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Residents of New York Face a Huge Range of Crises

Contradictions abound in NYC -- huge swathes of the city are fine, while entire neighborhoods are facing serious shortages.
 
 
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Many of us New Yorkers who didn’t feel the full wrath of Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath are experiencing a strange cognitive dissonance this week. In many neighborhoods things seem weirdly normal, with only minor, if any, inconveniences. Coffee shops are bustling, kids were out trick or treating, the power, heat, and internet are on, and there’s no real concern about having enough water or food. But then you read the news and hear stories from friends and acquaintances, and you’re reminded that residents in lower Manhattan and parts of Queens, Brooklyn, and New Jersey – geographically, just a few miles away – are experiencing something entirely different.

Below is a round-up of dispatches from the greater New York area that make it clear this disaster is far from over for many residents.

--A huge portion of Manhattan is still without power or water, especially affecting the elderly.

The situation is still quite dire for many residents who live below 34th Street in Manhattan, where the power hasn’t been on for days and many people are without clean water to drink or food to eat. While many people have evacuated the area, there are lots of residents who have not been able to leave, among them a large number of elderly New Yorkers who are living in dark high rises without elevators or the basic health and hygiene necessities. This video released by Mother Jonesoffers a look into a Lower East Side high rise where many older New Yorkers are still living days after the storm.

This dispatch from Brooklyn resident Jonathan Maimon, published on Wednesday by Gothamist, also illuminates the difficulties lower Manhattan residents are facing:

Virtually every retailer, restaurant and grocery store south of 38th street is CLOSED....There is no food, other than what you have in your refrigerator....

There is no running water or flushing toilets for people living in the Jacob Riis Houses and surrounding NYCHA buildings on the Lower East Side. In my estimate, this is roughly 20,000 people....

I did not witness a single Red Cross Truck or FEMA Vehicle or in lower Manhattan. Recall the assistance these agencies provided after 9/11 - this is NOT HAPPENING. There are bound to be hundreds of elderly people, rich and poor, who live on the upper floors of buildings with elevators that are now disabled. IF POWER IS NOT RESTORED, THIS WILL MOVE FROM BEING AN ECONOMIC DISASTER TO A HUMANITARIAN DISASTER.

The good news is that today the city will start distributing meals, while power company ConEd will distribute dry ice. A number of food trucks are also making their way through the area to get food to those who need it. But as one Lower East Side resident interviewed in the above Mother Jonesvideo noted, “It’s not over until the electricity’s on.”

--Water contamination becomes a concern.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has stressed repeatedly that the water in the five boroughs is safe to drink, but some residents are skeptical of that claim, especially since many stores are now sold out of bottled water.

Meanwhile, many areas surrounding New York are facing outright clean water crises. CBS News reports that sewage plants have been damaged in some areas of Connecticut and Maryland, where drinking water could now be compromised. Residents of the New Jersey shore are being encouraged to boil their water before drinking it and not to consume oysters or clams.

--Public transportation remains crippled.

It’s incredible that portions of the New York City subway and bus system and commuter rails were back up a few days after the storm, and the workers who helped get things going are rightly being hailed as heroes. It’s also commendable that all buses and subway rides will be free for the next few days to encourage ridership. However, those accomplishments might obscure the fact that the transportation situation within New York is still in terrible shape. Things are not back to normal, not at all. Take a look at this temporary subway map, showing which lines are up and running as of Thursday morning:

subway

For those of you not familiar with the subway system, that blank portion of the map to the east and west of where it says “East River” is not usually blank. What this map shows is that Brooklyn is almost entirely cut off from Manhattan. As of today the MTA (the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which runs the subway and bus systems) is running buses from a few locations in Brooklyn to midtown; buses don’t usually run over the bridges between boroughs, so that’s great. But predictably, the lines to catch a bus are very long, and traffic is at a standstill, as far more New Yorkers than usual are driving into Manhattan. Here's a photo of one of the bus lines this morning, via virginialaird on Instagram.

bus_line

It’s easy to say that people should just stay home, but of course many New Yorkers cannot. Workers, especially those who are paid hourly, need to get to their jobs for their own economic reasons, and to keep the city functioning. Bike riding is an option for some, though the congested roads are making it difficult and dangerous to get around since most of New York’s bike lanes (those that it has) are not separated from the street. Many, many people are walking miles to get where they need to go.

--There’s a potentially crippling gas shortage.

With all those extra people on the roads, and deliveries to the area stunted, many portions of the New York region are reporting gas shortages. Reuters reports that as of yesterday, “More than half of all gasoline service stations in the New York City area and New Jersey were shut because of depleted fuel supplies and power outages.”

Gothamist has posted a slideshow of some of the gas lines throughout the region, which includes this photo tweeted by @CEOGuddaHouse:

gas

While there is little gas to go around for cars, there’s tons of it the waterways, as hundreds of thousands of gallons were reportedly spilled in the water between New Jersey and Staten Island.

Update: The Port of New York and New Jersey was being re-opened mid-day Thursday, which will hopefully bring quick relief to drivers who need gas.

--Despite these calamities, the city will divert resources to hold the New York City Marathon this weekend.

This string of tweets from Queens resident and journalist Anna Holmes illustrates the absurdity of the city’s decision to go ahead with this weekend’s New York City Marathon:

All of these crises disproportionately affect lower income residents, who have fewer resources and will have a much harder time bouncing back in the long term. In a city that is sharply divided by income, the residents at the bottom end of the economic ladder have an especially long road ahead.

For those interested in volunteering or supporting relief efforts from afar, visit the Occupy Sandy Relief site, a great coordinated relief resource.

Lauren Kelley is the activism and gender editor at AlterNet and a freelance journalist based in New York City. Her work has appeared in Salon, Time Out New York, the L Magazine, and other publications. Follow her on Twitter.
 
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