The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 76/No. 41      November 12, 2012

Gov’t response to hurricane shines
spotlight on rulers’ disdain for workers
(front page)
NEW YORK—For the second time in 14 months, working people here were left largely on their own to deal with a major storm. And once again, the class-differentiated hardships were exacerbated by the callous response of city and state governments.

Hurricane Sandy, which tore across the Caribbean and up the East Coast the last week of October was larger and more destructive than Irene last year. More than 100 people were killed, 69 in the Caribbean, of whom 52 were in Haiti. Thirty-nine deaths had been reported in the U.S. as of Oct. 30.

More than 8.2 million people across the eastern U.S. are without power. Consolidated Edison says it will take at least a week to restore electricity to the 800,000 households without power here.

As he did in 2011, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered the mandatory evacuation of 375,000 residents of low-lying “Zone A” areas in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. The order was issued midday on Sunday, Oct. 28. The city then announced that the entire subway system would begin shutting down at 7 p.m. that night and buses two hours later, some 24 hours before the arrival of the hurricane.

As of Tuesday night, partial bus service had been restored, but the subway system was down indefinitely. On Wednesday, lines for the bus ran for blocks and every route had delays, adding hours to workers’ commute.

To force out the 46,000 residents of public housing in the evacuation areas, the city locked elevators and shut off power and heat at 7 p.m. Sunday. Many ignored cops, who drove around with bullhorns in city housing developments demanding everyone leave.

Those who decided not to evacuate, Bloomberg said, “were selfish.” In New Jersey, Gov. Christopher Christie echoed Bloomberg’s “selfish” label and added “stupid.”

While New York City opened 76 shelters, residents were urged to use them as a last resort if they couldn’t find friends or relatives to stay with. As of Monday, shelters throughout the city were filled to less than 4 percent capacity.

“The National Guard came to each door, handed out papers, and said we ‘had to leave,’” Ramona Hernández told the Militant. Hernández chose to stay at the public housing project in the flooded Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn where she lives. “A lot of people left, but a lot stayed. Everybody was left on their own.”

Elisha Reid, a department store worker, and her mother Juanita Reid, a child care provider, showed up at a shelter in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon. “The power in our apartment went out last night, and the water this morning. I had no idea what to do. There’s no radio or television. And no one even came by to see if we needed food or water,” Elisha Reid told the Militant. “No one came by to evacuate us,” her mother added. “Our building has 16 floors and a lot of senior citizens live there. The elevators are still off and I couldn’t walk up that far to help them.”

The one location that doesn’t have a zone designation on the city’s flood evacuation map is Rikers Island, which holds 10 city jails with between 12,000 and 17,000 prisoners. The island is surrounded by “Zone B” land, designated for evacuation in the event of a Category 2 hurricane.

“The land is up where they are and jails are secured,” Bloomberg said Monday afternoon. “Don’t worry about anybody getting out.”

Administrators at the Horizon Care Center in Far Rockaway, Queens, one of the hardest hit areas, told the New York Times that in spite of repeatedly asking city authorities for direction, they did not receive evacuation instructions until after the surge of water had already hit, flooding the facility and knocking out the generators.

All city schools were closed, as well as almost all bridges and tunnels into and out of the city. According to the New York Post, thousands of extra cops were on duty and the National Guard was mobilized to “deal with impending mayhem.”

Most workers have missed at least two days of work, either because the workplace was closed or because they had no way to get there. And with schools closed for a third day, working people are being left on their own to figure out child care arrangements and transportation or miss another day.

For Cuba, Sandy was the deadliest storm in seven years, cutting directly through the island and killing 11 people. It hit Santiago, the country’s second-largest city, with winds of 110 miles per hour. The Miami Herald reported that 137,000 homes in the city were damaged, including 43,000 that lost their roofs and 15,000 that collapsed. The entire city of 500,000 was without water and electricity.

But in Cuba, where workers and farmers made a socialist revolution in 1959 and continue to wield political power today, people were not left to deal with the disaster on their own.

“Sound trucks cruised the streets urging people to boil drinking water to prevent infectious disease,” Associated Press reported. “Authorities set up radios and TVs in public spaces to keep people up to date on relief efforts, distributed chlorine to sterilize water, and prioritized electrical service to strategic uses such as hospitals and bakeries.”

Reuters reported that volunteer work brigades, soldiers, convoys of trucks with cable and other supplies to repair the electrical system, and utility workers from across the country poured into the city.

Transportation worker Alexis Martinez told Reuters that the hurricane had blown the roof off his house, but that he and his wife had decided to help the citywide effort before dealing with their own problems. “My wife is mobilized for public health and me for the rubble brigade,” he said. “Our son is with his grandmother, and the roof we’ll see about later. Right now, there are things more urgent to do.”

“The city looks like a big ant’s nest, but organized,” Eduardo Gonzalez said.

Dan Fein, Deborah Liatos and Candace Wagner contributed to this article.
Related articles:
Social disaster highlights need for massive jobs program  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home