The real disaster of bureaucracy during Hurricane Sandy; an insider’s glimpse

On Monday during Sandy I worked a 19 hour shift for OEM (medic like stuff) at the evacuation shelter for medical needs at John Jay College west side in the 50s – didn’t handle many many people but there were so so many supplies, tons and tons of everything – food, water, med supplies, personal hygiene stuff, blankets, everything, pallets and pallets of the stuff.

And some school shelters serving as evac centers turned into and remain real homeless shelters for a real hardcore dysfunctional homeless population; same problem I wrote about last year during Irene   no-seinfeldian-glee-temporary-storm-shelter-john-jay?page=all  (okay I suck at a lot but I’m  good at a few things, this being one, so I single handedly was able to  clear the whole homeless population from Norman Thomas high school last year so it could open the next day).  That’s not a policy, that’s one guy with street charisma on a mini martyr trip who happened to be volunteering.   And non homeless folk are not going to want to share evac shelters with serious homeless people during a future disaster, even on just simple hygiene issue problems.  Evacuees  were faking illness this year to move into the nicer med evac center area rather than stay in general population.

On Thursday I went to the Lower East Side/Chinatown on my own, by Jacob Riss school, Catherine Street, near the East river (supposed to be an evac center but it never happened, not sure why, no Tues it’s still closed, presumably because of damage).

Insane – hundreds and hundreds of people lined up (Chinese and black and Latino folk from the nearby Smith projects) for promises of food and water for hours and hours, holding buckets and pots for water– they had nothing, little children and old people filling up and drinking out of fire hydrants, small children half naked using the streets as a toilet, old Chinese women burning newspapers in large flaming cans in the streets — absolutely no one there (volunteers, OEM, FEMA, city – FEMA had one big truck elsewhere in Chinatown, all they had was a power strip to charge phones for people) — nobody there to give them anything or tell them anything, know one knew anything – only a huge police presence at the distribution center and one man from the Salvation Army doing nothing (all those supplies from John Jay and likely the same supplies at many other evac shelters in upper Manhattan that didn’t need them – they could have easily been positioned or sent down there to LES/Chinatown if there was any proper or good coordination).

Up by blacked out 1st ave and the 20s in Manhattan where I live here was a one legged man in a wheelchair seemingly disoriented in a traffic. Turns out he was three days without the heavy methadone dose he takes daily (think he said 150 mgs) and also Xanax – withdrawing, weak, freaking out, crowds of people he couldn’t navigate through. He said he needed to get to Bellevue for the methadone; I pushed him like 12 blocks hard to even push him through all that chaos and when we got to Bellevue he saw the people who run the program in the lobby – they told him the program was shut. What do I do he asked? Um, I think you have to go up to Metropolitan hospital (in Harlem) and I think their meth program is working, they said. 100 blocks and many avenues. How am I going to get there? He asked. The clinic people, health care professionals said, “Um maybe you can find someone who’s going and get a ride with them.” Yeah, right. No handicap transport van, no transport ambulance offered, The guy was screwed so bad. I asked him if he wanted money for a cab and he said no that’s alright and I left him there as he was talking to them about how anguished he was and how much he hated himself.

Traffic cops all over directing traffic without flashlights, without flares at the intersections in absolute dark blackout — They finally got/employed both on Thurs or Friday night. No OEM stand alone floodlights attached to those generator boxes deployed anywhere — I walked all through lower Manhattan everywhere and I saw one.

There was terrible devastation in SI and Rockaways and LI but up above where I was writing about – this wasn’t Japan tsunami or Katrina, etc – proper logistics, leadership, coordination could have so so easily made things so much better for those people. The neglect of info and supplies and the feeling neglected waiting for nothing was so bad; with the overwhelming standing around guarding police presence, the younger people were getting near riot stage and talking about robbing. I said to the police commander shouldn’t you tell these people something about when stuff might be coming, or how you’re trying, or what’s going on to at least try and keep things a little quiet, keep hostility in check – he was nice to me but he or no one else never did any informing to the crowds who were going a little crazy.

One vicious fight did break out with a bunch of people at another location where i was and me and two very gutsy unarmed supposed to just watch and report security guards broke it up. I said to one fighter , come on chill, cops are gonna be here soon you don’t want to get arrested- the reply was no, I want the cops to come – wanted to get arrested and get the other fighter arrested, wanted to keep on fighting until cops came – but they weren’t, the didn’t, I wanted them to come too, but they didn’t and we just eventually dragged them away from each other. Both sides vowed revenge and I’m sure they got it; I saw way too many crowds of police gathered around guarding banks.

The city/agencies can’t handle the relatively minor, doable, handle-able emergencies or problems in a disaster – if we do get hit by something really big and widespread the failure and suffering is probably going to be so horrible, so calamitous. Damn NYC what the hell is the matter – we’re not paralyzed by poverty, or widespread violence, or corruption, or terrible infrastructure like some cities in the world. We’re going to suffer, hurt, die because we have a really really shitty bureaucracy that we can’t or don’t manage decently; such a ridiculous shame.

On a news tip, NPR, Capital New York, and the NY Times did a great job — all those other NYC radio station I tried to tune in to during blackout played jingles, covered sports, and talked crazy religious take america back.  Yeah, Romney, cut NPR, I want privatized commercial jingles promoting wallpaper stores during my next disaster.

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