Coffee House

New York’s incredible resilience

3 November 2012

10:30 AM

3 November 2012

10:30 AM

America is now mourning the loss of at least 80 lives taken by Hurricane Sandy, including those of two boys swept from their mother’s arms. The pictures of the destruction of Staten Island are staggering, and the city’s marathon has been cancelled because Mayor Bloomberg accepted that it would, after all, have diverted resources from the recovery. The world has gawped at images of water flooding New York’s underground, yellow cabs floating down the street, housing estates flattened, skyscrapers darkened and evacuated and, now, people queuing for petrol. We can expect such images to dominate the news headlines here,  there is no shortage of genuine horror stories. But as I said in my Telegraph column yesterday, the bigger story is that of New York’s resilience and the pace of its recovery.

A 108-year-old subway system that had been deluged with saltwater is already roaring back to life. The Brooklyn-Battery tunnel had 86 million gallons of water, which is now being sucked out by the US Army (who have a special flooded tunnel unit). Flooded power stations were being dried out and restored at such a pace that nearly all of Manhattan is lit up once more. In Philadephia, 850,000 suffered power cuts. Power had been restored to 725,000 by Friday afternoon.


The Staten Island ferry, which had been out of service due to damage at its South Ferry and St George terminals, chugged to life yesterday. Amtrak’s trains are now up and running, taking in all stops to Penn Station. The petrol situation will be relieved soon, as the port of New York has been reopened to fuel tankers (the coast guard has already cleared the shipping routes of debris). But meanwhile the Pentagon is sending hundreds of trucks to deliver 12 million gallons of petrol. (The US keeps 42m gallons spare, just in case.) JFK and LaGuardia Airport are back to normal. Newark will be soon. The petrol that is for sale is $3.56 a gallon, only 6c above the normal. FEMA, the agency that handles disasters, has so far done a far better job than after Katrina by getting equipment and supplies in the right place before the storm hit.

The real story this week, to me, is not about nature’s fury, nor the authorities’ swift response but the way New Yorkers took it upon themselves to look after their city and their neighbours. Restaurants have given food away free, volunteers kept traffic flowing when the lights went out, spontaneous aid groups have distributed food and clothes to the worst-hit part of New York and hotels have given free accommodation to displaced families. (One of the reasons that the marathon was cancelled is that hotels were refusing to evict Sandy’s victims, and didn’t care about paying guests.) Broadway has reopened, bars are serving by candlelight. The Occupy Wall St lot have repurposed to disaster relief; collecting and redistributing clothes and food while the bigger agencies get organised.

A letter in yesterday’s Telegraph asked which part of the world would do fundraising for New York. The answer: New Yorkers. Millions have already been raised for a relief fund with Goldman Sachs offering $5m. There has been a distinct lack of panic. It all recalls Walt Whitman’s description of Manhattan: ‘sane, unruly, musical, self-sufficient.’

Rudy Giuliani was in Australia when the storm hit, and said that days when disaster struck – a plane crash, subway derailment – were the ‘easy days’ of being Mayor. Those are the days, he said, when the city looks after itself. ‘One of the things I always know about New Yorkers is that whenever things are really bad, they’re at their best.’ So Sandy has proven.

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Show comments
  • Nick

    If it’s not King Kong then it’s Godzilla causing havoc in New York.Then they had 9/11 and now it’s Sandy.How much more can they take? Good luck to all New Yorkers and New York itself because they are a good bunch and the city is a great city……..Not as good as London but close.

  • Jupiter

    A real load of rubbish Nelson. If the Yanks buried their electricity cables like normal countries, they wouldn’t have such huge power cuts. That is something that your hero Barry could have spent his vast trillion dollar stimulus on instead of flushing it down the toilet.

    • Ostrich (occasionally)

      Have you never seen the regiments of electricity pylons that march across this country?

      • Jupiter

        But they have poles on almost every street in America, you don’t see that here.

  • Austin Barry

    It is interesting to speculate what would occur should a similar storm strike London. Fifty years ago stoicism and community cohesion would probaby have prevailed. Now I imagine the Morlock underclass would move with menace, casual criminality and unconscious irony through the sewage flooded streets.

    • HooksLaw

      I doubt that the criminal underclass of New York is much different. Or say Paris for that matter.

      • Wilhelm

        New York, London and Paris have a large ebonic speaking, Nike wearing, basketball playing community.

        No riots in Tokyo, Buenos Aires or Saint Petersburg, I wonder why that is ? Hmm.

    • Wilhelm

      If Obama loses expect the black population to riot and loot.

  • Augustus

    ” the bigger story is that of New York’s resilience and the speed of its recovery.”

    Perhaps someone could explain exactly what the Eastern seaboard (New York and New Jersey) did to prepare for this storm? It is not as if they didn’t know that the hurricane was not only on its way, but was going to join in with another storm front that would intensify the storm. Why didn’t Christy and Bloomberg facilitate an evacuation plan? Why leave people, who are clueless on how to prepare for such a major storm, sitting in their homes like ducks in a shooting gallery? The leaders in those areas failed their people. It is just that simple. And the Golden Boy thought that a photo-op with a pandering Chris Christy was all that was needed.

  • eeore

    I wonder what Haarp and Hamp were doing at the time of the storm?

  • Kevin

    In your Telegraph column yesterday, you wrote:

    The New York marathon is to proceed as planned on Sunday, sending 50,000 runners down streets where taxis were floating just a few days ago.

    Even from this side of the Atlantic, which is where I assume you are too, this seemed an extraordinarily idiotic decision.

    Even on this side of the Atlantic, we know that Bloomberg has only cancelled after an intense public backlash (example quote: “You are asking people without water to watch marathon runners pour it over their heads and throw it away!”)

    Yet this was your first example to illustrate the authorities’ “swift” and “spectular” response?

    Why should we believe any of the rest?

    • Kevin

      Erratum: “spectacular”

    • Fraser Nelson

      Kevin, Bloomberg changed his mind at 7pm last night. He argued that the marathon should go on, as it did after 9/11, raising cash for Sandy’s victims. But the practicalities made this complicated, so they cancelled. I don’t see the big deal.

      • Rhoda Klapp

        After a NY newspaper had a front page pic of two massive generartors being set up in the park for the marathon tents, not used in any areas where there was no power. That was probably Bloomberg’s moment of enlightenment. Anyhow, the decision not to cancel was not too wrong, and the eventual decision to cancel turned out to be wiser, but I wouldn’t use this as a stick to beat Bloomberg with.

      • FRANKP1

        “I don’t see the big deal”

        Of course you fucking don’t – nobody thought you would. It’s called the ingredients of myopia and naivety in a cocktail of stupidity.

        • HooksLaw

          I don’t particularly rate Bloomberg but a look nat the options was taken and on balance it was cancelled. It is in fact no big deal and hardly worth your miserable invective

      • biggestaspidistra

        To go ahead with the marathon was an insensitive decision by Bloomberg and illustrated his focus on his upper east side constituents above the ignored and in this case devastated outer boroughs. Staten Island had not yet buried its dead. He is out of touch.

  • Eddie

    ‘Incredible reilience?’

    Well, I believe it.

    Scenes of ‘unimaginable devastation’ as the BBC quoth.

    Well, I can imagine them.
    It’s hardly the Blitz or Auschwitz, is it? One gets the distinct feeling a lot of people are enjoying this ‘hurricane’ too because it makes them look good and allows them to have a good ole group-hug and communcal cry.

    Bad weather and floods happen, and people get through them, and not many die in Western civilised countries either due to general efficiency, building regulations, various services etc.

    • Daniel Maris

      Yes, we shouldn’t lose perspective. It’s not like that woman who gave birth in a tree by herself during a flood in Mozambique is it? That was pretty resilient.

      • Eddie

        tI just wish journalists wouldn’t use the word ‘incredible’ all the time!

        I remember a teacher corrected my homework when I was 11 or 12 and said ‘Mozart died at the incredible age of 35’.

        In the margin he wrote:I BELIEVE IT!

        I have never used the word ‘incredible’ for anything since then, and I do wish our meeja johnnies would follow suit. Use some other word!

        A unicorn running down The Strand is an incredible event; a flood, an earthquake, a tsunami, a hurricane, houses falling down and people being killed is not incredible at all – just business as usual really and all too real, thus the opposite of incredible!

        And it’s not unimaginable horror either – it is quite easy to imagine houses collapsing, especially when one sees in on the telly!

  • HooksLaw

    Interesting except of course it was not a hurricane.
    Nor was it an exceptional storm when you look back over 50 years

  • Daniel Maris

    Yes, Fraser, an excellent tribute to the efficacy of the public sector.

    Remember, in the USA they aren’t forever reinventing the public sector .They have a much more traditional approach to it than in the UK where we seem to have fallen victim to the mumbo-jumbo of consultants with their own fee-snaffling agenda.


    Perhaps if your bosses had striven to keep THIS columnist aboard the Spectator, we could have had a realistic report like this published in the magazine, rather than rose-tinted-spectacled, Obama-loving fantasy that your article comprises Fraser.

    Not only has Obama been a one-man disaster for America that will long outlive the effects of Frankenstorm, his foreign policy has impacted deleteriously on the whole world and softened it up for the unholy alliance of totalitarian communism and Islamic jihad. It’s quite obvious to all except the wilfully blind or deaf, that he is arming the feckin’ enemy in myriad ways.

    • HooksLaw

      Its fair to say the USA is far more bureaucratic than people give it credit for. Its govt. wastes vast amounts of money. It is in part the nature of the way it is governed. Pork barrel spending abounds.

      • Robert Castlereagh

        I was tickled to read this in “A Working Man’s recollections of New York”

        “Another peculiarity observable by a stranger is the youthfulness of the
        population. Young men from twenty to twenty-five are there seen in positions
        which in older countries are filled by men of twice that age. The appearance of
        the busy throngs that pass up and down the streets would lead one to deduct a
        third from the chance of life as compared with Britain. There is much less of
        variety in physical development than we are accustomed to see in Europe. The
        comely and portly personages met with in all parts of England are very rarely
        seen there; occasionally an old person of one or the other sex is encountered,
        but withered and sapless, as though the torrid heat; and arctic frosts had drawn
        out all their vital juices. The season of infancy and boyhood, like the
        spring of the natural year, is brief and ungenial; soon swallowed up in the
        assumption of a manly bearing— of the privileges of age without its experience.
        The want of “veneration” which pervades all the social and political relations
        of the country is nowhere so manifest as in the intercourse between parents and
        children. “Honour thy father and thy mother” is a precept little regarded where
        the domestic ties are slight, where the fireside virtues are but little
        esteemed. The holy and elevating influence of age upon youth is completely lost
        in the engrossing claims of business on the one hand, and on the other, in the
        precocious desire for independence and enjoyment.”

        • HooksLaw

          Is it worth reporting that this refers to the 1830’s?

    • Augustus

      A pertinent link Frank. Steyn says “I don’t know whether Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan can fix things…” and candidate Obama did say if he couldn’t fix the economy in four years his would be a one-term presidency. Mitt Romney is moral, capable, and a responsible man, it’s certainly time for America to hold Barack Obama to his word.

  • Malfleur

    Fraser brings the Spectator into the fold of the Corrupt Media. Meanwhile, in New Jersey:

    • FRANKP1

      Yes Malfleur, an appropriate cold shower on the Obama love fest; Obama is just another blast of wind and piss to add to the problems of the great unwashed (literally – not their fault this time) who need a coordinated national relief plan, rather than another tsunami of bullshit that is flowing over them at the moment.

    • Malfleur

      What planet, as they say, are you living on, Mr. Nelson? The Westminster Village Star presumably. Of course this, 3r November, could I suppose be consideredd resilience, but perhaps more like resistance:

      ” …residents of the Rockaways in Queens continued to struggle without power, heat or food for a sixth day as their neighborhood slowly descended into chaos.

      With little police presence on the storm-ravaged streets, many residents of
      the peninsula have been forced to take their protection into their own
      hands, arming themselves with guns, baseball bats and even bows and
      arrows to ward off thugs seeking to loot their homes.

      It has been reported that crooks have been disguising themselves as Long
      Island Power Authority workers and coming by homes on the peninsula in
      the middle of the night while real utility workers were nowhere to be

      ‘We booby-trapped our door and keep a baseball bat beside our bed,’ Danielle Harris, 34, told the New York Daily News.

      The woman added that she has been hearing gunshots likely fired in the nearby housing project for three nights in a row.

      Meanwhile, local surfer Keone Singlehurst said that he stockpiled knives, a machete and a bow and arrow.

      ‘I would take a looter with a boa [sic; constrictor?] if a felt threatened I would definitely use it,’ he said. ‘It’s like the wild west. A borderline lawless
      City Councilman James Sanders said he fears that things are going to get even worse. [More ‘resilient’, Mr. Nelson?]

      ‘We have an explosive mix here,’ he said. ‘People will take matters into their own hands.’ ” [Ah, liberal socialism à la Speccie’]

  • Augustus

    According to AP the Mayor faced a lot of criticism before he eventually canncelled the marathon which was distracting attention away from all the critically important work that is being done to recover from the storm. He completely misread the mood. And Obama has gotr his headaches too, because more and more has come to light on the administration’s feverish attempts to hide Obama’s failure to protect Americans in Benghazi. The Obama administration sat by doing nothing for seven hours that night, ignoring calls to dispatch help from bases in Italy. Not only did the White House do nothing, there were reports that a counterterrorism team ready to launch a rescue mission was ordered to stand down. The official explanation for the inadequate security? This administration didn’t want to “offend the sensibilities” of the new radical Islamic regime which American and British arms had so recently helped install in Libya. And the official explanation for why Obama administration officials watched the attack unfold for seven hours, refusing repeated requests to send the air support and relief forces that sat less than two hours away in Italy? Silence!

    • Patriccia Shaw

      The Benghazi Debacle

      A good friend posted this yesterday(hardcore thread)

      While we are at it some of your boys are still on about Speccie and Benghazi

      They should see David Ignatius today in Al Arabiya News(mandatory reading for the broad minded)

      The attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi has become a political football in the presidential campaign, with all the grandstanding and misinformation that entails. But Fox News has raised some questions about the attack that deserve a clearer answer from the Obama administration. Fox’s Jennifer Griffin reported Friday that CIA officers in Benghazi had been told to “stand down” when they wanted to deploy from their base at the annex to repel the attack on the consulate, about a mile away. Fox also reported that the CIA officers requested military support when the annex came under fire later that night but that their request had been denied.

      The Benghazi tragedy was amplified by Charles Woods, the father of slain CIA
      contractor Tyrone Woods. He told Fox’s Sean Hannity that White House officials
      who didn’t authorize military strikes to save the embattled CIA annex were
      “cowards” and “are guilty of murdering my son.”

      The Fox “stand down” story prompted a strong rebuttal from the CIA: “We can say with confidence that the agency reacted quickly to aid our colleagues during
      that terrible evening in Benghazi. Moreover, no one at any level in the CIA
      told anybody not to help those in need; claims to the contrary are simply

      So what did happen in Benghazi the night of Sept. 11 when Woods, Ambassador Christopher Stevens and two others were killed? The best way to establish the facts would be a detailed, unclassified timeline of events; officials say they are preparing one, and that it may be released later this week. That’s a must, even in the volatile final week of the campaign. In the meantime, here’s a
      summary of some of the basic issues that need to be clarified.

      First, on the question of whether Woods and others were made to wait when they asked permission to move out immediately to try to rescue those at the consulate. The answer seems to be yes, but not for very long. There was a brief, initial delay – two people said it was about 20 minutes – before Woods was allowed to leave. One official said Woods and at least one other CIA colleague were “in the car revving the engine,” waiting for permission to go. Woods died about six hours later after
      he returned to the annex.

      The main reason for the delay, sources said, was that CIA officials were making
      urgent contact with a Libyan militia, known as the February 17 Brigade, which
      was the closest thing to an organized security force in Benghazi. The U.S.
      depends on local security to protect U.S. diplomatic facilities, and officials
      wanted to coordinate any response to the consulate attack. After this delay,
      Woods and his colleague proceeded to the consulate.

      A final, obvious point: The “fog of battle” that night was dense not just in
      Benghazi but in Cairo, Tunis and elsewhere. U.S. officials needed better
      intelligence. That’s the toughest problem to address, but the most important.

      • tellemachus

        keep it coming, baby

        • Wilhelm

          Are you a midwife now ?