by Bruce A. Smith
After Hurricane Sandy hit last week, the New York-New Jersey area endured a major winter storm this week known as a Nor’easter that dumped over a half-foot of heavy, wet snow and packed winds of up to 50 mph. The report from family and friends on Long Island is that the situation is hellacious across the entire metropolitan region.
Many have not had power restored since Sandy struck – and those who had gotten their electricity back and the accompanying all-important heat – lost it again at some point, as the snow and strong winds brought trees crashing down throughout the area.
Some are in dire straits, with perhaps 100,000 folks effectively homeless on Long Island and an additional 40,000 in New York City. In Jersey, the numbers are even far greater.
At the very least, everyone is frazzled. Here is a report from my people:
My mom, 88, and living in mid-Long Island, is okay but rattled. She received about six inches of snow in the past two days, which took down a crab apple tree in the back yard and a sizeable limb off a sycamore in the front yard that blocked traffic on the street and sidewalk.
“When I heard the chain saws again this morning I said, ‘What, again? I thought we were through with all of that,’” my mom told me this afternoon as the sun set into blue skies over New York City.
Mom lost her electricity last night, but her side of the street had power restored in a couple of hours.
“It was those nice fellows from Ohio, again,” she announced cheerfully. “But the other side of the street didn’t get power until today, and the neighbors told me it was a crew from California that got them their electricity back on.”
California? New York is depending on crews from the west coast. Yikes!
Next-door neighbor Lou attended to my mom throughout the evening yesterday and again today, bringing in hot tea, apple pie, a chicken dish – and news.
“Lou says we were lucky – the tree in the backyard didn’t hit anything – just scrapped the paint a little,” my mom said. “Who cares about paint at this point? Thank God the power came back on when it did, because I was really getting scared that I would have to face another night in the cold.”
Many are living in the cold. My ex, BJ, told me that she has heard innumerable stories –at the chiropractors, at her shul, at the coffee shop; in fact, it’s the major topic of conversation everywhere one goes in New York – how are you surviving?
At this point, after ten nights without power and plenty of wintry cold most folks are relocating some place. BJ says that our friends Bernie and Jo in Levittown are moving every couple of nights to another relative, sleeping on air mattresses wherever there is space. Bern and Jo are both psychotherapists and are using all of their professional skills to keep their wits and preserve some level of family-wide sanity.
BJ said that the biggest family relocation story that she’s heard is a single woman from her synagogue who opened her house to a friend’s family, which ultimately resulted in eleven people calling it home.
BJ has opened her own home to a constant parade of family, friends and neighbors who need a warm bed, a shower, or a good vegetarian meal, but none stayed long term as most of these people got their power within a few days. When I spoke to her today she was alone and savoring it deeply. She was nursing a cold, consulting old recipes and contemplating making blintzes.
She also told me that she had a full tank of gas – a remarkable achievement in New York. To get her twelve gallons she had to wait a total of ten hours over the course of three days. Twice the gas station ran out of gasoline as she waited, and she finally got fuel in Glen Cove after a four-hour wait.
Along these lines, the New York Times is reporting that gas shortages are worse than originally thought and will take weeks to resolve. The problems are twofold: damage to the docks and transfer facilities in the harbors and bays, coupled with water-damage to the pumping equipment there and at near-by refineries. On Long Island the primary gasoline transfer station is in Inwood, a town on the Great South Bay just north of Long Beach. The Times indicates that it may be another two weeks before this facility is up and running. In the meantime, motorists are heading further east on the Island to Suffolk County, where there are some smaller transfer stations located on the north shore, which fared a little better than their brethren closer to the ocean, such as Inwood. Apparently, folks in Suffolk can get fuel in less than an hour.
Motorists and folks dependent on generators in Jersey and NYC are in difficult straits. Most of the gasoline transfer facilities and refineries serving this region are located in the New York-New Jersey harbor and were extensively damaged. Currently, the only gasoline getting to northern New Jersey is being trucked-in from the Philadelphia area, and delays there on the wholesale level are comparable to the delays at the retail – a half-day wait to fill-up.
Homelessness is widespread. What I have been able to gather from the New York Times and News-12 Long Island is that Long Beach, a city of 30,000 people that sits on the Atlantic Ocean eleven miles south of my mom, is effectively dysfunctional – no water, sewage or power, and is under what appears to be a kind of martial law. Only residents are allowed in and only during daylight hours.
Heading further west along the coast into the New York City borough of Queens and an area known as The Rockaways, the problems become more acute. 50,000 people call The Rockaways home and they have no municipal services whatsoever, plus a lot of these folks have nowhere else to go or little means to get to a shelter deeper within the heart of the city, so their situation is exceptionally difficult. They may have a building to call home, but little else. FEMA and the Red Cross are providing some support, but most of the help is coming in a network of impromptu and informal Good Samaritan-type effort. Survival in The Rockaways is compounded by growing criminal activity, and many are very afraid. It is a very dangerous place in many ways.
Shelters are not paradise, either, and the situation is complicated by the fact that many of these sites are schools – thus raising the question of what to do with the students. Further, many displaced kids are now going to strange schools for who-knows-how-long.
Communities north of Long Beach along the Great South Bay are struggling mightily. Many of these towns are in Nassau County, and perhaps 100,000 people live in a swath of flooded destruction that stretches from the city line through Oceanside, Freeport, Merrick, Bellmore and all the way out to my cousins in western Suffolk County, near Patchogue.
In these towns an entire region flooded – from the bayside perimeter to a point about a mile or so inland, reaching a roadway known as Sunrise Highway. Tens of thousands of people lost much of their household possessions; few have any power or heat, and their municipal infrastructure is damaged, such as sewage systems.
The Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) is reporting that 400,000 folks still don’t have any electricity throughout LI – that’s one-third of their customer base – and many of these people are in the abovementioned flood zone, what locals call the “South Shore.”
In a cruel irony, the pictures coming out of this area show upturned boats and maritime debris in backyards and roadways now all covered in a thick mantel of snow. It is a sad but beautiful, winter wonderland.
In addition, the heavy snow took down many trees already severely weakened by Sandy, and anecdotal reports indicate that more trees came down this week in the snow than did in the hurricane.
My mom spoke for many, I think, when she said as we signed off this afternoon, “I can’t take much more of this.”
© 2012 Bruce A. Smith
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