It’s hard to believe that a year ago, we were in the throes of the post-Superstorm Sandy blackout. There was no electricity or heat, many residents lacked elevator service and running water — even cold water — flushable toilets, and, just our luck, it was starting to get raw and cold.
We survived, but it took a long time for things to return to normal. Things don’t just snap back like nothing happened after Avenue C is flooded waist-high and Westbeth’s basement is inundated by the Hudson River. Many merchants and restaurants still haven’t fully recovered from the financial hit they took.
For our part, we unfortunately lost about 95 percent of The Villager’s archives when the surge poured into our Canal St. basement. (Luckily, New York University and the Public Library also have our old issues.)
Our part of the city wasn’t physically slammed as hard by Sandy’s surge as places like Breezy Point or the Rockaways, where entire swaths of homes were obliterated by water and fire. But we were inundated in the flood zone, and the loss of electrical power was crippling and dangerous. We pulled together, as communities do. But when electricity and heat came back on around Friday night, we realized how deeply we depend on our utility services.
For this part of the city, the most important thing was for Con Ed to harden its E. 14th St. plant against another abnormally large super-surge like Sandy’s. Sandy’s unexpectedly high waters had flooded the plant, and then Con Ed powered the facility down to keep from damaging it further, leaving us blacked-out south of the 30s.
It’s reassuring to see — in a new video Con Ed posted on its Web site — that it has taken these steps. Important infrastructure has been raised higher off the ground, doors now have watertight seals, electrical conduit pipes have been filled with rubber sealant to waterproof them, and the complex’s walls have been raised.
Another change Con Ed should consider, is making sure hospitals are on networks that don’t need to be shut down during emergencies. For example, Downtown Hospital was shut down when Con Ed powered down its E. 14th St. plant.
Luckily, in the Village, New York University opened its doors to the community, letting people charge phones, use laptops, even sleep on cots in some of its buildings. But Sandy also showed the need for a Lower West Side hospital with its own generator, like St. Vincent’s.
We think Mayor Bloomberg’s idea for removable storm barriers along Lower Manhattan’s edge is a good idea. These would be set up on land and basically work as a large fence against the waters. For now, it’s a much cheaper alternative to full-on storm-surge barriers in the harbor.
Great work is being done in the East Village and Lower East Side by the Long-term Recovery Group; GOLES and Two Bridges are organizing to ensure future storms don’t cripple and imperil residents of high-rise public housing and low-income housing, as in Sandy. By now, we’ve all learned how we should have “go bags” ready, just in case.
We’re eager to hear more about the sustainable energy-powered WiFi-NY People’s Emergency Network that the Long-term Recovery Group is working on. During Sandy, only a few street corners had a signal — and everyone clustered there. In emergencies, communication is key.
Our new understanding of flood zones is also affecting discussion about Hudson River Park, development on piers and the waterfront, and air-rights transfers from the park. Everything is being reassessed.
When we interviewed Bill de Blasio before the primary election he showed an open mind on storm protection, but was more in favor of more affordable natural barriers, like wetlands and dunes. De Blasio’s a very intelligent man, and we’re confident he’ll make the right choices for the city’s protection.
For now, we’re glad to see that, from Con Ed to community activists, people are doing their best to make sure, if another Sandy hits, we’ll be ready.