Among the areas hit hardest by Superstorm Sandy are the New York City boroughs of Staten Island, Queens and lower Manhattan. As the storm made landfall in New Jersey, a surge of seawater driven by Sandy’s winds filled New York Harbor, flooding streets, destroying cars and laying waste to neighborhoods.
By Friday, the death toll was approaching 100. And many in the flooded neighborhoods were still waiting for help, lacking the essentials of shelter, sanitation, food, potable water, electricity and fuel.
The scene was reminiscent of New Orleans in the wake of Katrina. And just as with that storm, the devastation wrought by wind and water was matched by the disastrous political leadership in its aftermath.
The judgment of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is bad enough in normal times. In a crisis, it compounds tragedy. The great crusader against big sodas, salt and fat was exposed as a sham and a charlatan when real trouble struck.
Even as city workers were pulling bodies from his city’s streets, Bloomberg was delivering a lecture on the perils of global warming. There is a time and place for that debate; it isn’t now, in a city beset by disaster.
A nightmarish commute into Manhattan got even worse for New Yorkers on Thursday after Bloomberg issued a three-to-a-car carpooling edict. Checkpoints at city bridges clogged traffic for miles around. The situation became so untenable that the restrictions were lifted Friday afternoon.
State troopers and police were posted at New York area gas stations as lines for fuel stretched for miles and the tempers of frustrated drivers flared.
Flood-ravaged residents of Staten Island begged sightseeing politicians for help. “We are gonna die,” one woman shouted at Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York.
“Please don’t leave us,” the Daily News reported a weeping Donna Solli pleading to Schumer in front of her damaged home. “I live alone down here.”
Despite all cleanup work to be done, Bloomberg insisted that the New York Marathon scheduled for Sunday would go on. Only the rage of residents still suffering from Sandy’s destruction forced Bloomberg to back down and cancel the event Friday afternoon. By then, many runners were already en route to New York.
Joan Wacks, whose Staten Island waterfront condo was swamped with 4 feet of water, predicted for the New York Post that authorities will still be recovering bodies today and called the mayor “tone-deaf.”
“He is clueless without a paddle to the reality of what everyone else is dealing with,” she said. “If there are any resources being put toward the marathon, that’s wrong. I’m sorry, that’s wrong.”
Indeed, the marathon was consuming resources that could have been helping storm victims. In Central Park, three giant generators were providing power for a marathon media tent. The generators produce enough electricity to power 400 homes. Could, that is, if only New Yorkers had a mayor who cared more for his people than his own inflated ego.
Eventually, New York will recover and Bloomberg can get back to the really important fights — like regulating how much people can eat and drink. Hungry victims of Sandy’s wrath can consider themselves a test case.