Sandy: Thoughts, Tips, Rants

I’ve read The Road, and I’ve read part of The Weather of the Future. I’ve pondered peak oil, climate change and overpopulation. I’ve remained on what I feel is the realistic side of the debate on the future of humanity. But it wasn’t until Thursday night, when I walked through a pitch black neighborhood and entered my almost abandoned building to spend the fourth night in a row locked in a cold apartment without electricity, heat and cell service, that I realized how much the future is going to suck, especially if we are in denial and ill-prepared.

Things got real Monday night, after I spent the day reading the pre-Sandy media hype and snarky comments on Gawker. High tide was hitting and the wind was picking up, knocking things off the fire escape and slamming phone wires into the windows. I saw a few tweets about Alphabet City being underwater, and I clicked through to a photo which I assumed was a fake, like others I had seen a year before with Irene. Then I started to see some more, together with sincere pleas that the images were not fake. The water was already up to people’s chests only three avenues away. I started to freak out a little bit. I walked downstairs and looked out the front door, and fortunately there was no water on 1st Ave. My super, a longtime New Yorker, explained that the area down by 14th and Avenue C was low-lying, and the water would have to flood countless basements and sub-basements before it made it here. “If there’s water in this building, we’re all in deep shit,” he said as I walked back upstairs. The water never entered my building, but it did destroy other buildings and entire communities elsewhere.

The following day the power was still out. I walked over to Avenue C to check out the damage. There were cars strewn everywhere, some crushed with huge pieces of driftwood, or maybe more accurately pieces of piers. Building were flooded out. Down by the river, my normal running path, flanked by public green spaces, was completely destroyed. The East River still looked swollen and hungover and angry.

The next three days were filled with pilgrimages up to the powered side of Manhattan for hot meals and recharging of devices. Once you past 40th street on the east side, you entered the land of the living, where people shopped and tourists stood outside of Rockefeller Center, seemingly unaware that there were families and elderly people without electricity, water and heat 5 minutes south. At a crowded Pain de Quotidien, we met a weary looking family of five from the Lower East Side, who didn’t have running water. They had filled their bathtub before the storm so that they could flush the toilet, but were running out of that as well. Meanwhile, a wealthy looking mother and daughter clad in fancy sweatsuits entered a nail shop. And this was only the juxtaposition within Manhattan–communities in other boroughs were dealing with complete devastation and lack of food and water.

Nights were basically like camping in cold weather without the beauty and fresh air. Based off my experience, here are some important things to have around for these situations. This is assuming, like us, you still have running water and gas.

  1. Lighter
  2. Batteries
  3. Lantern
  4. Headlamps
  5. Candles
  6. Battery powered AM/FM radio
  7. Food that doesn’t perish
  8. Food for the furry ones

Finding a battery powered radio was way harder than I ever imagined. I went to five shops in midtown before I found one. At one of the shops, the owner told me to “just get the radio on my iPhone,” which made me laugh. Also, if I may allow myself to digress again, here is the best way (in my opinion) to take a warm “shower” without hot water.

  1. Fill a large pot half-way with water, and boil it
  2. Fill up a kettle entirely and boil it as well
  3. Locate a medium sized tupperware bowl
  4. One the water is boiled, bring the pot and kettle into the bathroom (carefully!)
  5. Place the pot in the shower and fill up the rest with the cold shower water, testing to make sure it doesn’t get to cold
  6. Rinse with the hot water using the tupperware bowl as a “scoop device,” the lather up
  7. Rinse again (duh)
  8. Fill up the pot with the kettle and add cold shower water if you need more water

Unsurprisingly, it’s really depressing walking from a place with electricity and heat to a place without. Doing that for a number of days in a row made me understand a tiny bit how people around the world oppressed because of ethnic or political reasons might feel. It also made me reflect on how depressed the people of Staten Island, Rockaway, Jersey Shore, and other places destroyed by the storm might feel. If I was whining about not having electricity and heat, what if you don’t have a house! In short, it was the first time I felt true empathy and emotion when I watched victims of a natural disaster on TV.

One really important point to make is that it’s really problematic if cell service goes down. I was shocked that service was completely dead for five days in the East Village. It’s nerve-wracking staying in a completely dark apartment building with no way to call out whatsoever. This is a real problem, especially given my previous post about Verizon pushing customers towards cell and VoIP and away from landlines. I also was angry to hear Bloomberg talk about how successful the 911 service had been through the storm and aftermath. That’s because no one can call 911.

In general, this Sandy experience was a solidifying of all of my very theoretical thoughts on climate change and other 21st century concerns. It’s one thing to argue in Congress or on Facebook about whether or not climate change is happening, but it’s another to see your city flood and lock yourself in an apartment with a lantern each night. I saw some conservative troll remark in a comments section that this was “the first hurricane to hit NYC in 50 years and was produced by climate change…then what produced the hurricane 50 years ago??” What’s missing is that hurricane Irene came through last year. To have two storms like this back-to-back points in the direction of changing weather patterns.

Lorenz Attractor

I’ve been thinking a lot about Edward Lorenz this week, a meteorologist and pioneer of chaos theory. In James Gleick’s excellent book Chaos, he recounts how Lorenz, through his experiments with modeled weather patterns, discovered what is known as the Butterfly Effect–essentially that very small changes to initial conditions can result in wild results. Climate and weather is a great example of a complex system, and it seems logical that small changes to initial variables such as air and water temperatures can result in not only storms like Sandy, but even more colossal and damaging “superstorms.” Whether or not the rise in temperatures is due to natural causes or human interference will continue to be debated for a long time. However, what should not be debated is that temperatures are rising, and that we need to take precautionary steps to combat changing weather patterns in major coastal cities like NYC. And since it’s also logical (and agreed upon by scientists) that pumping CO into the atmosphere contributes to warming conditions, then maybe we should take steps to curb that as well.

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  1. I’m real glad to know that it never got that bad on your ave. I had no idea anything had happened until a few days afterward when people started texting and emailing to see if I was all right (Yeah, that’s how bad I am about communicating, I didn’t tell everyone I had left NY). Look at it this way, at least you don’t own. As I have found out recently, most insurance companies don’t cover floods.

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