Surviving the next storm

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON   |  Downtowners once again are coming together, helping their neighbors — so the comparisons between Hurricane Sandy and 9/11 are natural. The key difference is that the devastating and tragic loss of life this time does not approach the magnitude of the attack 11 years ago. That of course does not make it any easier for each grieving family.

The scramble back to homes for evacuees, the frantic group e-mails, the search for information, for places to charge cell phones, has an all-too-familiar ring to many. Once again we are inspired by the stories we’ve seen and heard about people helping — offering everything from beds to showers to food to batteries.

At the South Street Seaport, devastated businesses are helping each other recover. In northern Chelsea we saw a small group of police officers Monday lifting heavy wood from the street clearing a dangerous situation rather than waiting for another agency to do it. In the East Village, an out-of-town samaritan trucked in a generator to help the Ninth Precinct keep functioning, which was also used to help local residents charge up their phones. A local bar on Avenue A stayed open with a generator after the storm and, again, let people power up their phones. In the West Village, there were cookouts to help feed the hungry, as food became scarce and the contents of peoples’ refrigerators in their homes became inedible. In the Two Bridges area on the Lower East Side, residents banded together to help senior citizens trapped in their high-rise apartments without access to food or water.

There were so many more stories like these.

As we look at what comes next, foremost in our minds is that low- lying Lower Manhattan is one of the most vulnerable areas to storms. We hope by now, you the reader, have your lights back. We also hope the subways return to Lower Manhattan as they did for the rest of the city. It did not seem that long ago when the trains could run rain or shine, but that day has passed and will never return without the political will for large-scale investment.

The science is clear that these storms will continue with more frequency and ferocity going forward. We shouldn’t rush in with massive expenditures on storm protection without careful study, but on the other hand, we can’t throw our hands up and wait for better environmental policies to reverse the tide. That’s what Mayor Bloomberg seemed to do the other day. While he has been a leader on climate issues, he should not be so dismissive of costly measures that would likely help. A system of storm-surge barriers — as advocated for most notably on the political level by Chelsea activist Bob Trentlyon – may be the only thing that can protect us from another devastating storm of Sandy’s proportions. But constructing these barriers is “not an easy process,” as Trentlyon says, so it’s something that we should start studying now to see if it’s the way to go to ensure that Lower Manhattan continues to be a viable place to live and work in a world with a rapidly changing climate.

Meanwhile, we’re riding in subway stations built more than a century ago. Short sighted politicians will scoff at spending hundreds of billions both to protect people living near the water, as well as at least some of our transit system. But consider the multibillions of dollars lost when our lives and jobs are so disrupted. How many times a year will Lower Manhattan be asked to pack up and flee? In the meanwhile, we’ll stay on the Sandy aftermath story from our new temporary offices, updating our Web sites as well as two most welcome post-9/11 advances — Facebook and Twitter.

Lastly don’t forget to vote on Tuesday. For those with difficulty getting to the polls, you may still get an absentee ballot application Monday if you go to 450 W. 33rd St., 10th floor. It’s too late to get the candidates to promise better storm protection this year, but you can still hold the winners accountable.

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