Fortunately my office is a few blocks north of my apartment. My Manhattan apartment, south of 39th Street has been turned into the equivalent of a cave in Afghanistan.
Now pay attention, folks.
I blogged last night about the sorry joke it was when the Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Cuomo, and the New York Transit Authority closed down Manhattan 24 hours in advance of the hurricane. As usual, they were sweating the small stuff and making a great show of over-caution for political purposes while totally ignoring the big booby traps. For example?
Despite several recent crane disasters in Manhattan in recent years, the Mayor forgot to check whether there were any cranes out there that should have been taken down before they began blowing in the wind. There was one. It’s a huge monster, twisting and waving in the 100 mph gusts, that caused the closing of a nearby hotel and forced several hundred people out of their apartments in the midst of a hurricane. But even that’s relatively small stuff.
Who's minding the power grid?
A major thing they forgot to do was check to see if there was anybody competent minding the store at Con Edison, the local power utility.
While a few thousand New Yorkers were evacuated from water’s edge apartment buildings in the Battery Park City area, near Wall Street, there are now 1.9 million New Yorkers without power.
Because of the way the city’s residential infrastructure is set up, that means many New Yorkers, particularly the elderly, are trapped in unheated apartments that are getting colder as the temperature drops. (Con Edison supplies steam that heats many apartments. And even oil and gas-burning boilers need electrical power.) The residents have no hot water. They have no cold water either, since water in New York high rises gets pumped to water tanks on the roofs electrically for storage. They can’t flush their toilets. They can’t bathe. They have to ration their drinking water. The food in their dead refrigerators is rotting. Many have no phone service. Or cable TV service. Or Internet. (Modems go down when the power goes down.)
If they have flashlights, perhaps they can make their way down ten, or fifteen, or thirty flights of stairs with a flashlight (and then up again to go home.)
But when they get to street level, there won’t be much there for their solace. Most of the food stores south of 39th Street are now closed. Most of the restaurants are now closed. The subway isn’t working yet. So even if stores want to open and have product to sell, there's nobody there to sell it. Or cook it.
“Redundancy? We don’t need
no stinking redundancy” – Con Ed
What’s the cause of all this? Somehow, a transformer blew up somewhere in Manhattan. It may have been due to flooding from the storm. If may have a wind-driven object that flew into the transformer. For all anybody knows, it may have been sabotage.
Whatever the case, I’m sure al-Qeada took note last night that you only have to blow out one transformer to plunge half of Manhattan (I’m guessing close to a million people) into misery and paralyze the city. There seems to be no redundancy. No spare transformer that kicks in when the old one kicks the bucket. There's no way of routing current around the blown transformer, the way telephone companies used to reroute signals around a failed communications node.
In effect Con Edison is saying, “So it’s busted. Tough cookies.”
People will die
There are going to be people who die from this. People who have heart attacks or strokes and can’t call for help because they have no phone service. People who tumble down darkened stairwells. Even people who starve to death in their own apartments.
Once the power is up, I do hope there will be some serious governmental (and journalistic) investigation into why there is no redundancy built into Con Edison’s power distribution system. And then I hope we get some legislation to get it built. Fast.
Or, once the crisis is tamped down, will Governor Cuomo get back to cultivating his presidential ambitions while Mr. Bloomberg takes off for his getaway in Bermuda?