Oct 30 2012

The Impact of Superstorm Sandy, Climate Change, and the Elections

Hurricane Sandy, which was downgraded yesterday to “post-tropical cyclone Sandy” has claimed at least 15 lives in the United States. The storm was of historic proportions, gathering power as it slowly swept across the North Eastern United States, hitting a number of states, and especially New York City and parts of New Jersey where it made land fall at 8 pm Eastern time last night.

In North Carolina yesterday, the HMS Bounty, a ship built for a 1962 Marlon Brando film sank, killing at least one person. The captain is still missing. A large chunk of Atlantic City’s historic board walk in New Jersey was washed away. And in Manhattan, a large crane attached to what is to be the city’s tallest residential building, partially collapsed. Also in New York, the entire facade of an apartment building in Chelsea was ripped off. Backup generators at NYU’s Langone Medical Center and at Bellevue Hospital failed, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of patients, and dozens of newborns. Many of the deaths that occurred last night were attributed to falling trees in and around New York, but also from various incidents in New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts and West Virginia.

Hundreds of thousands of people were asked to evacuate, millions of people have lost power and tunnels and bridges in and out of Manhattan remain closed. Over ten thousand flights have been grounded. The New York Stock exchange remains closed since yesterday, as do schools, government offices, and workplaces. Concerns remained high overnight for the nuclear power plants in and around the area, as well as for the 12,000 prisoners on Rikers Island for whom there was no evacuation plan whatsoever. New York City’s subway system has also suffered some serious damage.

Meanwhile in Haiti, more than 50 people were declared dead as a result of Hurricane Sandy, with more than a dozen people missing. The poorest nation in the hemisphere is already struggling to recover from a devastating 2010 earthquake, and Hurricane Isaac which hit earlier this year. It is now feared that cholera rates as a result of flooding from Sandy could surge. In Cuba, Sandy killed nearly a dozen people and destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes.

President Obama, having suspended his election campaign, has declared 10 states and the District of Columbia as federal emergencies – this enables those states to begin requesting federal financial assistance to repair the damage from what is now being called Superstorm Sandy.

The storm has the potential to disrupt the election and has already disrupted early voting. GOP candidate Mitt Romney’s past comments on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have been repeatedly invoked. During one of the primary election debates, Romney said that as President he would support dismantling FEMA, and either sending its funding back to states to directly oversee their own disaster preparedness, or better still, privatize the whole management of disaster preparedness. FEMA has been directing emergency responses since yesterday, coordinating between federal agencies and state governments.

Many are citing Superstorm Sandy as a freak storm that should however now be considered the “new normal.” Not a single mention of climate change made its way into the three presidential debates.

GUESTS: Aura Bogado, writer with Colorlines and The Nation, Alex Seitz-Wald, political reporter for Salon.com, Tyson Slocum, Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program

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