Sandy's Lessons


nate lavey

Published November 01, 2012, issue of November 09, 2012.
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The city that never sleeps was uncharacteristically quiet as Hurricane Sandy swept through on Monday, October 29: Mass transit shut down, residents scattered to their homes, commerce halted, the usual frenetic energy on streets and byways dialed back to zero. It was as if the entire metropolitan area were taking one big Shabbat nap.

But this was not a restful, rejuvenating time, not for the staff of the Forward, some of whom were unwittingly stuck around North America. And not for millions of others who suddenly found themselves without the bare basics of electricity, heat and running water, and without the new basics — access to the Internet and to mobile phones. It was especially devastating for the families and loved ones of those who perished during this historic storm.

Hurricane Sandy left us with all the trite but true emotions one might expect from an epic exercise of Nature’s power. Fear in its anticipation. Helplessness in its wake. Astonishment at its wrath. Gratitude at its benevolence.

“What it really boils down to is this,” wrote Devra Ferst, our food editor and a member of our digital team. “I have never been so thankful to have a roof over my head.”

Hurricane Sandy also relayed two compelling civic messages that ought not to get lost as the muddy floodwaters recede. The first is that government, for all its flaws, really does work to help its citizens in times of need, especially if it is led well on all levels, which is what seemed to be the case here.

The second message unfortunately has gotten lost in this election season: Climate change is a real and present danger that is being ignored at our great peril, and weather catastrophes like this one will undoubtedly visit us more frequently and with even greater impact unless we act immediately to stop harming our environment.

“It’s all eerily calm here,” staff writer Paul Berger wrote at around noon on October 30 from his home in Montclair, N.J., a train ride away from Manhattan. “We have no heat, but thankfully it’s not too cold. We have no power, but at least we have gas to cook with and hot water.

“I was struck last night by how useful Twitter was to keep us up to speed with all that was happening. It was by far the best method of keeping track of where the storm was and the damage it was wreaking. Once the power went out, though -— around 10.30 p.m. — our strategy moved to conserving battery power on our phones. With no Internet or phone line, these cell phones are now our only link to family, friends, colleagues.” Berger’s family lives in Europe, as does his wife’s.

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