Thursday, September 1, 2011

Hurricane Irene observations from afar, and closer to home

[Shawn Chittle]

Perspectives on the East Village/New York City via the national/international media leading up to Hurricane Irene:

The Los Angeles Times:

"Happy Hurricane Day," a burly, bearded man named Carlos said as he walked into Mona's, a longtime watering hole in New York's East Village, on Friday night and asked a barmaid to pour him a whiskey. "Nah, that's Sunday," came the barstool reply from a short, clean-shaven man who looked like the actor Fisher Stevens (and may in fact have been him).

A kind of stoic comedy, with a kick of gallows humor, permeated New York late Friday night as the city braced for what meteorologists predicted could be one of the worst natural disasters in its history. In preparation for Hurricane Irene, the state was already taking the unprecedented step of shutting down mass transit at noon Saturday, a move that equates roughly to Los Angeles banning cars on city streets during the weekday rush hour.

... The East Village, where Mona's is located, is one of New York's premiere nightlife districts. Well past midnight on almost any weekend night, bars are typically packed, the sounds of noisy inebriation — emanating from those who've traveled miles from homes in suburban New Jersey or blocks from dorm rooms at New York University — filling the streets.

The Guardian UK:

[EV Grieve reader Lauren]

You get used to odd sights in New York, especially in the East Village, a crowded artsy neighbourhood known for a bohemian mix of hipsters and gritty old-timers, which boasts a bar on virtually every corner.

But panic-buying supplies for a hurricane? That was still a novelty for even the most jaded Manhattan eye. Yet there they were: crowds of people lined up outside local supermarkets and thronging "deli" corner stores.

The queue outside the Trader Joe's supermarket on 14th Street stretched all the way down the block, filled with a cross section of East Village life from suited-up young office workers to people clad in gym gear to smartly dressed nighthawks.

Seeing the line it was easy to be briefly disappointed at a lack of fortitude in a city that celebrates a reputation for toughness and scepticism of danger. But, gratifyingly, the line for the cheap wine shop next door was even longer.

Upon hearing about the panic shopping, an EV Grieve reader, stuck out of town last weekend, observed via email: "Have we become a bunch of pussies?"

For some reason I tried to put it in some perspective. I explained that it was equal parts media hysteria and Mayor Bloomberg's grim soundbites that helped spark the frenzy. Or maybe we are a bunch of pussies.

Still, it was a dangerous storm that killed 40 people in 11 states ... with damages estimated anywhere from $3 to $13 billion depending on your news source.

Chris Smith at New York thinks Bloomberg got it right. "Given the facts and the odds as Irene churned up the East Coast, Bloomberg made the right calls, evacuating low-lying parts of the city and endorsing the transit shutdown. That the storm didn't hit as directly or devastatingly as it could have doesn't change the rightness of the mayor's actions."

Meanwhile, there has been plenty of discussion on the media's shrill tone in the days leading up to its arrival in the area. I found the coverage unnecessarily dire and (sorry) overblown. I went to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website for updates. They don't have sizzling graphics or branded personalities. Just facts.

Jeff Jarvis called the media coverage "storm porn." Countered David Ropeik, a consultant in risk communication, on MSNBC: "Yes, the information the media presented was wrapped up in breathless alarmism ... But ... under all the alarmism was really important information that helped people stay safe: storm track timing, tips for preparedness, evacuation routes. It was alarmist in voice, but an informative tool. And that probably helped more than it hurt."

(You can read more about the storm coverage at The Columbia Journalism Review, where I found the above passages.)

I waited a few days to post any of these various perspectives... let a little time pass. Maybe we'll feel a little differently about the media coverage and Bloomberg's actions now...


Dave on 7th said...

NY 1 was, as usual, a calm voice in a sea of hysteria.
When John Davit, their always reasonable
meteorologist speaks, I listen.

Ken from Ken's Kitchen said...

It was reasonable for people to prepare, and there will be lines like that when everybody has to prepare on the same 2 days. Additionally, there were probably a lot of people on those lines who have never cooked a meal for themselves in their lives, so they weren't just picking up a few things, they were stocking the pantry from scratch.

Anonymous said...

All those people in neighboring areas that got flooded and lost power and lost members of their communities - PUSSIES.

But seriously, the transit shutdown was the right call as there was flooding in yard facilities and some track areas were completely submerged.

While here in town we can see the media coverage as hysterical, you just have to look elsewhere in the area for SERIOUS flooding and lack of power who might think that the alarm was warranted.

Anonymous said...

It was the simple fact that the sudden weakening and rapid movement of the storm over our area made it's effects much less severe than predicted. If you observed this storm over Virginia and the Carolinas you would have taken it seriously too. The news media was as breathless as they normally were right up until I went to bed on Saturday night when they were saying that the bulk of the hurricane would be with us from 9AM to 2 PM. In fact, by 9AM it had sped up considerably and was passing over us quickly, and in diminished strength.

The NYC Administration did the right thing by evacuating the low lying areas and protecting the transit system. The Rockaways become completely engulfed with any significant storm surge, as do other low lying areas. Don't forget that the EV had a Nor'easter about 8 or 10 years ago that had the east river flowing across Ave C, wiped out thousands of cars parked in Stuy Town garages, and a big rainstorm we had a few years ago flooded subway tunnels, knocking out service.

There are still many people in the outer boroughs, LI, Westchester and NJ that have no power.

I think some of the public reaction was a little over the top, but people always wait until the last minute, so long lines is what they get.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who sees the line at Trader Joe's as representative of the East Village is not someone whose opinion I will take seriously. Same goes for anyone who uses the word "pussies."

Crazy Eddie said...

Listen, Patterson, the Catskills and the Adirondacks have been devastated by Irene. We lucked out BIG time.Interesting, my word ID for this comment was "disturiv".

Marty Wombacer said...

What cracked me up were the water hoarders. I wanted to walk up to people lugging bags of bottled water and say, "There's a thing called a 'faucet' that hangs over your sink. Turn it on and you'll be amazed!"

Goggla said...

I walked past the line at Trader Joe's on Friday and it was actually made up of NYU students and their parents, most likely moving in and setting up their apartments. That night at Key Food was another matter - that seemed to be locals buying everything they could. The atmosphere, though, was more of excitement than fear. Still, it doesn't hurt to be prepared.

I still wonder what the guy buying the giant magnifying glass at the dollar store was planning to do...