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BY BARRY DROGIN | For four days, 220,000 Con Ed customers — how many were households of how many residents, how many were small businesses with how many employees, how many were big businesses with how many employees? — were abandoned and ignored by the media, the government, transportation agencies and — most shockingly — the rest of Manhattan. Like those in the Superdome after Katrina, we didn’t die. Unlike those in the Superdome, most of us didn’t lose our homes and belongings. But we were all traumatized, whether emotionally, physically or economically, and it was only after a week of neglect that we regained the voice to protest our treatment.
There are heroes and there are villains in this story, but it is the mere fact of telling the story that is significant. We are not vignettes to touch the hearts of readers or viewers — we are a population that was abandoned.
As would be expected, we were stratified by class. Big businesses with large inventories kept their store contents locked behind heavy gates. Rich folk with second homes packed their bags and left within a day. Some residents had cars, laptops with WiFi, smartphones with data plans. Most local businesses acted as neighbors, selling or giving away their inventory — without price gouging. Some lived in high-rises with no water pressure. Some were older and required buses to travel. It didn’t matter. We didn’t exist. No one was asking us what we needed. No one was acknowledging we existed. We were a very large number with a vague, far-off date: Friday or Saturday.
For the few who left, there was the fear of looting and break-ins. For the many who stayed, there was the fear of robbery, assault and burglary. But, most importantly, there was the reality of living in the era of communication and being denied access to communication, provided with wrong and useless information, and having no voice.
First, there was the happenstance of geography. On the West Side above 30th St. was a tourist district. On the East Side above 39th St. was a business district. The rest of the city — those areas with supermarkets, fitness centers, working libraries — were buffered from those suffering.
It started with transportation — no subway service below 34th St. Crosstown bus service within the blackout zone — no problem. Uptown and Downtown bus service in and out of the blackout zone — a nightmare.
There was no mail delivery in the blackout zone. Why? Newspapers weren’t delivered to homes or to newsstands. There was no package delivery service.
There were no delivery trucks for the small businesses that stayed open, customers wandering their dark aisles with flashlights. This went on for over four days!
Where were our elected representatives? Christine Quinn had a full schedule running around to press conferences. No, not providing information to her constituents, residential and commercial, asking them what they needed, helping get them information and marshaling resources. She was standing behind Mayor Bloomberg at his press conferences — getting into photo-ops with people she did not represent.
Where were the community boards? (Cancelling meetings, that much is known.) Where were the block association presidents and business improvement district presidents and local activists? Did they all evacuate?
Thanks to The Villager, I now know where all of my politicians were during the blackout: a mere three blocks away at Westbeth (“Westbeth survives Sandy; Artists toughed out blackout,” notebook, by Kate Walter, Nov. 15). And my local information center? On my corner at Left Bank (“Perry eatery kept the flame burning through the darkness,” news article, Nov. 15).
Did you know that some fitness centers were letting members use their Uptown facilities to shower, but not bring guests, while others opened their doors to anyone?
Did you know that Con Ed was providing one flatbed full of dry ice per day in Union Square?
Did you know that Duracell — which undoubtedly made millions during Sandy — sent one truck to Battery Park City to give out free batteries and provide a charging station? One truck, for 220,000 who were blacked out?
FEMA set up distribution centers in the most ridiculous locations, and then the National Guard didn’t arrive for hours. Why? Why weren’t they accompanied by police sirens blaring? They could have air-dropped supplies from a helicopter.
Most annoying — the constant pleas to go online, visit this Web site, send an e-mail to that address. Where were the banks of Internet terminals? Where were the local information centers? Thousands of residents would have volunteered to staff those centers. Instead, the city mobilized volunteers to remove trees and leaves from city parks. We didn’t exist!
And finally, Con Edison. Five sentences describing what had happened on 14th St.? No, two words — explosion and fire. A timetable, with daily progress reports? Information on who would get power first, in what order, and why? No, instead it was: “Wait for completion until Friday or Saturday.” That did happen. In the meantime, our apartments got colder and colder, our local grocery store shelves were emptied, and the media and our politicians ignored us.
We were in the Sandy Superdome.
I couldn’t find my transistor radio. After I finally found spare batteries for my flashlight, the bulb blew. I became my own news source for my building, The Towers, posting info about the M20 bus versus the M11, the availability of dry ice in Union Square, the free showers from New York Sports Clubs, the chargers at Garbers, the wait times on 311, the M.T.A. bus shutdown at sunset. I climbed up and down the stairs and wandered in and out of the blackout zone, seeking information, Internet and warmth, learning from the school of hard knocks until my ankles ached.
A string of wrong choices made my experience of Sandy more frustrating than it could have been. I even picked the wrong minyan to attend that Friday night: the luck of the Jewish.
An optimist will tell you the glass is half full; the pessimist, half empty; and an engineer, like me, will tell you the glass is twice the size it needs to be. Along the way, I learned a few lessons. Maybe I’ll have better luck next time, or at least I’ll do a better job of making my own luck.
Drogin is organizing a support group for Far West Village residents traumatized by their experiences during Hurricane Sandy and the blackout. For more information, e-mail email@example.com .