and her three children and Labrador mix swam nearly 10 blocks through chest-deep water to refuge at Resurrection Church.

A week later, she still felt on her own, as she photographed the contents of her house on Sunday, throwing out each destroyed item.

Her own neighbors, Ms. Avena said, were the few who were helping.

Tensions also remained high across Staten Island, where the storm’s impact was particularly deadly and where criticism of the official response has been vocal. Though electricity had been restored to 160,000 customers, according to Consolidated Edison, another 19,000 remained without power.

“We’ve made good progress,” said John Miksad, Con Ed’s senior vice president for electric operations. “But I know for those 19,000 customers that are still out, it’s misery.”

In New Dorp Beach, mounds — some as high as 10 feet — of debris, vintage dolls, mattresses, photographs, teddy bears and Christmas decorations piled outside nearly every home on Sunday, awaiting dump trucks. The roar of generators filled the air.

John Ryan, 47, had salvaged just two books from his collection. He bristled at the mayor’s assertion that the city is edging back to normalcy. “It’s completely unrealistic,” Mr. Ryan said. “I think he should go house to house and see what the war zone is like.”

But down the block, Orlando Vogler, 26, had a different sentiment. As he stood next to a bonfire fueled by pieces of his destroyed furniture, he said that the situation had improved over the weekend. “It’s finally starting to come together,” he said. “Now you see hundreds of volunteers coming down the street.”

In New Jersey, Matt Doherty, the mayor of Belmar, described the conditions as “third world.” He said the borough of roughly 6,000 year-round residents was in need of more blankets and “heavy duty” clothing.

“We’re in the Dark Ages here. It’s really back to basics,” he said Sunday. “It’s almost like camping outside in November. People are doubled up in blankets, sweaters, sweatshirts, socks. Residents are living in their living rooms, sleeping in front of their fireplaces.”

Every one of the over 115,000 residents of the Rockaways and Broad Channel is still without power, according to the Long Island Power Authority, which services those areas. And it will be several more days before the seawater-soaked substations along the Rockaway Peninsula are repaired or a workaround is in place. The substations power neighborhoods like Belle Harbor and Breezy Point, a community largely of firefighters and police officers where over 110 houses burned down on Monday night.

But even once the substations are repaired, each flooded house must be certified on a case-by-case basis by a licensed electrician before it is deemed safe to flip the switch, said Lois Bentivegna, a LIPA spokeswoman.

Even though some residents acknowledged the risks of living along the ocean, the contrast between Manhattan’s thrumming power lines and the snail’s pace of recovery was hard to bear.

At an American Legion hall in Broad Channel, Paul Girace, 66, stewed as he ate a meal of bow-tie pasta and canned beans provided by relief workers on Saturday.

“They got electricity already?” Mr. Girace said. “It’s par for the course. Who is the population of Manhattan? The wealthy people. Who screams in Bloomberg’s ear? The wealthy people.”

George Wright, 61, agreed. “You know Manhattan is going to get turned on first, because let’s face it, this city operates from Manhattan,” he said. “They can dry that out and get it going. Over here, it got ripped to pieces.”

Near Shore Front Parkway, Bobbi Cooke, 51, and her sister Gwen Murphy, 62, who are caring for their disabled sister in a darkened apartment, had run through their stash of lighters, batteries and candles.

Without electricity, Ms. Cooke said, they could not use A.T.M.’s to get money to buy what little food was available.

But what she said she was most desperate for were answers.

“Since the day it happened, and afterwards, we’ve all had to fend for our selves,” Ms. Cooke said. “We need to know when we’re going to have gas, light, electric. Everywhere is getting something but us.”

“We’re totally knocked out of the world,” she said.

Ms. Murphy joined in. “We’re like an orphan,” she said. “It’s like we don’t even exist.”

    In Sight of Manhattan Skyline, Living Forlorn and in the Dark, NYT, 4.11.2012,






Man Behind FEMA’s Makeover

Built Philosophy on Preparation


November 3, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — America may know W. Craig Fugate as the slightly weary-looking guy on CNN explaining the ins and outs of flood insurance. But in the world of emergency management, he is known for his Waffle House matrix.

Mr. Fugate, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, learned in his many years of battling natural disasters that fully operational Waffle Houses mean that a community is doing O.K. But if those same restaurants are serving half menus, it means that power has been lost. And if their doors are closed, it signifies that things are really bad.

“It’s a shorthand for us to get in there and quickly get a snapshot,” Mr. Fugate said Friday in an interview at FEMA headquarters in Washington. “Is the Waffle House open? Everything normal there?”

Mr. Fugate acknowledges that the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy poses a challenge to the Waffle House matrix because the chain, popular in the South, has so few restaurants in the Northeast. In place of Waffle Houses, he said, he has looked to Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts as bellwethers, but he said he did not believe that they had the same philosophies about reopening quickly.

“Waffle House has a very simple operational philosophy: get open. They never close. They run 24 hours a day,” he said. “They have a corporate philosophy that if there is a hurricane or a storm, they try and get their stores open. It don’t matter if they don’t have power, it don’t matter if you don’t have gas. They have procedures that if they can get a generator in there, they’ll get going. They’ll make coffee with bottled water.”

After the agency’s poor handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, FEMA was the Homer Simpson of federal agencies, a symbol of pitiful incompetence. The storm even created a national punch line after President George W. Bush said at a news conference that his FEMA director, Michael D. Brown, was doing a “heck of a job” even as the agency was bungling its response.

While FEMA is still viewed with caution — and in some places in New York City in the last week, with continued scorn — Mr. Fugate has done much to shore up its image. That is in part simply through self-flagellation, as he races around storm-savaged regions, ticks off statistics about water levels and procures baby formula for a mother in need.

Mr. Fugate — or Mr. Emergency Management, as President Obama referred to him last week — is a straightforward, honey-toned former director of Florida emergency operations who judges the post-storm condition of communities by the viability of their local economic activity. His hyper-focus on local preparation long before disasters hit has been the key to his success, according to several people who have worked with him.

“He speaks the language of first responders because he was one of them,” said Alan Rubin, who oversaw Florida’s economic recovery after Hurricane Andrew. “He doesn’t have to be brought up to speed on what FEMA can do and when they can do it.”

In an administration long on Ivy League degrees and Washington pedigrees, Mr. Fugate, who wears cowboy boots, stands out. Both of his parents died before he graduated from high school. He never finished college, started out as a paramedic and spent most of his career in Florida.

“He is very down to earth, and that always helped him out a lot,” said Dwayne Phillips, an information technology expert who worked at FEMA when Mr. Fugate was the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, a job he held until 2009, when Mr. Obama appointed him to run FEMA. Citing Mr. Fugate’s Waffle House theory, Mr. Phillips said: “He would talk about stuff like that, and had this ‘O.K., that’s a problem, let’s address it and move on forward’ way about him. He doesn’t get caught up in the weeds.”

Mr. Fugate is known for his “lightning bolt” drills, in which he surprises employees midday with a fake disaster and forces them to respond. He peppers each day with a short phrase to keep responders focused. On Friday, he was pushing “People, Power and Pumps.” He is known in the field for positioning equipment ahead of time so that states know immediately how many cots and water bottles are needed when a disaster hits, which proved a huge problem during Hurricane Katrina.

As people in New York and New Jersey on Thursday and Friday remained without power and struggled to find fuel to fill their cars and generators, reports emerged that some were angrily denouncing FEMA as responding too slowly in the aftermath of the hurricane.

“It’s part of how people cope,” Mr. Fugate said of the anger toward FEMA. “I don’t care that they don’t understand FEMA, and I’m not going to defend it and say you shouldn’t be mad at us. It’s a natural part of it. They get frustrated, and they are going to get angry. I need to acknowledge that, but I need to focus on what are their needs and are we taking care of their needs longer term.”

FEMA’s programs, Mr. Fugate said, were really designed to deal with a disaster several days after it occurred and to provide the local authorities and first responders with capabilities and equipment that they did not have. The agency may provide financial aid, water removal specialists and advanced search and rescue teams.

“Because we always talk about FEMA so much,” he said, “I think the general public assumes we are part of the response team that will be there the first couple of days.”

While a vast majority of Obama appointees have drawn sharp criticism from Republicans in Congress, Mr. Fugate has managed to impress members of the committees that oversee FEMA, who say he testifies without notes and worked his way from the ground up in Florida, a state well versed in disasters.

“I would call him apolitical,” said one aide to the House Appropriations Committee who is not permitted to speak to the news media, pointing to an absence of criticism of the agency in Alabama, a deeply conservative state, after tornadoes hit there last year. “He can be very direct, but our members respect him, bottom line.”

Mr. Fugate, 52, got his start in emergency response as a volunteer firefighter and paramedic in Alachua County, Fla., and then made his way through the administrative ranks, becoming the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management in 2001. He has won several awards in the field and was named to the National Guard Association of Florida Hall of Fame in 2006.

At the end of the Bush administration, he was interviewed to be the head of FEMA — the acting director, R. David Paulison, ended up getting the job — and he said later in an interview that it was a post he would ponder with trepidation. He told a reporter, “A lot of people are looking at what Mike Brown went through” and believed it was “not a good encouragement for people to put their professional careers on the line.”

Mr. Fugate has said several times that he is not satisfied with FEMA’s response in New York and New Jersey and would not be until all residents had power, water and a means of transportation.

But he did allow himself a tad of self-defense last week when Mr. Brown, his predecessor, criticized the administration for predetermining states as disaster areas. “Better to be fast than to be late,” Mr. Fugate told an NPR reporter in an interview.

At a conference for emergency workers, Mr. Fugate said, “If you know me, I don’t sound like many people from Washington,” and emphasized the importance of strong building codes and risk management before disasters strike. “Mitigation of natural disasters took a back seat to the threat of another terrorist attack” in recent years, he said.

    Man Behind FEMA’s Makeover Built Philosophy on Preparation, NYT, 3.11.2012,






Protecting the City, Before Next Time


November 3, 2012
The New York Times


Arriving in Venice years ago, Robert Benchley, the New York journalist and wit, is said to have sent a mock-panicked telegram to his editor: “Streets flooded. Please advise.”

After the enormous storm last week, which genuinely panicked New York with its staggering and often fatal violence, residents here could certainly identify with the first line of Benchley’s note. But what about the second?

If, as climate experts say, sea levels in the region have not only gradually increased, but are also likely to get higher as time goes by, then the question is: What is the way forward? Does the city continue to build ever-sturdier and ever-higher sea walls? Or does it accept the uncomfortable idea that parts of New York will occasionally flood and that the smarter method is to make the local infrastructure more elastic and better able to recover?

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday gave a sea wall the nod. Because of the recent history of powerful storms hitting the area, he said, elected officials have a responsibility to consider new and innovative plans to prevent similar damage in the future. “Climate change is a reality,” Mr. Cuomo said. “Given the frequency of these extreme weather situations we have had, for us to sit here today and say this is once in a generation and it’s not going to happen again, I think would be shortsighted.”

The water rose in Dumbo, Brooklyn, on Monday.
Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

The water rose in Dumbo, Brooklyn, on Monday.

But some experts in the field who have thought deeply about how to protect New York from huge storms like Hurricane Sandy — and especially from the coastal surges they produce — suggested that less intrusive forms of so-called soft infrastructure might prove more effective in sheltering the city than mammoth Venetian sea walls. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg seemed to agree with them on Thursday when he said: “I don’t think there’s any practical way to build barriers in the oceans. Even if you spent a fortune, it’s not clear to me that you would get much value for it.”

According to the experts — architects, environmentalists and civil engineers — large-scale projects like underwater gates are expensive, cumbersome and difficult to build. More important, they say, such undertakings are binary projects that work just fine until the moment they do not.

Whatever the way forward, Klaus H. Jacob, a Columbia University seismologist and an expert on urban environmental disasters, said the century-event of Hurricane Sandy could become, because of rising seas alone, an annual occurrence by 2100.

“We know what we have to do,” said Dr. Jacob, who predicted last week’s tragedy with eerily prescient detail in a 2011 report. “The question is when do we get beyond talking and get to action.”

Among those actions already proposed are relatively minor alterations to the building code, to ban housing boilers and electrical systems in basements, and slightly more apocalyptic strategies, like one known as managed retreat, in which people would cede low-lying areas to the sea. While no one is calling for a mass and permanent exodus from the Rockaways, for instance, some experts, like Radley Horton, a climatologist at Columbia University, said that as parts of New York became more difficult — and costly — to protect, managed retreat needed at least to become “part of the public discussion.”

Here, then, are three proposals — some traditional, some fantastic, but all at least theoretically workable — designed to reduce the effects of storms like Hurricane Sandy on three especially vulnerable New York neighborhoods: Lower Manhattan, the Red Hook and Gowanus sections of Brooklyn, and the northern shore of Staten Island.

Lower Manhattan

Marshy Edges, Absorptive Streets

Picture a fringe of mossy wetlands strapped like a beard to Lower Manhattan’s chin, and you are halfway toward imagining the plan to protect the financial district and its environs dreamed up by the architect Stephen Cassell and a team from his firm, Architecture Research Office, and a partner firm, dlandstudio.

“Our goal was to design a more resilient city,” Mr. Cassell said. “We may not always be able to keep the water out, so we wanted to improve the edges and the streets of the city to deal with flooding in a more robust way.”

Among the most disturbing images to emerge from the aftermath of the storm was that of a pile of cars floating upended in the waters of a parking lot near Wall Street. Lower Manhattan, where most of the borough’s power failures occurred, is vulnerable to floods like this not just because it sits low in relation to the sea; it also juts out on heaps of artificial landfill, into the fickle waters of New York Harbor. It is probably not coincidental that the flooded areas of Manhattan, largely correspond to the island’s prelandfill borders.

To prevent incursions by water, Mr. Cassell and his planners imagined ringing Lower Manhattan with a grassy network of land-based parks accompanied by watery patches of wetlands and tidal salt marshes. At Battery Park, for instance, the marshes would weave through a series of breakwater islands made of geo-textile tubes and covered with marine plantings. On the Lower East Side of the island, Mr. Cassell and his team envisioned extending Manhattan by a block or two — with additional landfill — to create space for another new park and a salt marsh.

Beyond serving as recreation areas, these engineered green spaces would sop up and reduce the force of incoming water.

“When there’s a storm surge, it creates an enormous amount of energy,” Mr. Cassell said. “Wetlands absorb that energy and protect the coastline.”

As a complement to the parks and marshes, Mr. Cassell’s team would re-engineer the streets in the neighborhood to make the area better able to handle surging waves, creating three variations of roadway. On so-called Level 1 streets, asphalt would be replaced with absorptive materials, like porous concrete, to soak up excess water like a sponge and to irrigate plantings in the street bed. Level 2 streets, planned for stronger surges, would send running water into the marshes at the island’s edges and also into prepositioned ponds meant to collect runoff for dry spells. Level 3 streets — the only ones that might require a shift in the current city grid — would be parallel to the shoreline and designed to drain surging water back into the harbor.

“We weren’t fully going back to nature with our plan,” Mr. Cassell said. “We thought of it more as engineered ecology. But if you look at the history of Manhattan, we have pushed nature off the island and replaced it with man-made infrastructure. What we can do is start to reintegrate things and make the city more durable.”

Red Hook and Gowanus

Oysters to the Rescue

The architect and landscape designer Kate Orff based her plan to shield the Red Hook and Gowanus neighborhoods of Brooklyn on the outsize powers of the oyster. “The era of big infrastructure is over,” Ms. Orff said. By placing her faith in a palm-size bivalve to reduce the effects of surging storms, Ms. Orff said, she is “blending urbanism and ecology” and also “looking to the past to reimagine the future.”

Red Hook, Brooklyn, was hit hard last week by flooding from Hurricane Sandy.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Red Hook, Brooklyn, was hit hard last week by flooding from Hurricane Sandy.

Red Hook, in particular, was thrashed by Hurricane Sandy as some of the local inlets, like the Buttermilk Channel and Gowanus Bay, spilled into the low-lying area, swamping public housing projects and sending water rushing so high through the streets it occasionally swallowed up cars and bicycles.

Ms. Orff’s proposal., created by a team at her design firm Scape/Landscape Architecture P.L.L.C., envisions a system of artificial reefs in the channel and the bay built out of rocks, shells and fuzzy rope that is intended to nurture the growth of oysters (she calls them “nature’s wave attenuators”).

The Bay Ridge Flats, a stretch of water that sits off the coast of the Brooklyn Army Terminal, was once home to a small archipelago of islands that protected the Brooklyn coastline. The islands have long since disappeared because of dredging, and Ms. Orff would replace them with her oyster-studded barriers, which, over time, would form a sort of “ecological glue” and mitigate onrushing tides, she said.

<strong>AQUACULTURE</strong> Oyster beds as depicted in a rendering for a proposal in Gowanus, Brooklyn. The shellfish could be cultivated by community groups and seeded on a planned reef, part of a water filtration and surge-mitigating system.
Scape/Landscape Architecture

AQUACULTURE Oyster beds as depicted in a rendering for a proposal in Gowanus, Brooklyn. The shellfish could be cultivated by community groups and seeded on a planned reef, part of a water filtration and surge-mitigating system.

At the same time, she imagines installing oyster beds along the banks of the Gowanus Canal in a series of what are known as Floating Upweller Systems (Flupsys) — essentially, artificial shellfish nurseries. A powerful fan blows aerated water through a group of eight chambers in which oysters or mussels can be grown. The chambers protect the budding oysters from predators like starfish. Above the Flupsys, Ms. Orff would place a public walkway for joggers and strollers, punctured every so often by hatches that could be lifted to permit a view of the nature below.

“This is infrastructure that we can do now,” she explained. “It’s not something we have to think about and fund with billions of dollars 50 years down the road.”

Oysters have the added benefit of acting as natural water filters — a single one can clean up to 50 gallons of water a day. By being placed in the Gowanus Canal, Ms. Orff hopes, they could further purify what has already been named a federal Superfund site. She wants, by way of her project, to change how we think about infrastructure projects.

“Infrastructure isn’t separate from us, or it shouldn’t be,” Ms. Orff said. “It’s among us, it’s next to us, embedded in our cities and our public spaces.”

Staten Island

A Bridge in Troubled Waters

A rendering of a storm barrier with a drawbridge on Arthur Kill, intended to protect Staten Island in a Category 3 hurricane.
CDM Smith, Inc

A rendering of a storm barrier with a drawbridge on Arthur Kill, intended to protect Staten Island in a Category 3 hurricane.

A few years ago, Lawrence J. Murphy, an engineer in the New York office of the global engineering firm CDM Smith, was asked by the local chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers to propose a way of protecting northern Staten Island from the forces of a Category 3 hurricane. He came up with a plan to build a classic storm-surge barrier across the Arthur Kill, the tidal strait that separates Staten Island from the mainland of New Jersey, designed to act in concert with similar barriers in the East River, the Narrows and the waters near the Rockaway Peninsula.

Staten Island was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, as entire neighborhoods were flooded, a 168-foot water tanker crashed onshore and city officials said that most of the fatalities in the city occurred there. It is arguably New York’s most exposed borough, surrounded not by peaceful rivers but by oceanic channels like the Arthur Kill and, of course, the Atlantic itself.

Mr. Murphy’s concept, created with his partner, Thomas Schoettle, calls for the construction of a damlike structure with suspension towers spanning the Arthur Kill. Tidal gates below the surface would open and close as needed.

A rescue from Dongan Hills, Staten Island, on Tuesday.
Michael Kirby Smith for The New York Times

A rescue from Dongan Hills, Staten Island, on Tuesday.

According to the Army Corps of Engineers, Category 3 hurricanes (Hurricane Sandy was a Category 1 storm, downgraded by the time it reached New York) would produce surges of slightly more than 14 feet above normal sea levels. Mr. Murphy designed his barrier to protect against “overtopping waves” of an additional 8 feet, for a total height of 22 feet. He also designed a complex system of locks and drawbridges to accommodate the numerous commercial ships that navigate the kill.

Mr. Murphy’s barrier would be run by a trained staff and would operate on emergency power in the event of an electrical failure. Because strong tides pass through the kill, he would also outfit the barrier with tidal generators, which, as an extra benefit, could produce electricity.

Nor did Mr. Murphy ignore the possibilities of public recreation. “The concept design of the Arthur Kill Storm Barrier has been made with a focus on aesthetics to create a destination,” he wrote in his proposal. “The multiuse path can provide bicycling and walking opportunities. Fishing and bird-watching amenities can also be provided.”

    Protecting the City, Before Next Time, NYT, 3.11.2012,






Fractured Recovery Divides the Region


November 3, 2012
The New York Times


The patchy recovery from Hurricane Sandy exposed a fractured region on Saturday. The lights flickered on in Manhattan neighborhoods that had been dark for days, and New York’s subways rumbled and screeched through East River tunnels again.

But in shorefront stretches of Staten Island and Queens that were all but demolished, and in broad sections of New Jersey and Long Island, gasoline was still almost impossible to come by, electricity was still lacking, temperatures were dropping and worried homeowners wondered when help would finally arrive.

Drivers in New Jersey faced 1970s-style gasoline rationing imposed by Gov. Chris Christie, while in New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said that the Defense Department would distribute free fuel from five mobile stations. But that effort backfired when too many people showed up.

It was a weekend of contrasts. Crowds streamed into city parks that reopened on a blindingly bright Saturday morning, while people who had been displaced by the storm said help was not coming fast enough and the desperation was growing.

David O’Connor, 44, had begun to use his living room chairs as firewood in Long Beach, N.Y., where the storm sent water surging down streets. A neighbor, Gina Braddish, a 27-year-old newlywed, was planning to siphon gas from a boat that washed into her front yard. Older people on darkened streets have been shouting for help from second-floor windows, at eye level with the buoys still trapped in trees.

“I’m looking around seeing people really down,” said Joann Bush, a social worker who lives in Coney Island. “They don’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring.”

There were other contrasts: The grandstands were still in place for the New York City Marathon, even though Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg had canceled the race on Friday for the first time in its 42-year history. But instead of promoting a race, Mr. Bloomberg visited the devastated neighborhoods in the Rockaway section of Queens, where he voiced concern about chilly temperatures and hypothermia. “It’s cold, and it really is critical that people stay warm, especially the elderly,” he said at a City Hall briefing, urging people to go to shelters if they did not have heat. He added, “We are committed to making sure that everybody can have a roof over their head and food in their stomachs and deal with the cold safely.”

In many places that the storm pounded in its relentless push into the Northeast, there was a profound sense of isolation, with whole towns on Long Island still cut off from basic information, supplies and electricity. People in washed-out neighborhoods said they felt increasingly desperate. “Everything involving our lives is a matter of exhaustion,” said Nancy Reardon, 45, who waited for gas for five hours on Saturday in Massapequa.

Vikki Quinn, standing amid ruined belongings in front of her flooded house in Long Beach, said she felt lost. “I just keep waiting for someone with a megaphone and a car to just tell us what to do,” she said.

Hank Arkin, 60, a photographer in Merrick, wondered how much of the damage could have been avoided. “I am screaming mad because this is an inhumane way to live in the highest property-taxed area of the entire state,” he said. “They had days of notice before the storm and nothing was done.”

Officials said they were trying to get help where it was needed. “One of the problems is that when you have lots of different agencies, it takes a while for them to get coordinated,” Mr. Bloomberg said at his briefing, adding that he understood how high the tensions were in the Rockaways. “Somebody this morning screamed at me that they could not get coffee,” he said. “Someone else screamed at me that there is nothing there, but one block away, there was a service.”

Hundreds of thousands of homes on Long Island were still without power Saturday, and frustration with the utilities, particularly Long Island Power Authority, continued to rise. “LIPA, get your act together,” Edward P. Mangano, the Nassau County executive, wrote on his Facebook page Saturday. “This response and lack of communication with customers is shameful.”

Mr. Bloomberg, too, attacked the power authority, which provides electricity to the Rockaways. “LIPA in our view has not acted aggressively enough,” the mayor said. He said the power authority had “no clear timetable” for restoring the power and that it had indicated that some homes and businesses might have to wait two weeks before the lights went back on.

“That is certainly not acceptable,” he said. “When it comes to prioritizing resources,” he said, the Rockaways “should be first in line” because the storm did so much damage there. But so far, he said, “that does not appear to be the case.” Mr. Cuomo also criticized the power authority on Saturday, as he has almost daily since the storm hit.

Mr. Cuomo said there were signs of progress. He said four subway lines that tie Manhattan to Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens — the Nos. 4, 5, 6 and 7 lines — returned to life completely on Saturday morning, with four others — the D, F, J and M lines — set to begin running between Manhattan and Brooklyn by nightfall. The Q train was also expected back by the end of the day on Saturday, and the Nos. 2 and 3 trains on Sunday. But the L line remained flooded on Saturday — “wall to wall, ceiling to ceiling,” the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Joseph J. Lhota, said.

Mr. Bloomberg said most public schools would reopen on Monday, only to close again on Tuesday for Election Day. He said some 65 schools would not open on Monday, some because they were being used as shelters, some because they had sustained damage in the storm. He said officials hoped that most of those schools could open Wednesday.

He said that building inspectors still had to check some 55,000 buildings in the low-lying areas that he ordered evacuated before the storm struck. He said that 8,500 buildings have been inspected and that more than 7,200 were “safe to inhabit.”

Utility crews from across the country struggled with a power network that had been battered. As they went from town to town and block to block, they trimmed trees and freed cables that had toppled in winds that approached 80 miles an hour.

Despite nonstop work, the numbers were daunting. In New Jersey, Public Service Electric and Gas still had more than 600,000 customers without power on Saturday. Hoboken remained the biggest challenge because of water damage, officials said.

Mr. Cuomo said that in New York, 60 percent of those who lost power in the storm had had it restored, but that 900,000 were still in the dark. On Long Island, where 1.2 million people lost power, about 550,000 had their power back by Saturday morning.

Mr. Cuomo also said 8 million gallons of gas had been unloaded from commercial tankers and an additional 28 million gallons would go to distribution terminals over the weekend.

In Midtown Manhattan, riggers went to work high above West 57th Street, near Carnegie Hall, where the storm broke the boom on a construction crane and left it dangling 74 stories up. They hand-cranked the boom closer to the partially completed building and planned to strap the boom to the structure. Once that was done, the surrounding streets, which had been closed since the boom snapped, could reopen — perhaps by Sunday, the mayor said.

Relief agencies poured into beleaguered neighborhoods, but so did hundreds of volunteers on their own. The narrow lanes of Midland Beach on Staten Island, which the storm slammed with particular fury, were busy. Groups of volunteers carrying brooms, rakes and shovels went from door to door, offering to pitch in with the cleanup. Others circled the blocks in pickup trucks full of food, blankets, clothes and cleaning supplies. Impromptu distribution centers piled high with food and secondhand clothes sprang up on every other corner.

“Anybody need anything?” a man shouted from a truck to a group cleaning out a house on Olympia Boulevard. A few minutes later, two women pulling rolling suitcases paused in front of the house and asked the same question. There appeared to be more volunteers offering help than residents in need.The storm’s toll in the city rose to 41, according to the police, when a 90-year-old man was found dead in his basement in Rockaway Park. He was identified as George Stathis. The police said his body was found when a cousin went to check on him.

Two patients remained in the evacuated Bellevue Hospital Center on the East Side of Manhattan on Saturday because they were too sick to be carried down the stairs, according to several people familiar with the situation. One of the patients was a 500- to 600-pound woman, and the other a man who was scheduled to have heart surgery powered by an emergency generator after the hospital lost power in the storm, according to these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because Bellevue employees had received an e-mail threatening them with dismissal if they spoke to reporters.

Ian Michaels, a spokesman for Bellevue, said power had been restored on Saturday. He said officials hoped to transfer out the last two patients as soon as the elevators were back in service.

The authorities estimated that as many as 100,000 homes and businesses on Long Island had been destroyed or badly damaged in the storm. Sand dunes were flattened and rows of beach houses crushed. The storm’s furious flood tide created new inlets that could become permanent parts of the topography.

Redrawing the maps will take time. The cleanup is immediate, and grim. In a grocery on Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island, men tried to slop out foul-smelling muck as thousands of dollars worth of food and produce lay rotting on the floor.

“Everything is damaged, everything is garbage,” said Boris Yakubov, who said he was the store owner’s brother. He was pushing a mop, trying to help clear out the mess.

Down the street, the pharmacy in the back of a store was open, but the customers had to wade through a tide of mud that remained in the front. Irina Vovnoby got her white tennis shoes dirty and wet dropping off a prescription for her mother-in-law.

“I never saw a situation like this,” she said. “This is a disaster.”


Reporting was contributed by Taylor Adams, Charles V. Bagli, Ruth Bashinsky,

Matt Flegenheimer, Elizabeth A. Harris, Anemona Hartocollis, Angela Macropoulos,

Colin Moynihan, Ray Rivera, Liz Robbins, Marc Santora, Nate Schweber,

Stacey Stowe and Bernard Vaughan.



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: November 3, 2012

An earlier version of this article included a misinterpretation of the New Jersey gas rationing policy. The policy says that the days on which drivers can get gas is based on the last number of their license plate, not the last letter, as a Bayonne, N.J., police summary of the policy suggested.

    Fractured Recovery Divides the Region, NYT, 3.11.2012,








November 2, 2012
The New York Times


I watched the sun set gently into the western horizon as darkness and silence fell around us. I lighted the kitchen candles and checked that all the doors were shut and safely locked. I filled a pail of water and put it on the kitchen counter. I set the kettle on the fire to make myself some evening tea before bedtime.

My 13-year-old daughter, Arianne, emerged from the black opening that is her bedroom door, just having taken a late afternoon nap. I pulled a can of tuna out of the cupboard and poked holes in the top with a knife until I could pry enough of it open to make her a sandwich. “Where’s Mommy?” she asked.

“I’m not sure, Sweetie, but I’m sure she’ll be back soon.”

My wife had left a few hours earlier to look for a grocery store to buy some milk. I peered out the window to see dark jagged edges of skyscrapers, silhouetted against the dim orange glow of midtown. We were, after all, in Lower Manhattan. Without the electric blood that ran through its veins, the city seemed an empty shell; the buildings stood like black skeletons, dried out and motionless.

The chill and gloom in the air of our SoHo loft had made little difference to my daughter (“Daddy, when will I have Facebook?!”), although now, after two days, the desperation in her voice was slowly changing to resignation. This has been the longest period in her teenage life without an Internet connection. I shrugged my shoulders in the candlelight. I myself was as cut off as she was and had no way of knowing.

Just then, I heard a knock at our seventh-floor door. It was a friend who had decided to show up. This never happens in Manhattan, I realized. With no text messages, no e-mails or calls, and no radio, many things were now happening unannounced. My wife was still gone, and I did not know where she was or when she’d return. My friend told me about the mayor’s speech that day and the fact that nobody had any idea when the power might come back on.

He also mentioned that the subways were flooded up to the ceiling. “Really?” I said. It occurred to me then that I never hear “news” delivered like that — from another person just passing the information along. “I’ll come by again tomorrow at noon,” he said as he left. This also seemed strange, to make an appointment so far in the future without any possibility of confirmation or cancellation with my smartphone. Didn’t people used to live like this?

I called to my daughter. She said nothing. I had been frustrated in the past few years trying to talk to her in the evenings after her schoolwork had been completed — only to learn that all her time was now reserved for Facebook and electronic communications. When the blackout began on Monday night, she felt as if the world had stopped moving. She stayed in bed and slept a lot, obviously depressed about having nothing to do. Now I saw her peering around our candlelit SoHo loft, tired of her own resignation.

Suddenly a child’s voice emerged: “Daddy, why don’t we play catch with the flashlight?” Soon, we were playing in the darkness.

Afterward, I wanted to do something I haven’t tried since she was a baby: I asked if I could draw her. In all the years I have been a portrait artist, she has never posed for me. “Well, there’s nothing better to do. O.K., Daddy.” She relaxed on the couch while she read with a tiny flashlight, and I sketched her in that beautiful dim glow. She even took an interest in my picture making for the first time, giving the sketch an on-point critique.

“The nose is too big.”

“You’re right, Sweetie Pie.”

Just then her mother walked in. She had been waiting in a store while her cellphone was charging. It was Halloween, she reminded me, and disappeared with Arianne into the shadows of the farther room to figure out what to do.

I got up and peered out of the windows that looked up Lafayette Street. Without the sparkling windows and bright streetlights, the city was now a nocturne of subtle grays and blacks. There was a dark silence on the streets. The storefronts were shuttered and the streets emptied — except when a passing car illuminated a figure emerging from the shadows. I heard a lone dog barking in the distance and saw a broken traffic light swinging. A new dark poetry of the city had awakened.

I retired years ago from drawing and painting the city, but now the charcoal was feeling more at home in my hands, and I began to sketch Manhattan’s silent shadows.

The blackout reminded many of us of how drastically the Internet and our myriad electronic devices have changed our lives. When the lights went out, we felt ourselves also losing power, as if we were part of the same flowing electricity that lit up the city.

Losing this power, however, also reminded my daughter and me of what we have left. Having “nothing better to do” can be a meaningful and sobering experience. While the darkness made us feel our vulnerabilities, it also illuminated the possibilities that we forgot were always within it.

I looked back up to sketch the black buildings when I heard a ding from a text message that finally got through during a rare confluence of cell signal and phone. I had contacted a number of friends and family members, whom I was waiting to hear back from. With my cell battery fading, I thought I’d better see who it was. But this time, I left the phone in my pocket and focused on the task at hand: I was in a dark and wonderful three-dimensional world, after all.

Allen Hirsch is a painter specializing in portraits and landscapes who has lived in the Soho neighborhood for 25 years. He has painted President Clinton and covers for Time and is writing a book, “Monkey/Man,” on life with his monkey, Benjamin.

    Nocturne, NYT, 2.11.2012,






Our Latest High-Water Mark


November 2, 2012
The New York Times


WATER up to the attics on Staten Island. Flooded subway and commuter tunnels. Power lost to 8.5 million homes and businesses. We get it: this storm and its impacts are huge. What we may not be getting is why.

When the debris is cleared away, we will be left with a new high-water mark. On Monday, sea levels in New York City reached about 14 feet above the average low-tide mark; more than 9 feet above the average high; almost 3 feet above the last record, set in 1821.

In the future, we’re going to see more of the same. Satellite measurements show that the oceans are growing; waters are warming. Both factors increase the effects of storms; warmer waters lead to fiercer storms, and sea levels punch up the surges.

A popular myth about sea level rise is that it happens slowly enough that we will have plenty of time to react. Or there’s the blockbuster legend of a thousand-foot wave sweeping Manhattan and changing the world all at once. Both are unlikely.

Hurricane Sandy showed us how sea-level rise actually works. It comes up in spikes that top historic highs and then fall back to normal. The Marshall Islands experienced such a high in 2011 when La Niña swamped parts of the capital city of Majuro at high tide. Hurricane Katrina wreaked a similar catastrophe on the gulf coast. In every case, sea levels jump for a moment, setting records, and then fall back.

The real danger here is not the surge itself, but the return to normal. We record a new high-water mark, but we call the crisis over because the waters have receded, our waterfronts are back, and we return to business convinced the worst is gone. In other words, we forget.

We’re doing it already. Hurricane Sandy was a fluke, right? A storm surged from 90-mile-per-hour winds of a hurricane colliding with a northeaster, perfectly timed with a maximum full-moon high tide. The statistical likelihood of this is once in every 500 to 1,000 years. And yet, it has happened, and the likelihood is increasing all the time.

How long do we want our coastal cities, and particularly New York — where the Long Island Sound faces directly into the Atlantic and the mouth of the harbor leads storm surges into the urban interior — to remain this vulnerable? Regions like the Netherlands have been dealing with this question for a long time, answering it with storm surge barriers rather than crossing fingers and hoping it doesn’t happen again. New York does not have any such barriers. It is open to whatever the sea throws its way.

We have to start treating our coastlines as if we were actually living here for the long haul. Innovations do not have to be as enormous as surge barriers. We could design better water tunnels to route water out of cities, and build huge inflatable plugs to halt the inward flow during surges. We could seal off power equipment in times of flood; build sluices near the coast that can shut to block surges; and even plant coastal forests as barriers to rising waters.

More than engineering solutions, we need to consider novel ways of living, commuting and consuming that use less energy and produce less carbon dioxide. We may not see another storm like this for another 50 or 100 years, or maybe 10 — but when this high-water mark is again exceeded, people will wish we had put our minds to solutions while the memory was fresh.

It seems almost crass to bring climate change into the discussion, when we have such immediate problems to deal with as the shutdown of morning commutes, the loss of electricity. But this is exactly the time to start the harder task of remembering why this storm was so huge. We talk about life slowly returning to normal along the Eastern Seaboard, but ultimately, it never will. A new high-water mark has been set. In the aftermath, one fact stands out above all: seas are rising, and we are in the way.


Craig Childs is the author, most recently,

of “Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Everending Earth.”

    Our Latest High-Water Mark, NYT, 2.11.2012,






My Jersey Shore, Now in Ruins


November 2, 2012
The New York Times


Manasquan, N.J.

AT the end of Pompano Avenue in Manasquan, one of the Jersey Shore towns scoured and tumbled by the storm, is a small patch of beachfront property that seems as if it has been in my family for several generations now.

We hold no title to it, other than whatever property rights might accrue from the thousands of summer days we have spent there at the ocean’s edge. It is 17 miles from the inland town where I grew up and still live, a rectangle of sand just wide enough for a couple of towels and long enough for a few chairs. It is where my mother and father took my siblings and me when we were children, and it is where my wife and I took our own children. A wooden jetty once stood beside it, but a beach replenishment project covered that up years ago.

A lot of people in New Jersey hold similar unofficial title to similar patches of the Shore, which is why the losses from this storm, large as they already are, seem even larger. The Shore is our summer home, and it now lies in ruins, wrecked by a storm that shares a name — in a cruel coincidence — with the most elegiac song ever written about it by our poet laureate, Bruce Springsteen. “Our carnival life on the water,” he sang in “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” but in Seaside Heights and Belmar and Point Pleasant and too many other beach towns, our carnival life is now in the water.

New Jersey, the most densely populated of all states, has 127 miles of oceanfront, almost all of which has been built upon, foolishly perhaps in some spots, but always hopefully, by people heeding a primal urge to be near the sea. Damp, rickety fishermen’s shacks; boxy, game-board bungalows; sprawling marble-clad palaces — all are trying to do the same thing: capture and hold with some measure of permanence that most sublime and evanescent of all moments, the perfect summer day.

There are parts of the Jersey Shore that, in high summer, are almost indistinguishable from California or Florida or some other sun-washed paradise. The difference here is that summer dies each year. It is briefer, and thus more precious, and Labor Day is the saddest day of all. That’s why we grasp the Shore so hard, why we hang on to it so fiercely. How much can we squeeze from this wave, from this romance, from this fishing trip, from this bar band, from this sun? How much more before it all chills and fades and we have to wait nine more months to try again?

My own town, Freehold, N.J., took some big hits in the storm — trees crushing houses, power dead and no sign of when it might return. But I’ve found my attention turning more toward the wildly, almost eccentrically, diverse string of towns along the Shore, where so many other New Jerseyans, from the poorest to the richest, have staked their own claims, however tenuous. I’ve been thinking about how unnaturally warm the water was this summer, and wondering whether the storm was the price we paid for that, and then wondering, too, how much of what I remember, what I love, will be there next summer.

Habits die hard, and it’s painful to imagine not going back to Manasquan next summer, no matter how much of it may be gone. It’s not the closest beach to my hometown, but it’s the one where everyone has always gone — a migratory pattern rooted deep in history, by a weekend excursion train along a potato-train line that hasn’t run in almost a century. No other town, no other beach within Manasquan even, would feel right.

My sister loved Manasquan so much that she moved there when she got married and is raising her own family there. She lives far enough from the beach that her home survived Hurricane Sandy unscathed. Her friends, as well as a couple of our cousins who live closer, were not so lucky. Exactly how unlucky, they don’t know yet. The beachfront section of town is still sealed shut, guarded by the police, nobody — not even homeowners — allowed in yet.

All anyone has so far are the photos the town has posted on its Facebook page. People have been scrutinizing them for signs of damage. Is that house still on its foundation? How high is the sand piled on this one? Where is the waterline on this one?

I was scrolling through the photos with my brother-in-law the other day, and we found one of “our” property: the beach at the end of Pompano Avenue. The asphalt beachwalk — no boardwalk here — was buckled as if by an earthquake. The remaining beach was a narrow strand, the sand pushed off it back onto the streets behind. But looking to the north, we saw something we hadn’t seen in years: the wooden jetty that had long been buried, the one that loomed in my favorite photograph of my father as a young man, watching his son toddling toward the water. It stood there again in this new photograph, like a guidepost, marking the way back.


Kevin Coyne, a journalist who teaches at Columbia, is the author, most recently,

of “Marching Home: To War and Back With the Men of One American Town.”

    My Jersey Shore, Now in Ruins, NYT, 2.11.2012,






The Mayor’s Barrier


November 2, 2012
The New York Times


One of my enduring childhood memories is going with my mother to the lobby of The Providence Journal, where she had once worked, to see the high water mark of the fearsome 1938 hurricane. It was the worst storm that had ever been recorded in New England, with winds of 115 miles per hour and a storm surge 16 feet high. Parts of Providence were 8 feet under water. Nearly 400 Rhode Islanders died.

Less than 20 years later, Hurricane Carol hit Providence dead-on. With a storm surge of more than 14 feet, it caused 68 deaths; the damage was estimated at $500 million. At which point, Rhode Island had had enough. In 1960, the state issued $15 million worth of bonds to pay the Army Corps of Engineers to build the country’s first storm barrier, aimed specifically at protecting its capital city.

The Fox Point Hurricane Barrier, a complicated array of dikes, gates, barriers and pumps, completed in 1966, has kept hurricanes at bay ever since. That includes Hurricane Sandy, which wreaked havoc on parts of the Rhode Island coastline, but barely dented Providence.

Sandy, of course, didn’t let New York City off so easily. Then again, New York didn’t put up much resistance. Lower Manhattan, completely unprotected, was overwhelmed by Sandy’s 14-foot storm surge. The Rockaways and Staten Island were hit even harder.

That fewer than 50 New Yorkers died in the storm is a testament to what New York has become very good at: evacuating. In 2006, Mayor Michael Bloomberg pushed the city’s Office of Emergency Management to develop a worst-case scenario evacuation plan; it has been the game plan ever since. As Sandy approached, the city told residents of the most flood-prone areas to leave, and readied its first responders. Incredibly, a large coastal neighborhood called Breezy Point in Queens burned to the ground with no one being seriously hurt. Most of them had left.

What New York is not so good at is preventing big storms from exacting an enormous toll on infrastructure, buildings and businesses. In the case of Sandy, the damage to New York City is estimated to be as much as $17 billion. Cities like London, Amsterdam — and, yes, Providence — have built systems to minimize the damage even Category 3 storms can cause. But not New York.

Part of the reason is that the cost of any such system would run into the billions of dollars. But another reason is that many environmentalists are firmly opposed to a big public-works project, fearing that it would give people a false sense of security about the problems posed by climate change. They prefer taking smaller steps, like raising the height of subway grates to keep water out of the subway tunnels. Bloomberg has embraced this approach.

In 2008, for instance, Bloomberg convened a panel of experts to examine the ways climate change could affect the city. The panel’s report, issued in 2010, documented the undeniable fact that the rivers and bays around New York were rising, and that changes in the atmosphere were likely to make storms both more frequent and more dangerous.

Yet Malcolm Bowman, who leads the Storm Surge Research Group at Stony Brook University, told me that when he joined the panel, he was pointedly told that barriers were not going to get much emphasis. Another former member of the panel, Klaus Jacob, a scientist at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, told The New York Times, in a prescient article published just six weeks before Sandy hit, that the city’s unwillingness to be more aggressive was akin to “Russian roulette.” Jacob believes that the city needs to build unbreachable gates to subways, tunnels and infrastructure to prevent water from rushing in. Despite the expense, he says that such a system would save billions by preventing storm damage.

In the aftermath of Sandy, New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, has openly called for rethinking the way New York deals with storms. So far, however, Bloomberg has resisted. “The fact that we are close to the water shouldn’t be a surprise to everybody,” he sniffed on Thursday.

Barriers may not be the answer. But, clearly, the kind of small steps advocated by the city are almost laughably insufficient. What could be a more pressing short-term threat than horrific storms that can bring the city to its knees? And how can you say you are tackling climate change if you are not willing to face that threat squarely?

Bloomberg is clearly proud of his role as a leader in the climate-change arena; that was the basis for his endorsement of President Obama. But, in the weeks and months to come, we are going to find out what that really means.

As they say, actions speak louder than words.

    The Mayor’s Barrier, NYT, 2.11.2012,






Learning to Bounce Back


November 2, 2012
The New York Times


FOR decades, people who concern themselves with the world’s “wicked problems” — interconnected issues like environmental degradation, poverty, food security and climate change — have marched together under the banner of “sustainability”: the idea that with the right mix of incentives, technology substitutions and social change, humanity might finally achieve a lasting equilibrium with our planet, and with one another.

It’s an alluring and moral vision, and in a year that has brought us the single hottest month in recorded American history (July), a Midwestern drought that plunged more than half the country into a state of emergency, a heat wave across the eastern part of the country powerful enough to melt the tarmac below jetliners in Washington and the ravages of Hurricane Sandy, it would seem a pressing one, too.

Yet today, precisely because the world is so increasingly out of balance, the sustainability regime is being quietly challenged, not from without, but from within. Among a growing number of scientists, social innovators, community leaders, nongovernmental organizations, philanthropies, governments and corporations, a new dialogue is emerging around a new idea, resilience: how to help vulnerable people, organizations and systems persist, perhaps even thrive, amid unforeseeable disruptions. Where sustainability aims to put the world back into balance, resilience looks for ways to manage in an imbalanced world.

It’s a broad-spectrum agenda that, at one end, seeks to imbue our communities, institutions and infrastructure with greater flexibility, intelligence and responsiveness to extreme events and, at the other, centers on bolstering people’s psychological and physiological capacity to deal with high-stress circumstances.

For example, “resilience thinking” is starting to shape how urban planners in big cities think about updating antiquated infrastructure, much of which is robust in the face of normal threats like equipment failures but — as was just demonstrated in the New York region — fragile in the face of unanticipated shocks like flooding, pandemics, terrorism or energy shortages.

Combating those kinds of disruptions isn’t just about building higher walls — it’s about accommodating the waves. For extreme weather events, that means developing the kinds of infrastructure more commonly associated with the Army: temporary bridges that can be “inflated” or positioned across rivers when tunnels flood, for example, or wireless “mesh” networks and electrical microgrids that can compensate for exploding transformers.

We’ll also need to use nature itself as a form of “soft” infrastructure. Along the Gulf Coast, civic leaders have begun to take seriously the restoration of the wetlands that serve as a vital buffer against hurricanes. A future New York may be ringed with them too, as it was centuries ago.

Hurricane Sandy hit New York hardest right where it was most recently redeveloped: Lower Manhattan, which should have been the least vulnerable part of the island. But it was rebuilt to be “sustainable,” not resilient, said Jonathan Rose, an urban planner and developer.

“After 9/11, Lower Manhattan contained the largest collection of LEED-certified, green buildings in the world,” he said, referring to a rating program for eco-friendly design. “But that was answering only part of problem. The buildings were designed to generate lower environmental impacts, but not to respond to the impacts of the environment” — for example, by having redundant power systems.

The resilience frame speaks not just to how buildings weather storms but to how people weather them, too. Here, psychologists, sociologists and neuroscientists are uncovering a wide array of factors that make you more or less resilient than the person next to you: the reach of your social networks, the quality of your close relationships, your access to resources, your genes and health, your beliefs and habits of mind.

Based on these insights, these researchers have developed training regimens, rooted in contemplative practice, that are already helping first responders, emergency-room physicians and soldiers better manage periods of extreme stress and diminish the rates and severity of post-traumatic stress that can follow. Researchers at Emory University have shown that similar practices can bolster the psychological and physiological resilience of children in foster care. These tools will have to find their way into wider circulation, as we better prepare populations for the mental, and not just physical, dimensions of disruption.

There’s a third domain where resilience will be found, and that’s in big data and mobile services. Already, the United States Geological Survey is testing a system that ties its seismographs to Twitter; when the system detects an earthquake, it automatically begins scanning the social media service for posts from the affected area about fires and damages.

Similar systems have been used to scan blog postings and international news reports for the first signs of pandemics like SARS. And “hacktivists” are exploring ways to extend the power of the 311 system to help people not only better connect to government services, but also self-organize in a crisis.

In a reversal of our stereotypes about the flow of innovation, many of the most important resilience tools will come to us from developing countries, which have long had to contend with large disruptions and limited budgets. In Kenya, Kilimo Salama, an insurance program for small-hold farmers, uses wireless weather sensors to help farmers protect themselves financially against climate volatility. In India, Husk Power Systems converts agricultural waste into locally generated electricity for off-grid villages. And around the world, a service called Ushahidi empowers communities around the world to crowdsource information during a crisis using their mobile phones.

None of these is a permanent solution, and none roots out the underlying problems they address. But each helps a vulnerable community contend with the shocks that, especially at the margins of a society, can be devastating. In lieu of master plans, these approaches offer diverse tools and platforms that enable greater self-reliance, cooperation and creativity before, during and after a crisis.

As wise as this all may sound, a shift from sustainability to resilience leaves many old-school environmentalists and social activists feeling uneasy, as it smacks of adaptation, a word that is still taboo in many quarters. If we adapt to unwanted change, the reasoning goes, we give a pass to those responsible for putting us in this mess in the first place, and we lose the moral authority to pressure them to stop. Better, they argue, to mitigate the risk at the source.

In a perfect world, that’s surely true, just as it’s also true that the cheapest response to a catastrophe is to prevent it in the first place. But in this world, vulnerable people are already being affected by disruption. They need practical, if imperfect, adaptations now, if they are ever to get the just and moral future they deserve tomorrow.

Unfortunately, the sustainability movement’s politics, not to mention its marketing, have led to a popular misunderstanding: that a perfect, stasis-under-glass equilibrium is achievable. But the world doesn’t work that way: it exists in a constant disequilibrium — trying, failing, adapting, learning and evolving in endless cycles. Indeed, it’s the failures, when properly understood, that create the context for learning and growth. That’s why some of the most resilient places are, paradoxically, also the places that regularly experience modest disruptions: they carry the shared memory that things can go wrong.

“Resilience” takes this as a given and is commensurately humble. It doesn’t propose a single, fixed future. It assumes we don’t know exactly how things will unfold, that we’ll be surprised, that we’ll make mistakes along the way. It’s also open to learning from the extraordinary and widespread resilience of the natural world, including its human inhabitants, something that, counterintuitively, many proponents of sustainability have ignored.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t genuine bad guys and bad ideas at work, or that there aren’t things we should do to mitigate our risks. But we also have to acknowledge that the holy war against boogeymen hasn’t worked and isn’t likely to anytime soon. In its place, we need approaches that are both more pragmatic and more politically inclusive — rolling with the waves, instead of trying to stop the ocean.


Andrew Zolli, the executive director of PopTech, is the author,

with Ann Marie Healy, of “Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back.”

    Learning to Bounce Back, NYT, 2.11.2012,






Would You Buy on the Waterfront?


November 2, 2012
The New York Times


IF tropical storm Irene last year was an eye-opener, Hurricane Sandy was a reality check.

Waterfront property in the New York area is some of the most coveted in the nation, but after back-to-back years of supposedly once-in-a-generation storms, public officials, developers, brokers and homeowners are being forced to re-evaluate.

Although real estate experts say property values are unlikely to suffer in the long term, it is possible that new zoning and planning regulations — and buyers’ expectations — could reshape how residential housing along the water is built, marketed and sold.

In a news briefing on Wednesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said elected officials had a responsibility to consider new ways to prevent similar damage to the region’s infrastructure in the face of future storms. “For us to sit here today and say this is a once-in-a-generation and it’s not going to happen again, I think, would be shortsighted,” he said. “I think we need to anticipate more of these extreme-weather-type situations in the future, and we have to take that into consideration in reforming, modifying, our infrastructure.”

On Wednesday, property management companies were just beginning to assess the damage across the region. At least 40 of the 500 buildings that Cooper Square Realty manages throughout the five boroughs had “major disasters,” where common areas or equipment sustained significant damage, some with extensive flooding, said David Kuperberg, the firm’s chief executive.

“Some of our buildings out in Brighton Beach, Coney Island and the Rockaways have part of the boardwalks in their lobbies,” Mr. Kuperberg said. “There is one building that had 24 feet of water in the lobby at one point.”

Despite the destruction, those in the industry agree that the urban waterfront will continue to retain its allure.

“If you love living on the water, and you’re willing to take the risk,” said Dottie Herman, the president and chief executive of Prudential Douglas Elliman, “waterfront properties always go for a higher premium. Those who buy on the water know the risks ahead of time.”

Hall F. Willkie, the president of Brown Harris Stevens, said he was confident that the storm would not have a negative impact on overall property values. “It may affect specific homes within buildings or locations which were severely damaged by the storm, but not on the long-term market as a whole.”

Depending on the pace of the cleanup in hard-hit neighborhoods, said Jonathan J. Miller, the president of the Miller Samuel appraisal firm, “there may be a lag or delay in that market, but I am extremely skeptical that once this crisis is past there is going to be some sort of structural impact to values.”

He added: “I’m always struck by how quickly we forget — the collective memory, whether it’s politics or real estate or anything else. When people are looking at property on the water with beautiful views, all that gets rationalized away.”

Even after the devastating effects of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Miller noted, “Lower Manhattan is one of the best-performing markets a decade later.”

Still, for now at least, some brokers reported that their buyers were expressing jitters about the waterfront. Dolly Lenz, a high-end broker at Douglas Elliman in Manhattan, said that even though she was scrambling to get some clients appointments lined up in the wake of the storm, others in flooded areas like Battery Park City were “reassessing whether they want to be there on a long-term basis as they had originally thought.”

Her advice: “Take a pause, wait a few weeks and see what happens. Those kinds of decisions should not be made in a panic. They’re in a panic. They’re not accustomed to having their life upended that way.”

She said at least one deal, a $1 million year-round Hamptons rental, had fallen through. Before the storm, her client had “only wanted the primest of prime oceanfront.” Now the priorities have shifted to a home in the estate section farther inland. “They don’t want to put their family and pets in the way of any potential danger,” she said, “and do not wish to pursue the waterfront opportunity.”

Some brokers and developers are anticipating new questions and concerns from buyers regarding waterfront property. “I think people will start looking into the zones a building is in, learning if there is backup power or not in the building, is there a history of flooding etc.,” said David J. Maundrell III, the founder of aptsandlofts.com, a New York brokerage that specializes in new-development marketing. Although he doesn’t expect those concerns to hurt prices, he said, “people will be more cautious and ask more and different questions.”

Still, as Frederick W. Peters, the president of the Manhattan firm Warburg Realty Partnership, pointed out, “There’s this funny way in which events of this nature make people more passionately devoted to their communities, and we’ve seen that in New York before.”

Developers should be installing generators in each new building, said Andrew Gerringer, the managing director for new business development of the Marketing Directors, a New York development, leasing and marketing company. “And if you are in a zone that’s prone to flooding,” he added, “the new codes should require that serious drainage should be built in to mitigate the damage that we just witnessed.”

Some real estate veterans looked to more hurricane-prone regions for guidance. “The last two storms have shown we’re not immune to what we think only happens down South,” said Gary L. Malin, the president of Citi Habitats. In Florida, he noted, “People have lived and learned through so many storms and had the opportunity to make changes where necessary. We have to start following those guides.” Despite the risks, he added, “people will still want to build on the water, but hopefully they will build in different ways.”

Some developers have already begun to implement designs that they say could help mitigate damage in similar storms. At the Edge, a more-than-500-unit glass-and-steel residential building on the waterfront in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, generators are on the eighth floor instead of the basement; hefty precast concrete panels were used on the exteriors to minimize building motion in high winds; and the entrance was built to the highest level of grade possible. The Edge narrowly averted severe damage this time as water breached the bulkheads and came up over the waterfront esplanades, but never reached the building.

Jeffrey E. Levine, the chairman of Douglaston Development, said the Edge’s special features could set it apart in the event of a similar storm. Other than a broken window, he said, “there were absolutely no problems whatsoever.” He added, “I think we should probably put signs up in the building: We survived Sandy without a blemish.”

But with long-term plans to build another tower even closer to the water, Mr. Levine added, further measures are in the pipeline. “Future plans will include well-designed gas turbines which will produce uninterrupted emergency electric power for the building.”

    Would You Buy on the Waterfront?, NYT, 2.11.2012,






Anger Grows at Response by Red Cross


November 2, 2012
The New York Times


The American Red Cross struggled on Friday to reassure beleaguered New York City residents that its disaster-relief efforts were at last getting up to speed, after the agency’s delayed arrival in devastated areas of Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens drew intense criticism.

As of Friday, the Red Cross said, 25 of its emergency response vehicles — retrofitted ambulances each carrying 2,000 pounds of water, meals and snacks — had begun making their way through the hardest hit parts of the five boroughs. More were on the way, the agency promised.

The Red Cross had not yet opened the three temporary mobile kitchens that it announced on Thursday would be set up on Staten Island, in Riis Park in the Rockaways, and at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens, the agency confirmed. The kitchens, which can produce 10,000 meals a day, would begin operating by Saturday, it said.

The organization’s response to Hurricane Sandy came under fire from public officials and volunteers, beginning with a televised tirade on Thursday by James P. Molinaro, the Staten Island borough president; he called the agency’s apparent absence from the relief effort an “absolute disgrace” and called on residents to stop donating money to the Red Cross.

Mr. Molinaro described visiting a shelter and seeing people arriving barefoot.

“They were in desperate need,” he said. “Their housing was destroyed. They were crying. Where was the Red Cross? Isn’t that their function?”

Josh Lockwood, the chief executive officer for the Red Cross in the New York region, said that the first eight Red Cross trucks had arrived on Staten Island shortly before Mr. Molinaro’s broadside.

“We moved as fast as we humanly could, we really did,” Mr. Lockwood said in a telephone interview. Reached late Friday, Mr. Molinaro said he was satisfied with the organization’s response. “They’re here now,” he said. “People are being fed, they’re being clothed. Let’s not talk about yesterday.”

What the Red Cross lacked in speed it seemed to make up for in explanations: Spokesmen said the agency had pre-positioned its disaster-aid trucks out of the storm’s path, as near as Middletown, N.Y., in Orange County, and Tinton Falls, N.J., and as far away as Harrisburg, Pa., and Baltimore. Mr. Lockwood said the trucks had been delayed by the same traffic backups and detours that all New Yorkers were facing.

One Red Cross spokesman also sought to shift blame for the organization’s slow response to the Bloomberg administration. In an interview on NY1 on Thursday, the spokesman, Sam Kille, responded to questions by repeatedly saying that the Red Cross was merely following emergency-response plans “drawn up by the New York City Office of Emergency Management.”

Mr. Kille did not mention that the Red Cross played a role in formulating those plans.

Mr. Lockwood did not disavow Mr. Kille’s statements, but did not repeat them. “I’m not interested in pointing fingers at all,” he said. “What’s important to me is the people of Staten Island needed help, and need help. We’ve got to provide it. We’re going to be there for the long haul.”

Mr. Lockwood added that four tractor-trailers carrying 120,000 pounds of food had begun unloading on Staten Island on Friday. He said 16 converted ambulances, along with 15 locally based box trucks, would be handing out water and food there by Sunday.

Yet worrisome glimpses of the overall Red Cross effort continued to emerge. Some Red Cross volunteers told of wild-goose chases to remote locations with hours out in the cold and few if any people to serve. In parts of the Rockaways, residents said that Red Cross trucks were nowhere to be seen on Friday.

James O’Connell, the logistics coordinator for a 40-person search-and-rescue nonprofit group that was volunteering in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, called the Red Cross response to the storm “a figment of everyone’s imagination.”

“I’ve come across one Red Cross canteen truck on Staten Island last night,” Mr. O’Connell said. “Two people inside. They said, ‘Hey, how you doing?’ And then they asked us for drinking water.”

He added: “I have tremendous respect for what they’ve done in the past. They have simply dropped the damn ball here.”

    Anger Grows at Response by Red Cross, NYT, 2.11.2012,






Cellphone Users Steaming at Hit-or-Miss Service


November 2, 2012
The New York Times


To wireless customers, cellphone networks might seem to be made out of thin air. But they are plenty vulnerable to catastrophic storms — and bringing service back can take an excruciatingly long time.

On Friday, four days after Hurricane Sandy, the major carriers — AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile USA and Sprint — were still busily rebuilding their networks in the hardest-hit areas.

One-quarter of the cell towers in the storm zone were knocked out, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Many had no power, and their backup battery systems soon drained. The lines connecting those towers to the rest of the phone network were ripped out. Carriers deployed generators to provide power, but eventually those required more fuel — another limited resource.

In an emergency, a lack of cellphone reception can be dangerous, especially as more people have chosen to snip landlines out of their budgets. About 60 percent of American households have landlines, down from 78 percent four years ago, according to Chetan Sharma, an independent mobile analyst.

The carriers say they are trying their best to deal with an unusual disaster. But in the past, they have steadfastly objected to recommendations from regulators that they spend more money on robust emergency equipment, like longer-lasting backup batteries.

Neville Ray, chief technology officer of T-Mobile USA, said Hurricane Sandy was the biggest natural disaster he had ever dealt with and that service failures were inevitable.

“There’s an amount of preparation you can do, but depending on the size and scale and impact of the storm, it’s tough to anticipate every circumstance,” Mr. Ray said in an interview. “No degree of preparation can prevent some of those outages from happening.”

When networks fail, carriers deploy trucks, called C.O.W.’s, for cell on wheels, that act as temporary cell towers. But the companies say the challenge with deploying these trucks poststorm is connecting to power and to the wider phone network, which requires a microwave radio link to a working tower. Because of the density of the buildings in New York City, the trucks could serve only a small area, according to Mr. Ray.

The carriers have made other efforts to provide services while restoring their networks. AT&T wheeled out R.V.’s where customers could charge their phones. And it made an agreement to share networks with T-Mobile USA in the affected areas of New York and New Jersey. When customers of both companies place calls, they are carried by whichever network is available in the area.

But ultimately all of the carriers’ preparations and responses were not enough to get services running again in a hurry. Over the week the carriers reported gradual progress, and they declined to offer timelines indicating when customers could expect to have service again.

The unreliability of wireless networks may point to a bigger problem. Over the years, the phone companies have fought off regulators who want to treat them as utilities, arguing that if they are going to stay innovative, they cannot be burdened with the old rules that phone companies dealt with in the landline era. But as a consequence, there are almost no rules about what carriers have to do in an emergency, said Harold Feld, senior vice president for Public Knowledge, a nonprofit that focuses on information policy.

“With the new networks we’ve prized keeping costs down, we’ve prized flexibility and we’ve prized innovation,” said Mr. Feld, who wrote a blog post on Monday anticipating cell tower problems. “But we have not put stability as a value when we have been pushing to have these networks built out.”

Mr. Feld noted that after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the F.C.C. recommended that carriers install backup batteries on their transmission towers that would last 24 hours, among other measures. But the carriers objected, presumably because they did not want to spend the money, he said. (Of course, 24 hours would not have been enough in many areas hit by the latest storm.)

In general, the carriers say it is in their own interest to fortify their networks for emergency situations, but Mr. Feld said this incentive was not enough.

“We ought to actually be doing this in the mind-set that there need to be actual rules, so that everybody knows how to behave when the crisis hits,” he said. “When I drive I have the best incentive in the world not to hit a telephone pole and not to slam into another car. But I still need speed limits, stop signs and stop lights.”

Debra Lewis, a spokeswoman for Verizon Wireless, said no amount of rules could have prepared carriers for the outcome of a storm like Hurricane Sandy.

“The fact is, regulation cannot anticipate the varied challenges that can arise in such situations, but we do learn from them and adapt accordingly to ensure we meet consumers’ needs,” Ms. Lewis said. She said the company prepared for natural disasters with generators and batteries that provided at least eight hours of power to cell sites.

Verizon Wireless said Friday evening that less than 3 percent of its network in the Northeast was still down. “In severely impacted areas, such as Lower Manhattan, while wireless service has yet to return to normal levels, coverage is good,” it said.

AT&T was the only major carrier that would not go into specifics about how much of its network was down. Anecdotally it seemed that in Manhattan at least, AT&T’s coverage was not as good as Verizon’s after the storm. One Twitter user directed this message at AT&T on Tuesday: “I live in lower manhattan. Vz has service u do not. You are ruining lives. I had to come midtown 2 call mom. Switching.”

Mark Siegel, a spokesman for AT&T, said the company would not comment because it was working on restoring its network.

    Cellphone Users Steaming at Hit-or-Miss Service, NYT, 2.11.2012,






Military to Deliver Fuel to Storm-Ravaged Region


November 2, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — As long lines persisted at gas stations in the New York metropolitan area, federal authorities moved on Friday to restore supplies, instructing the Defense Department to send 24 million gallons of fuel to the region and lifting restrictions on deliveries by foreign-flagged ships.

With the reopening of the Port of New York to tankers on Thursday, and the return of a critical Northeast fuel pipeline to full capacity on Friday, the biggest outstanding problems are the lack of power at hundreds of gas stations and continued panic buying by the public, industry officials said.

Because electricity will not be restored in parts of central New Jersey for seven to 10 days, gasoline shortages may remain severe in some areas. As of Friday, according to AAA, only 40 to 50 percent of the gas stations in New York City and New Jersey were operating, and even fewer were operating on Long Island. Most of the stations were out of service because of power failures.

“We have seen some stations open as power is restored, but other stations have closed while running out of gas,” said Michael Green, an AAA spokesman. “The long lines and supply problems will go away once power is restored.”

The Obama administration, realizing the political peril if it were to be blamed for fuel shortages in the days before the election, significantly accelerated its response on Friday.

It authorized the Defense Department to hire hundreds of trucks that will be used to deliver 12 million gallons each of gasoline and diesel fuel, mostly from commercial suppliers, to staging areas in New Jersey. The department is handling the task because its Defense Logistics Agency has contracting powers that enable it to move quickly.

From the staging areas, the fuel will be distributed throughout the region in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help resupply stations. Together, the gasoline and diesel are enough for 1.6 million vehicles with 15-gallon tanks.

The Pentagon has also been authorized by the Energy Department and the White House to tap the Northeast Home Heating Oil Reserve. It will draw as much as two million gallons of diesel fuel — part of the 12 million total — for government emergency responders, helping them to keep electricity generators, water pumps, federal buildings, trucks and other vehicles running. The oil reserve, created by the federal government in 2000, holds 42 million gallons of ultralow-sulfur diesel at terminals in Groton, Conn., and Revere, Mass. It is the first time fuel has been released from the reserve.

Earlier Friday, the Homeland Security Department temporarily lifted a rule prohibiting foreign-flagged ships from delivering fuel between United States ports, a move that should soon bring additional tankers to the New York area with refined gasoline and diesel.

And on Thursday, the Defense Department used 17 of its aircraft to move 630 tons of equipment, including 10 bucket trucks and 20 pickup trucks, from West Coast utility companies to an Air National Guard base 60 miles north of New York City.

“We are working this as a team,” W. Craig Fugate, the FEMA administrator, said at a news conference Friday morning.

Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, said the federal government may end up sending more fuel than is needed. “Anyone running for office would rather err on the side of excess,” he said. “It’s a confidence builder. It will help placate people who think we are on the threshold of crisis.”

Government officials said they were confident that the shortages would ease in the coming week, as power was restored and the fuel now being delivered to the region arrived.

“There is no reason to panic; there is no reason for anxiety,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said at a news conference Friday. “We understand why there was a shortage, for very definable reasons. We also understand why it’s going to be better, and it’s going to be better in the near future.”

The fuel shortage has emerged as one of the most widespread problems after the storm, worsening the suffering in the region. Large parts of the public transit system remained out of service, and 3.5 million customers had no power Friday afternoon, down from eight million earlier in the week, according to Energy Department figures.

Of the region’s 127 fuel terminals — which hold gasoline, heating oil and diesel fuel after they are delivered by pipeline, ship or local refinery — 25 were hit by flooding or power failures. Most have reopened or are preparing to reopen shortly, the Energy Department said Friday.

Two refineries in the New York area remained out of service — most critically the Phillips 66 refinery in Linden, N.J., which could be out for weeks because of flooding. But the reopening of the Port of New York on Thursday, after the Coast Guard removed debris floating in the water, allowed tankers sitting off shore to begin making their deliveries.

New York City officials announced Friday afternoon that power should be restored to all of Manhattan by Saturday. Con Edison said it would restore power to a vast majority of its customers in New York State by Nov. 11, while Public Service Electric and Gas, which serves New Jersey, forecast that its efforts to restore power would be virtually complete in the next seven to 10 days.

These efforts will mean more gas stations reopening as power comes back on.

Despite the closed gas stations, and local instances of gouging, prices at the pump have not shot up in most places. AAA reported that the average price for a gallon of regular gasoline in New Jersey on Friday was $3.56, only 6 cents above the national average. Some communities were imposing alternating fueling days for vehicles with license plates ending in even and odd numbers. The average price in New York was more than 25 cents higher, but still below $4.

Energy experts said their greatest fear had been that the storm would damage several large refineries on the Delaware River. But none were seriously affected, and about 75 percent of the region’s refinery capacity remained operational.

“Some of the refineries are down, but that shouldn’t be a problem, because the Northeast is supplied by pipelines and ships from other parts of the country and the world,” said Bill Day, a spokesman for Valero Energy, the country’s biggest independent refiner, with more than 100 branded gas stations in the Northeast. “Terminals, ports and pipelines are all affected by electricity outages, so once the electricity is back, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Even if the Phillips 66 refinery and the other, smaller New Jersey refinery were out of service for the rest of the month, the region could still get back to normal, energy experts said, because November does not typically have high driving volume.

“Our best guess is that things will be close to normal for consumers by Wednesday,” said Brian Norris of the Oil Price Information Service.


Eric Lipton reported from Washington and Clifford Krauss from Houston.

    Military to Deliver Fuel to Storm-Ravaged Region, NYT, 2.11.2012,






Hardship Strains Emotions in New York


November 2, 2012
The New York Times


Emotions, frayed after almost a week of desperation, darkness and cold, approached a breaking point on Friday as the collective spirit that buoyed New York in the first few days after Hurricane Sandy gave way to angry complaints of neglect and unequal treatment.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, facing criticism that he was favoring marathon runners arriving from around the world over people in devastated neighborhoods, reversed himself and canceled the New York City Marathon.

The move was historic — the marathon has taken place every year since 1970, including the race in 2001 held two months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and was projected to bring in $340 million.

For days, the mayor, who is often reluctant to abandon a position of his, insisted on going ahead with the race, saying it would signal that the city was back to normal.

He changed his mind as opposition became nearly unanimous. Critics said that it would be in poor taste to hold a foot race through the five boroughs while so many people in the area were still dealing with damage from the hurricane, and that city services should focus on storm relief, not the marathon. A petition from some marathoners called on other runners to skip the race and do volunteer work in hard-hit areas.

But the mayor liked the parallel to Sept. 11 and saw the marathon as a symbol of the city’s comeback. He talked to former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani on Friday morning; Mr. Giuliani said to stick with his original plan.

Within the mayor’s inner circle, though, there were concerns. Some advisers worried that the criticism could steal the focus from Mr. Bloomberg’s well-received performance during and after the storm, and could damage his legacy in the way that the city’s botched response to a blizzard had done in 2010.

Behind the scenes, there were also concerns about what the world would see: images of runners so close to neighborhoods that had been battered by the storm, at a time when gasoline remained in short supply and mass transit was still not fully functioning.

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly and Deputy Mayors Howard Wolfson and Patricia E. Harris all argued for calling off the event.

The mayor, virtually alone in saying the race should go on, finally relented and canceled it after a conversation with Mary Wittenberg, the marathon director, late Friday. “This isn’t the year or the time to run it,” she said.

Patience also wore thin in other parts of the New York area amid lines that were once again painfully long — lines for free meals, lines for buses to take people where crippled subways could not, lines for gasoline that stretched 30 blocks in Brooklyn.

Hand-lettered signs in hard-hit areas struck a plaintive note: “FEMA please help us,” read one in Broad Channel, Queens. In Hoboken, N.J., one was addressed to Gov. Chris Christie: “Gov. Chris — where is the help $$$$”

Ethel Liebeskind of Merrick, N.Y., echoed that idea as she stood in the storm-tossed ruins of the house she had lived in for 26 years. “This is as bad as Katrina,” she said, “and they got global attention. The South Shore of Long Island should be treated the same way. Don’t forget us on the South Shore of Long Island. We need help.”

There was more grim news on Staten Island, where rescuers pulled two bodies from another house in the Midland Beach neighborhood, about two miles from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Neighbors who had been hauling their ruined furniture and trash to the street watched as two body bags were taken out of a house on Olympia Boulevard.

The two victims were not immediately identified. They brought to 41 the official count of people who died as rampaging wind drove a wall of water into the city on Monday night.

On Staten Island, which even in good times is often referred to as the city’s forgotten borough, desperation and anger were especially intense.

David Sylvester, 50, returned to his house in Midland Beach — he had left it after the mayor issued evacuation orders for low-lying areas, and it burned down when a power line shorted out during the storm — and criticized the government and relief agencies for not arriving fast enough.

He said that not until late Thursday afternoon did anyone from the Federal Emergency Management Agency stop by, and then the man said he should make an appointment. “First he told me to go on the Internet,” Mr. Sylvester said, “and I said, ‘Where should I plug it in?’ ”

The secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, visited Staten Island and defended the federal government’s response to Hurricane Sandy, saying relief supplies were close by before the storm and were ready to be delivered once it cleared out.

Staten Island, she acknowledged, “took a particularly hard hit.” She said 1.6 million meals and 7.1 million liters of water had been “positioned” before the storm to be distributed afterward in New York. She said 657 housing inspectors were already at work in New York and 3,200 FEMA employees had been sent to the Northeast.

Other government officials asked for patience, even as they imposed new restrictions: Governor Christie announced an odd-even gas rationing system in 12 New Jersey counties.

Still, there were some promising developments. Mr. Bloomberg said that “most” of Manhattan would have power again by midnight Friday, although he said that other parts of the city that were still dark — and where electricity comes from overhead lines — would have to wait “a lot longer.” New Jersey Transit started running partial rail service, more of the Metro-North Railroad system came back to life and the Staten Island Ferry started crisscrossing the harbor again.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the city had made “great progress,” with service restored to about half of the two million customers who lost electricity during the storm. But his morning briefing hinted at the realities of disaster recovery as he leavened encouragement with caution.

He said that turning the power back on in Lower Manhattan would be a “big step forward” for transportation serving the area, but he also said it “did not mean that every light” would work, because electrical systems in some buildings had been damaged.

He said that ports would reopen and that tankers carrying gasoline were on the way, so the gas shortages would diminish. He also said he had approved waivers so that fuel tankers would not have to register or pay state taxes, as they normally do — moves he said should speed the distribution of fuel to gas stations. But he offset that announcement with a sober warning: ““It is not going to get better overnight. It is not going to be a one- or two- or three-day situation.”

    Hardship Strains Emotions in New York, NYT, 2.11.2012,






Wisely Stepping Aside in a Bombarded City


November 2, 2012
The New York Times


The right decision, to call off the New York City Marathon, was only 72 hours late.

It could have and should have been made as soon as Sandy stopped bombarding the region, as soon as it became apparent that people had died, and that millions were in trouble. It is a grand day in a great city, but ultimately it is only a sports event.

The best barometer of the inappropriateness of a marathon on Sunday was the discomfort expressed by runners themselves. Finely tuned competitors, whether of the championship or the plodder variety, knew in their bones and their nerve endings and their hearts that it would be wrong to prance through a stricken city.

These affected athletes were way ahead of city and marathon officials who dithered for days, talking of the glory of this grand annual event, and the theoretical benefits to revenue and morale.

The idea of diverting energy, human and actual, to create that special one-day universe was suddenly passé, for this week, for this town. People had drowned or been crushed by trees or electrocuted all over the city, and in New Jersey and Long Island and Connecticut.

This brutal storm had very little in common with 9/11. There should have been no perceived need to go forward to prove the enduring spirit of New York, of runners, of humanity itself — as if any of this needs to be renewed annually, like a driver’s license.

The marathon has been run since 1970 and has tied the five boroughs together since 1976. It has proved itself every autumn as October meets November. The whole world gets it: New York is a fascinating, varied city as viewed on television sets everywhere.

With all due respect to other sports events in this region, the marathon is the best single scheduled day in any calendar. It is hard to miss the pulsing humanity as elite Kenyans stride off the bridge into Brooklyn, followed by thousands of runners who, as the race goes on, look more and more like most of us.

There is New York in all its glory — not just the high school bands emanating oompahs and youthful zest, not just the sleepyheads poking out of windows in Bay Ridge or the Hasids standing and staring in Williamsburg or the people four and five deep in the wall of noise on the East Side of Manhattan. The marathon is a great event for the human race, as represented in all its diversity by New York.

But not this year.

It would have been obscene to use police officers who earlier in the week were saving lives, or lamenting lives they could not save, in inundated cellars in Staten Island or smoldering fires in Breezy Point or other afflicted corners of this city.

Put on a clean uniform and stand at the barricades to make sure some dope doesn’t infiltrate the race? The police officers need a rest and so do the firefighters and so do the nurses and the volunteers who have put their gigantic New York hearts into rescuing and reassuring.

New York had nothing left to prove. Basta ya. Enough already.

The curious thing is that a solid cadre of regulars, the runners who make this race go, were expressing discomfort at running in a city where people lack electricity or cannot go home or have seen death and injury up close. Runners, who have endowed this race with their spirit and their sweat, were saying they didn’t want to do it this time. Some canceled; others would have run, because what do you do when the gun goes off in Staten Island?

Instead, the tin ears and faulty priorities belonged to the officials who insisted the show must go on, as if to prove once and for all that New York is really the Big Apple.

With a glorious stretch of beaches and history wiped out down the Jersey coast, with the homes of police and fire officers still smoldering in Breezy Point, the runners of the world were encouraged to flock to airports all over the world, to fly to a stricken city. Now they are here, paying gouger prices for hotels, and being told, uhh, never mind.

We will learn in days to come who made what decisions, who influenced whom to change their minds. It was already a bad idea when the winds stopped howling and the tides stopped surging and the real public servants, out there in the neighborhoods, began to report just how bad this was, how bad this still is.

New York is a great city. An entire region needs to start recovering. The next time everybody reconvenes, the marathon will still be wonderful. Just not this Sunday.

    Wisely Stepping Aside in a Bombarded City, NYT, 2.11.2012,






As Power Is Restored for Some, Others Face Grim Outlook


November 2, 2012
The New York Times


Four dark days after Hurricane Sandy blew through the New York region, residents and businesses in the lower end of Manhattan began to get power back on Friday, starting to unite a borough that had been divided between the light and the darkness.

As lampposts, streetlights and storefronts flickered to life, cheers could be heard across whole neighborhoods.

“The first thing we did was the coffee machine,” said Ali Salah, 40, who works at his family’s deli Chelsea. “Then we plugged in our phones.”

This past week, he said, it did not feel like he was living in New York City, but rather it was more like a small town in his native Yemen.

But when the lights came back on, he could barely contain his joy.

“Today is like New Year’s,” he said. “Like a new holiday.”

Of course, hundreds of thousands of people in the region remained without power. And as temperatures dropped Friday night, anger mounted.

In other boroughs and in the suburbs, the prognosis for full restoration was grimmer. In many parts of the region, utility companies forecast that people might be without power until the middle of November.

In Lower Manhattan, the power restoration started around 5 p.m. in the East Village. The network in the East Village, known as Cooper Square, serves about 67,000 customers between 14th and Canal Streets. The Chelsea neighborhood sparked to life about 45 minutes later, bringing back power to an additional 25,000 customers between 14th and 31st Streets on the West Side.

The next big network came back to life around 7:30 p.m., when 30,000 customers east of Fifth Avenue between 14th and 31st Streets were once again able to turn their lights on.

Throughout the night, Consolidated Edison’s crews raced to make good on a promise that company executives made to restore power to all of Manhattan before Saturday. As each network came online, they got a bit closer to getting power back to all 220,000 people below 39th Street who lost it.

Outside Manhattan, the challenges were in some ways more difficult, with crews having to contend with thousands of lines that were mangled, damaged or ripped down in Monday’s hurricane. Con Ed said it could take until mid-November to bring electricity back to all of its customers. In Westchester County, where 120,000 people have no power, the utility said navigating downed trees and dealing with connections cut off by limbs and branches was simply going to take more time. On Long Island, more than 500,000 customers of the Long Island Power Authority still had no power on Friday evening, or any estimate of when it would return.

In New Jersey, Public Service Electric and Gas had restored power to over a million customers by Friday morning, but nearly 600,000 still had no electricity by night. In Newark, about 100,000 customers had service restored at around 9:45 p.m., according the Mayor Corey Booker.

Jersey Central Power and Light had over 685,000 customers without power on Friday night.

In Connecticut, repairs were moving quickly. Only about 140,000 customers of Connecticut Light and Power still had no electricity.

    As Power Is Restored for Some, Others Face Grim Outlook, NYT, 2.11.2012,






Opinionator - A Gathering of Opinion From Around the Web

Nature Votes Last


November 1, 2012, 9:00 pm
The New York Times


A catastrophic storm has no feelings, no fury, no compassion and certainly no political position. Hurricanes may sound like bridge partners at the Boca community center - Sandy, Irene and Katrina - until they land and become monsters. The mistake, perhaps, is trying to anthropomorphize them.

But that doesn't mean that a fatal blow from Mother Nature will not alter the course of human nature. When the seas rose earlier this week, swamping the world's greatest city and battering a helpless state, the turbulence of the elements washed away the sand castles of politics.

Climate change is to the Republican base what leprosy once was to healthy humans - untouchable and unmentionable. Their party is financed by people whose fortunes are dependent upon denying that humans have caused the earth's weather patterns to change for the worse.

At the same time, Republicans have spent the last year trying to win an argument about the role of government as a helping hand. By now, most people know that Mitt Romney, in his base-pandering mode during the primaries, made the federal disaster agency FEMA sound like a costly nuisance, better off orphaned to the states or the private sector.

His party can get away with fact-denial - in global warming's case - and win cable-television arguments about FEMA, so long as something like a major news event, e.g., reality, does not shatter the picture. That's where the storm upset a somewhat predictable race.

Did global warming cause Sandy to be so massive, so destructive, so unfathomable? There's no consensus on this specific storm. But virtually every reputable atmospheric scientist who is not tied by money to an oil or coal company says that this week's storm is a picture of what's to come, if not already here. Many of the world's premier cities, New York foremost among them, are at the mercy of the rising seas that accompany a hotter earth. Record low levels of sea ice in the Arctic and record warm temperatures in the Atlantic were likely part of the brew that contributed to Sandy's very high storm surge.

"There has been a series of extreme weather incidents," said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday, stating the obvious. "This is not a political statement. This is a factual statement. Anyone who says there is not a dramatic change in weather patterns I think is denying reality."

President Obama has been silent on this issue of great import to his children, Sasha and Malia, and their children. He is afraid of those pockets of coal-mining, climate-change-denying voters in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio. After the election, I suspect, he will be more vocal. A profile in courage he is not, but at least his party has some smart advocates for treating the patient before the meteorological malady kills it.

The other cherished idea of Republicans that was thrown to Sandy's winds is the notion that people don't need government in times of domestic trauma. Let the soup-can brigades, the church volunteers and the Red Cross handle it. When the full bill for New Jersey's recovery comes due, no single state or private entity in the land will able to come close to paying for it. And that forces a basic question: do the other states, bound to the union of a single country, have a responsibility to pay for one that has been mortally wounded?

Ayn Rand is having her "Mad Men" revivalist moment in the Republican Party, led by social Darwinists like Paul Ryan. These people genuinely do believe that life is a battle between achievers and moochers, and that luck, good or bad, has little to do with it. Compassion is for wussies, and tax dollars from those at the top should not be used to help those who are struggling.

Of late, we've seen the "hate of all nature," as one old-timer called the Dust Bowl, visit nearly every part of the United States. Texas was on fire for much of a year while its governor, Rick Perry, denied climate change and signed an official proclamation calling for a day of prayer for rain. The Midwest saw the worst drought in 70 years. Entire subdivisions in the Rockies were wiped out by wildfire.

In these precincts of extreme trauma, government haters became government lovers. In the reddest of Western counties after a big fire, in which many a home was saved by many a yellow-shirted hero, you always see these banners thanking the government for sending in rescuers with axes and shovels.

But over time, and with dismal repetition, will extreme natural disasters become like school shootings, with little thought given to the larger significance? Perhaps not yet. After the 1989 earthquake briefly halted the World Series, T-shirts soon appeared with these words: "Nature Bats Last." In the election of 2012, it looks like nature votes last.

    Nature Votes Last, NYT, 1.11.2012,






Wait for Power May Linger for Some


November 1, 2012
The New York Times


Some New Yorkers whose homes lost electricity may have to wait more than two weeks to get it back — especially if their homes are the only ones on the block that lost power during the storm, utility officials said Thursday.

Power companies in the region had been using the ballpark estimate of “at least a week” to signal how long it could take to restore all of the power knocked out by Hurricane Sandy. But as they have started assessing the situation more closely in many neighborhoods and suburban towns, they have begun trying to lower expectations.

Consolidated Edison, for example, tucked an especially dire note into a news release on Thursday afternoon. It said the “vast majority” of its customers in New York City and the northern suburbs should have power by Nov. 11, but a significant number could remain in the dark for a week or more beyond that.

John Miksad, the company’s senior vice president for electric operations, said some “stragglers” might not get electricity again until the middle of this month. Those living through the worst-case situation may account for just a few percent of the 850,000 Con Edison customers who lost power, but their numbers could still add up to tens of thousands of households.

The customers’ plight is largely a function of circumstance, said Michael S. Clendenin, a spokesman for Con Edison. The company is planning repairs based on efficiency, he said. So repairs that will bring the most customers back go to the top of the list.

“If we can restore 1,000 people with one fix as opposed to restoring five people with one fix, we’ll take care of the 1,000 people first,” Mr. Clendenin said.

That leaves people whose candlelit houses are bathed in the glow of more fortunate neighbors at the low end of the priority pole, whether they reside in split-levels on Staten Island or in mansions in Larchmont.

By comparison, the 220,000 customers in Manhattan who lost power after the East River swamped a Con Edison power plant at the east end of 14th Street should have power again by Saturday.

That contrast has prompted grumbling from some community leaders in Westchester County, where rumors have spread that Con Edison diverted crews from the suburbs to the city. Mr. Miksad has rejected that idea, saying the company has allocated resources in proportion to the number of problems to be solved.

“We don’t want to blow smoke on this,” Mr. Miksad said. “We’re doing our damnedest to get power back on as quickly as possible, but it is what it is — and it’s a long hard slog to get this done.”

Con Edison may have been blunter about the outer limits of restoration than other utilities, but Mr. Clendenin said he did not think the company was a laggard. Indeed, in northern New Jersey, some customers of Public Service Electric and Gas who understood that they had been promised electricity again by the start of next week were hearing on Thursday that the end of next week was more realistic.

Jersey Central Power and Light still had about 900,000 customers without power on Thursday and was estimating that most of them would be restored within a week and most of the rest within two weeks. But it added that it could take much longer to get electricity flowing again to customers in places where roads, bridges and other infrastructure needed to be rebuilt.

On Long Island, where nearly 650,000 customers of the Long Island Power Authority still did not have electricity on Thursday, the utility company was not even venturing to estimate when all would restored.

    Wait for Power May Linger for Some, NYT, 1.11.2012,






At Bellevue, a Desperate Fight to Ensure the Patients’ Safety


November 1, 2012
The New York Times


From the moment the water lapped above street level in Lower Manhattan, the doctors and nurses of Bellevue Hospital Center began a desperate struggle to keep patients safe. By 9 p.m. Monday, the hospital was on backup power, and an hour later, the basement was flooded.

Officials rushed to move the most critically ill patients closer to an emergency generator. After midnight, doctors heard shouts in the hallway. The basement fuel pumps had stopped working, and medical residents, nurses and administrators formed a bucket brigade to ferry fuel up 13 flights to the main backup generators.

By Tuesday, the elevator shafts at Bellevue, the country’s oldest public hospital, had flooded, so all 32 elevators stopped working. There was limited compressed air to run ventilators, so oxygen tanks were placed next to the beds of patients who needed them. Water faucets went dry, food ran low, and buckets of water had to be carried up to flush toilets.

Some doctors began urging evacuations, and on Tuesday, at least two dozen ambulances lined up around the block to pick up many of the 725 patients housed there. People carried babies down flights of stairs. The National Guard was called in to help. On Thursday afternoon, the last two patients were waiting to be taken out.

The evacuation went quickly only because Bellevue had planned for such a possibility before Hurricane Irene hit last year, several doctors said. But the city, which had evacuated two nearby hospitals before that storm, decided not to clear out Bellevue. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the consequences of bad calls, bad luck and equipment failures cascaded through the region’s health care system, as sleep-deprived health care workers and patients were confronted by a new kind of disarray.

A patient recovering from a triple bypass operation at Bellevue walked down 10 flights of stairs to a waiting ambulance, one of the dozens provided through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to speed patients across the metropolitan region.

Mount Sinai Medical Center, already dealing with the 2 a.m. arrival of a dozen psychiatric patients who spoke only Chinese, was struggling to identify the relatives of brain-injured traffic victims from Bellevue who arrived three hours later with only rudimentary medical records.

Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn was straining to meet a rising need for emergency dialysis for hundreds of people shut out of storm-crippled private dialysis centers. Patients who would normally get three hours of dialysis were getting only two, to ensure the maximum number of people received at least a minimal amount of care.

“The catastrophe is growing by the minute,” said Eileen Tynion, a Maimonides spokeswoman. “Here we thought we’d reached a quiet point after the storm.”

Every hospital maintains an elaborate disaster plan, but after Hurricane Sandy, the fact that many health care facilities are in low-lying areas proved to be something of an Achilles’ heel. Bellevue became the third hospital in the city to evacuate after the storm’s landfall, after NYU Langone Medical Center, just north of Bellevue, and Coney Island Hospital, another public hospital.

New York Downtown Hospital, the only hospital south of 14th Street in Manhattan, and the Veterans Affairs Hospital, just below Bellevue, had evacuated before the storm.

Hospital executives were reluctant to criticize their colleagues or city officials. But the sequence of events left them with many questions.

“All hospitals are required to do disaster planning and disaster drills,” Pamela Brier, the chief executive of Maimonides, noted. “All hospitals are required as a condition of being accredited, to have generators, backup generators.”

City health department and emergency officials have been particularly fervent about citywide disaster drills, she added, but “as prepared as we think we are we’ve never had a mock disaster drill where we carried patients downstairs. I’m shocked that we didn’t do that. Now we’re going to.”

The city’s health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Farley, defended the decision not to require evacuations of Bellevue, Coney Island and NYU Langone hospitals before the storm, which he said had been made in consultation with the state health commissioner, Dr. Nirav Shah.

Dr. Farley said they based the decision on their experience with Hurricane Irene, when they ordered the evacuation of hundreds of patients from six hospitals, including NYU Langone, and a psychiatric center, as well as of thousands of residents of nursing and adult homes.

“We saw there was definitely risks to patients from evacuations,” Dr. Farley said.

He added that, “As the storm got worse on Sunday, we did recognize that there would be some risk to health care facilities, so we took some steps to make sure that they were aware of that.”

But he said he considered the decision to wait a success overall: “There was no loss of life as a result of those evacuations.”

He said the city was still assessing what to do differently next time. “We certainly are seeing many more severe weather events in this city than we’ve seen in the past, that does mean we have to rethink the vulnerability of our health care facilities,” Dr. Farley said.

A major concern for hospitals is that traditionally, generators, fuel tanks and fuel pumps have been located in their basements. Both NYU Langone and Bellevue had actually shored up their defenses after Hurricane Irene, according to executives of both hospitals. Among other changes, both built flood-resistant housings for their fuel pumps.

But some circuitry, as well as tanks and pumps, remain on low floors, making backup systems vulnerable. The equipment is enormously heavy, so putting them on higher floors would require a great deal of reconstruction and possibly changes in building codes, said Dr. Steven J. Corwin, the chief executive officer of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, which has been taking on extra patients and bringing in extra staff.

Another serious issue is how long a hospital should expect to rely on a generator if the power fails.

“Heretofore, it was felt that generator power would be for a self-limited time, not more than a day — two, three at the outside,” Dr. Corwin said. “Now we’re looking at events where it could be a week.”

Alan Aviles, president of the Health and Hospitals Corporation, which runs the city’s public hospitals, said that all signs pointed against a storm emergency. “Up until an hour before the storm made landfall, the National Hurricane Center was saying that there was only a 5 percent probability of a storm surge over 11 feet in the area that would impact Coney Island, and they weren’t even showing a 5 percent probability on the East River,” Mr. Aviles said.

When the main power went off about 9 p.m. Monday, doctors and nurses were initially told not to worry, because the backup generators were working fine, people there at the time said. But by about 10 p.m., the basement was completely flooded, the pumps were flooded, and doctors were warned that they could lose backup power very shortly.

Critical-care doctors and nurses immediately began moving their patients to the area served by a lower-floor generator. Everyone moved quickly to disconnect patients from respiratory machines and then reconnect them.

A Bellevue doctor said midlevel administrators began begging their bosses to evacuate the hospital Monday night, when water could be heard pouring through the elevators, “like Niagara running through the hospital.”

“The phones didn’t work,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of being fired. “We lost all communication between floors. We were in the dark all night. No water to wash hands — I mean, we’re doctors!”

When the evacuation began, patients were bundled into red and orange sleds and dragged down as many as 13 or 15 flights of stairs. “If they were ventilated, someone was dragging them with a bag” of hand-pumped oxygen, one doctor said. “It was a herculean effort.”

Despite the power problems, Bellevue was able to print out some medical records or get summaries from doctors to send with patients. But landlines and cellphones were affected, and doctors and nurses said they wished some other form of communication, like walkie-talkies, had been available.

It was not until Wednesday, Mr. Aviles said, that everyone realized the situation was beyond repair and the final decision to evacuate everyone was made. “It was at that point that it was clear that it was just not tenable to keep patients for a longer term in the hospital,” he said. “We know that all these patients were successfully transferred to safety and are doing well, and I think that’s what’s important.”

    At Bellevue, a Desperate Fight to Ensure the Patients’ Safety, NYT, 1.11.2012,






Gasoline Runs Short, Adding Woes to Storm Recovery


November 1, 2012
The New York Times


UNION, N.J. — Widespread gas shortages stirred fears among residents and disrupted some rescue and emergency services on Thursday as the New York region struggled to return to a semblance of normalcy after being ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.

Tiny increments of progress — some subway and bus lines were back in service — were overshadowed by new estimates of the storm’s financial cost, struggles to restore power, and by the discovery of more bodies in flooded communities.

The lines of cars waiting for gas at a Sunoco here ran in three directions: a mile-long line up the Garden State Parkway, a half-mile line along Vauxhall Road, and another, including a fleet of mail trucks that needed to refuel before resuming their rounds, snaking through a back entrance. The scene was being replayed across the state as drivers waited in lines that ran hundreds of vehicles deep, requiring state troopers and local police to protect against exploding tempers.

“I’ve been pumping gas for 36 hours, I pumped 17,000 gallons,” said Abhishek Soni, the owner of an Exxon in Montclair, where disputes on the line Wednesday night had become so heated that Mr. Soni called the police and turned off the pumps for 45 minutes to restore calm. “My nose, my mouth is bleeding from the fumes. The fighting just makes it worse.”

Four days after Hurricane Sandy, the effort to secure enough gas for the region moved to the forefront of recovery work. The problems affected even New York City, where the Taxi Commission warned that the suddenly indispensable fleet of yellow cabs would thin significantly Friday because of the fuel shortage.

City officials said they had reached an agreement with a major supplier Thursday night that would ensure emergency operations — fire, police, sanitation and work by the parks department to clean up downed trees — would continue uninterrupted.

Though Thursday marked a return to routine for many who ride the subway to work or celebrated the resumption of power, the scenes of long lines, fistfights at gas stations and siphoning at parking lots highlighted the difficult, uneven slog to recovery.

The losses from the storm will approach $50 billion, according to an early estimate from economists at Moody’s Analytics — about $30 billion in property damage, the rest in lost economic activity like meals and canceled flights. At the same time the death toll in New York City rose to 38, as rescuers continued to discover bodies while combing through coastal wreckage. Among them were the bodies of two boys, 2 and 4, who had been torn from their mother by raging floodwaters on Staten Island on Monday night.

The lack of power continued to bedevil efforts to address the damage. About 43 percent of customers in New Jersey and about 16 percent in New York State remained without electricity, and officials said that they expected power to be restored to all of Manhattan by Saturday. Those issues were only aggravated by the increasingly short supply of gas, particularly given that many suburban residents in New Jersey and elsewhere were heading to the stations to fuel generators, which provided the lone source of power and heat to homes across the region.

According to figures from AAA, of the gas stations it monitors, roughly 60 percent of stations in New Jersey and 70 percent on Long Island were closed.

At stations that were open, nerves frayed. Fights broke out Thursday at the block-long Hess station on 10th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, forcing the Police Department to send three officers to keep the peace, a police official said. By evening, the police had to close two lanes of the broad thoroughfare to accommodate a line of customers stretching eight blocks, to 37th Street.

The ports and refineries that supply much of the region’s gas had been shut down in advance of the storm and were damaged by it. That disrupted deliveries to gas stations that had power to pump the fuel. But the bigger problem was that many stations and storage facilities remained without power.

Politicians were scrambling Thursday to increase the supply of fuel — the Port of New York and New Jersey opened just enough to allow boats carrying gas to move, and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey waived restrictions that make it harder for stations to buy gas from out-of-state suppliers. Mr. Christie’s office had warned that price gougers would be prosecuted, but drivers were reporting that some stations were charging more than $4 a gallon, even though the state had set gas prices at $3.59 on the highways last week.

Mr. Christie said Thursday afternoon that President Obama had sent 250,000 gallons of gas and 500,000 gallons of diesel fuel to the state through the Department of Defense, and he pledged to send more if needed.

Despite these steps the situation was not expected to get significantly better on Friday. Utility companies said power might not be fully restored until late next week.

In Paterson, N.J., the state’s third-largest city, the Police Department was trying to negotiate emergency contracts for gas, and short of that, said it would beginning siphoning it from other city vehicles to keep police cruisers running.

The Essex County executive, Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr., said that the fuel shortage had become his No. 1 concern, causing officials to start limiting gas half a tank at a time to police and fire vehicles. “All 22 of our municipalities are having problems getting fuel,” he said. “Everyone’s on edge.”

Some drove hours out of their way, across state lines, in search of gas. Others tried their luck at a dozen stations, finding many roped off, or turned to Twitter, trading tips about where lines were long.

That is how Jason Brown, 25, of St. Albans, Queens, learned there might be gas at a BP station two miles away in Valley Stream, Nassau County. He walked there lugging a five-gallon Igloo cooler hoping to fill it with gas for his car — only to find a line stretching a quarter-mile along Sunrise Highway. When the generator pumping the gas failed, the crowd erupted into fights and police were called in to close the station.

“I’m trying to get gas for my family,” Mr. Brown said. “Everywhere you go, it’s either a riot or there’s no gas.”

The lines themselves only exacerbated the problem; reports in the local media provoked drivers to buy gasoline before stations ran out. Some spent what fuel they had searching for more and could be seen pushing vehicles toward relief.

“I just want to have it, because you don’t know how long this is going to last,” said Richard Bianchi, waiting in the half-mile line at the Sunoco in Union with a tank that was three-quarters full.

“People are panicking,” said Jimmy Qawasmi, the owner of a Mobil in the Westchester County town of Mamaroneck. “People must have heard something.”

Bloomfield Avenue, a traffic artery connecting several towns in Essex County, N.J., was unusually congested as drivers stopped to lean out their windows at every station: “You got gas?” Mr. Soni’s station in Montclair had received a delivery of 8,000 gallons at 4 p.m. Wednesday, but that had run out by 2:30 a.m. Thursday. A tanker truck passed by, prompting a cheer. “I’m empty!” the driver called out.

Up the road, a tanker turned into one gas station just down from where a crowd was waiting at another. The people waiting dashed across the street, only to see the tanker turn and go to the station where they had been waiting. The police were refusing to let the station open for three hours, but people were determined to hold out.

As Benito Domena, holding two gas cans, said: “The wait is just going to be worse elsewhere.”


Reporting on the storm was contributed by Russ Buettner, Annie Correal,

Alison Leigh Cowan, Sheri Fink, Joseph Goldstein, J. David Goodman,

Denise Grady, Winnie Hu, Randy Leonard, William K. Rashbaum, Ray Rivera,

Liz Robbins, Nate Schweber, Kirk Semple, Stacey Stowe, Rebecca White

and Vivian Yee.

    Gasoline Runs Short, Adding Woes to Storm Recovery, NYT, 1.11.2012,






As Recovery Continues, City’s Death Toll Reaches 38


November 1, 2012
The New York Times


The number of New York City fatalities from Hurricane Sandy jumped to 38 on Thursday, including two young boys who were swept from the arms of their mother on Staten Island and found dead at the swampy end of a street, the police said.

The mother, Glenda Moore, told the police that her sons, Connor, 4, and Brandon, 2, were swept away on Monday shortly after 6 p.m. as the storm arrived. The mother and children had been leaving Staten Island, heading for Brooklyn, as their car was disabled by water, the police said. Ms. Moore, 39, got out of her car with her two sons, near Father Capodanno Boulevard, when a surge of water caused her to lose grip of her children, the police said.

The two children were found at the end of McLaughlin Street, said Paul J. Browne, the chief spokesman for the New York Police Department.

“We just brought the parents into a trailer for the awful duty of identifying their little ones,” Mr. Browne wrote in an e-mail.

The grim discovery was made as New York City and areas in more than half a dozen states pressed on with efforts to make a full accounting of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy. The extent of the storm’s destructive force was reflected in government briefings that addressed a sweeping range of loss that included the human toll, power failures, homes sucked into the ocean, ruined businesses, and broken infrastructure and housing that put millions of people out of work and shelter.

The storm was blamed for more than 80 deaths in the United States, including the 38 in New York City that was announced on Thursday, updating the toll of 24 given on Wednesday. In the region, there were at least 8 in New Jersey and 4 in Connecticut, and numbers are expected to climb as rescue crews uncover the full scale of the damage to buildings and infrastructure. In New York City, the police said 19 victims were from Staten Island, 9 from Queens, 7 from Brooklyn and 3 in Manhattan.

Three days after the storm hit New York, it is becoming clear how most victims died. “The majority of them drowned,” said Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office.

Previously reported deaths included a woman electrocuted as she walked in Queens and numerous people killed by falling trees. But as rescue crews searched the eastern edge of Staten Island on Thursday, particularly in and around the Midland Beach neighborhood, they discovered numerous drowning victims.

On Thursday, an elderly couple were found dead in their car on Staten Island.

In a briefing on Thursday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced that parks and playgrounds would reopen on Saturday, and public schools on Monday. He said the city would distribute meals and water around the city, including at sites in the Rockaways, Coney Island and parts of Staten Island, on Thursday.

“New York is starting to build again,” he said.

People still coped with the loss of everyday essentials — elevators, lights, cellphone service, Wi-Fi, refrigeration, hot showers.

But the return of some transportation services was cautiously welcomed, even as commuters and residents still had to negotiate crawling traffic, half-mile lines at suburban gas stations and city buses stuffed beyond capacity.

Subway service resumed on more than half of the city’s 23 lines, but several — the No. 3 and 7 trains and the B, C, E, G and Q trains — remained dark. Many trains will have large gaps in their routes, including the No. 4 train, which will have no service between 42nd Street in Manhattan and Borough Hall in Brooklyn because of flooding in its tunnel beneath the East River and power problems. Subways and buses will be free for the rest of the week.

Shuttle buses are linking the boroughs from the transportation hub at the Barclays Center and from Hewes Street on the border of Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. Vehicle traffic on city streets was exceptionally heavy as drivers tried to make it into Manhattan before 6 a.m., when the city required at least three people in cars entering Manhattan over the Robert F. Kennedy, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Williamsburg Bridges, but not the George Washington Bridge.

While traffic had cleared up in some areas, much of the region’s arterial system remained a parking lot well past the typical morning commute.

Police checkpoints set up in many places to enforce the high-occupancy-vehicle rule were so rigorous that they seemed to have the unintended effect of clogging up traffic flow even more, with lines of cars stretching from the Brooklyn Bridge to Staten Island.

But it could be easier to get a view from 30,000 feet on Thursday as air travel eased. La Guardia Airport, which had been shut down because of flooding, reopened. Some flights resumed on Wednesday at Kennedy International and Newark Liberty International Airports.

Some service was also restored on the AirTrain to Kennedy Airport, which connects the subway and train complex in Jamaica, Queens, to the airport. Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Rail Road had limited service to New York’s northern and eastern suburbs.

Still, navigating transportation on the streets seemed to require the most diplomacy and luck as commuters adjusted to new rhythms of supply and demand.

The mayor had lifted the three-occupant limit for taxis and livery cars coming into Manhattan around 8:15 a.m. But even before that, some commuters attempted cab sharing, the delicate art of piling into a yellow taxi with strangers, which some cabdrivers declined to accommodate. A popular mode of transportation in Lower Manhattan — still dark from the loss of power — appeared to be bicycles.

There was limited ferry service in the East River, and the Staten Island Ferry should start plying the waterways within the next day or so, with a full schedule expected on Saturday.

Attesting to the scale of the recovery, more than 3.75 million people were hit by power failures from the storm, which made landfall on Monday night but was preceded by punishing winds, storm surges and torrential rain.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a Twitter message that as of 9 a.m. Thursday, more than 1.58 million New Yorkers were without electricity, including more than 600,000 in the New York City area and more than 700,000 on Long Island. Consolidated Edison said Thursday that it had restored power to more than 225,000 customers since the storm ended.

There was also more bad news for residents who receive electricity through overhead lines: Con Ed did not expect to restore power to all those customers until the end of next week. The utility has said that power for customers whose lines are underground will be restored sooner, and within the next few days in the case of Lower Manhattan, according to Mr. Bloomberg.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said Tuesday that he expected PATH trains to be unavailable for at least 7 to 10 days.

Work on the seven flooded tunnels beneath the East River caused delays. The Brooklyn-Battery, Queens-Midtown and Holland Tunnels remain closed.


Reporting was contributed by James Barron, Matt Flegenheimer, Michael M. Grynbaum,

John Leland, Robert Mackey, Andy Newman, Nate Schweber and Stacey Stowe.

    As Recovery Continues, City’s Death Toll Reaches 38, NYT, 1.11.2012,






Bloomberg Endorses Obama, Citing Climate Change


November 1, 2012
The New York Times


In a surprise announcement, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Thursday that Hurricane Sandy had reshaped his thinking about the presidential campaign and that as a result he was endorsing President Obama.

Mr. Bloomberg, a political independent in his third term leading New York City, has been sharply critical of both Mr. Obama, a Democrat, and Mitt Romney, the president’s Republican rival, saying that both men have failed to candidly confront the problems afflicting the nation. But he said he had decided over the past several days that Mr. Obama was the best candidate to tackle the global climate change that the mayor believes contributed to the violent storm, which took the lives of at least 38 New Yorkers and caused billions of dollars in damage.

“The devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to New York City and much of the Northeast — in lost lives, lost homes and lost business — brought the stakes of next Tuesday’s presidential election into sharp relief,” Mr. Bloomberg wrote in an op-ed article for Bloomberg View.

“Our climate is changing,” he wrote. “And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it may be — given the devastation it is wreaking — should be enough to compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”

Mr. Bloomberg’s announcement is another indication that Hurricane Sandy has influenced the presidential campaign. The storm, and the destruction it left in its wake, has dominated news coverage, transfixing the nation and prompting the candidates to halt their campaigning briefly.

More than that, it appears to have given a new level of urgency to a central issue in the presidential campaign: the appropriate size and role of government.

As the Federal Emergency Management Agency began undertaking relief efforts across the Northeast, Mr. Romney found himself in the tough position of having to clarify a statement he made last year in which he appeared to back giving the states a larger share of the federal government’s role in disaster response.

But Mr. Bloomberg’s endorsement was largely unexpected. For months, the Obama and Romney campaigns have sought the mayor’s endorsement, in large part because they believe he could influence independent voters around the country.

Mr. Bloomberg has steadfastly withheld his support, largely because he had grown frustrated with the tone and substance of the presidential campaign – recently deriding as “gibberish” the answers that Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney gave during a debate to a question about an assault weapons ban. He has expressed disappointment with Mr. Obama’s performance over the past few years, and concern about what he has described as Mr. Romney’s shifts in views over time.

In announcing his endorsement, Mr. Bloomberg listed the various steps Mr. Obama had taken over the last four years to confront the issue of climate change, including pushing regulations that seek to curtail emissions from cars and power plants. But the mayor cited other reasons for endorsing Mr. Obama, including the president’s support for abortion rights and for same-sex couples, two high-priority issues for the mayor.

At the same time, Mr. Bloomberg said he might have endorsed Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, except for the fact that the Republican had abandoned positions he once publicly held.

“In the past he has taken sensible positions on immigration, illegal guns, abortion rights and health care – but he has reversed course on all of them, and is even running against the very health care model he signed into law in Massachusetts,” the mayor said of Mr. Romney.

Mr. Bloomberg did not endorse a presidential candidate in 2008, when Mr. Obama ran against Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona.

Even in his endorsement, the mayor continued to express criticism of the president. He said that Mr. Obama had fallen short of his 2008 campaign promise to be a problem-solver and consensus builder, noting that he “devoted little time” to creating a coalition of centrist in Washington who could find common ground on important issues like illegal guns, immigration, tax reform and deficit reduction.

“Rather than uniting the country around a message of shared sacrifice,” Mr. Bloomberg said of Mr. Obama, “he engaged in partisan attacks and has embraced a divisive populist agenda focused more on redistributing income than creating it.”

In a statement, Mr. Obama said he was “honored to have Mayor Bloomberg’s endorsement.” The president acknowledged Mr. Bloomberg’s chief concern, saying climate change was “a threat to our children’s future, and we owe it to them to do something about it.”

“While we may not agree on every issue,” the president added, “Mayor Bloomberg and I agree on the most important issues of our time.”

And, alluding to the damage from the hurricane, Mr. Obama said: “He has my continued commitment that this country will stand by New York in its time of need. And New Yorkers have my word that we will recover, we will rebuild, and we will come back stronger.”

The endorsement is the latest effort by Mr. Bloomberg to affect the national political debate as he nears the twilight of his tenure in City Hall.

Last month, the mayor announced that he was creating his own “super PAC” to support candidates from either party, as well as independents, who he believed are devoted to his brand of nonideological problem solving, and who supported same-sex marriage, tougher gun laws or school reform. A billionaire, Mr. Bloomberg said he would spend from $10 million to $15 million of his money in highly competitive state, local and Congressional races.

    Bloomberg Endorses Obama, Citing Climate Change, NYT, 1.11.2012,






Officials Defend Decision Not to Cancel Marathon


November 1, 2012
The New York Times


Mary Wittenberg, chief executive of New York Road Runners, defended the decision to put on the New York City Marathon as scheduled Sunday after some runners and politicians called for the race to be canceled in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

“This isn’t about running, this is about helping the city,” Wittenberg said Thursday morning at the Jacob K. Javits Center, where runners were starting to register for the race. “We’re dedicating this race to the lives that were lost and helping the city recover. We want to raise money and awareness.”

Before the hurricane, Road Runners was expecting to raise about $34 million for about 300 charities. Wittenberg said this year’s race could be used as a platform for charities that would directly help people affected by the storm.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who supports the marathon partly because it generates hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity, repeated Thursday that he expected the race to be held. Wittenberg said Wednesday that the decision to run the race was ultimately his.

Despite criticism to the contrary, the mayor said he did not expect the police department to be overly burdened because the race was on a Sunday, when street traffic is at a minimum. Many parts of the city, including Lower Manhattan, are expected to have their power back, freeing up other workers.

“The city is a city where we have to go on,” Bloomberg said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.

Clearly, though, not everything is going on. Wittenberg said that preparations for the 26.2-mile course “are going well,” but that Road Runners had “essentially canceled” all of its other events before the marathon, including a youth event Thursday, the opening ceremony in Central Park on Friday and the Dash to the Finish Line 5K on Saturday that would have run through Midtown.

Wittenberg said Road Runners had cancellation insurance, which most likely would have covered the cost of refunding entry fees and other items had the race been called off.

Bloomberg said parks, including Central Park, where the marathon’s finish line is situated, would reopen this weekend. Road Runners took down several facilities it had built in the park, and those will need to be rebuilt.

Many of the elite runners in the marathon typically train there in the days before the race. Several of them have worked out in gyms or on the indoor track at the Armory on 168th Street.

Airports and rail service are gradually resuming service, which means many runners have yet to reach the city. Once they do, other accommodations will be needed. The Staten Island Ferry transportation option to the start line has been canceled, according to the marathon’s Web site, and runners who selected that service have been reassigned to bus service from the New York Public Library at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue. About half of the 47,000 runners in the marathon usually take that route to the start line at the toll plaza to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in Staten Island.

Some politicians, including James P. Molinaro, the borough president of Staten Island, and Liz Krueger, a state senator who represents part of Midtown, have criticized the mayor’s decision to continue with the race. Some runners have said they will not run this year because of the burden it would cause.

Clearly, many runners in the race are eager to run. In New York on Thursday morning, hundreds of them picked up their bibs at the Javits Center. Upstairs, exhibitors’ booths lined the cavernous convention hall where the heavy-metal anthem “Rock You Like a Hurricane” was playing on the audio system.

Downstairs from the health and fitness show, workers were cleaning up the water-damaged floor, which emitted a faint stale water odor that wafted with the brew of a nearby Starbucks outpost.

“It’s safe,” Alan Steel, president and chief executive of the Javits Center, said, adding that the floor where the exposition was taking place was “entirely separate from where the water damage was.”

Exhibitors who usually have days to set up had just hours, some working late Wednesday or arriving early Thursday. Lt. Larry Quinn of the New York Firefighters Burn Center Foundation said he left Long Island at 5:30 Thursday morning and arrived at the Javits Center at 9 a.m. to unpack cardboard boxes of T-shirts, sweatshirts and baseball hats for sale. The proceeds go to the charity, which supports treatment for burn victims and research.

“We got guys sleeping on cots and working long hours,” Quinn said. “A lot of firemen live in Breezy Point and their homes are gone.”

He paused, holding a T-shirt in his hand: “But we’re a nonprofit. We need the money that we raise here for the foundation. We support the marathon.”

Some of the runners at the expo said they, too, felt committed to the race, regardless of the storm. Jessica Stephens and Kirsty Murfitt arrived from Wellington, New Zealand, last Friday, part of their existing plans to spend time in the city before the marathon sightseeing.

“We wanted to do New York because it’s the biggest and the best,” Stephens said. “We were here and we can see the storm was very, very serious. At the same time, people spend a lot of money at the local businesses here and New Yorkers have a can-do attitude.”

    Officials Defend Decision Not to Cancel Marathon, NYT, 1.10.2012,












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