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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.

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 Jones offers 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 Jones video 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:

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