Sandy should have taught us something

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One of the frustrations that any reporter will always admit is that it’s hard to describe for people the extent of a disaster, even if you have a camera to document it. Now for the first time in the city — the city where I grew up and the city where I’ve always worked — we can see the breadth and horror of a natural disaster, in a way that we’ve never seen before.

And when I refer to the “city,” that means the entire region, which includes the Rockaways, Breezy Point, Sea Gate and Coney Island; Oceanside, Long Beach and Island Park on Long Island; Seaside Heights, Belmar and Long Beach Island in New Jersey, and so many other communities.

Much like 9/11, it’s always so hard when your neighbors are the victims of the story you cover. Moments I won’t soon forget: the water creeping up my boots in Battery Park as it made its way from the harbor, to ultimately, the Manhattan entrance to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel; the sight of babies and the elderly being carried out of NYU Medical Center as the generators were fading thanks to flood waters from the East River; the view of an American flag waving in the breeze at Sea Gate, in the shadow of what was left of a home destroyed by water; the comment of a woman I handed a blanket to in Coney Island: “Thank you, it’s always cold in here,” she said, “even when the heat is on. The blankets will help, all winter long.”

I can’t say that Sandy could match the destruction I saw in the Gulf after Katrina, but it is certainly a microcosm. The pain and suffering for those who lost loved ones, who lost their homes, who lost towns that they called home, is just as awful as anything I saw in New Orleans or Mississippi.

What are the lessons of Sandy? I think we will look long and hard at the way we deliver power in this city. I spoke to a number of linemen from out of town who had a very low opinion about the way LIPA, Con Ed and PSEG maintained their lines. They were not impressed by their systems and their patchwork approach to fixing things. No wonder we have so many outages. I’m no expert here, but I can see the results of the utilities’ work.

Of course, we need a commitment to putting power lines underground. Almost all municipalities in the U.S. require new builders to do this, but in big cities it costs too much, or so we are told.

We have to rethink building on the water. Global warming is a statistical fact, whether you think it’s man-made or not. It’s clear people don’t believe the warnings of authorities until the calamity finally hits.

So now, it has. It’s time to get serious.