A crisis within a crisis: Lack of response to Sandy in New Jersey
Jersey City, N.J. — Nearly a week after Hurricane Sandy struck, as cold weather sets in and a new nor’easter storm threatens on Nov. 7, over a million households remain without power in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Some New Jersey communities are also without natural gas as a result of storm damage and may remain so for six to eight months.
According to a Nov. 4 CBS Sunday Morning report, the estimated costs for the damage in the U.S. due to Sandy are between $30-$50 billion, second only to devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina to the Gulf Coast in 2005. More residents were without power in New Jersey than in New York City.
As of Nov. 5, thousands in Hudson and other New Jersey counties were still without power. Many homes near the Jersey Shore have been severely damaged by fires or downed trees or even swept away by high winds and tides that caused massive flooding.
As a resident of Jersey City, N.J., in Hudson County, I experienced first hand the impact of the power outage for almost five days. Like many others, I was forced to seek other shelter as temperatures approached freezing.
PATH subway train service that runs from Newark, Harrison, Jersey City and Hoboken, N.J., to lower and midtown Manhattan remains inoperable due to damage to signal, control and substation equipment in multiple stations.
Lack of planning
As in New York City, the state and local governments here had done no effective mass planning for a disaster of Sandy’s scope. Though officials were aware that a hurricane of Sandy’s magnitude was inevitable — due to global climate change — little was done to prepare the masses with an adequate evacuation plan on the scale needed, not to mention the lack of planning to provide all immediate human needs.
Once the storm created such devastation, organizations such as the Red Cross — which have millions of dollars at their disposal supposedly to meet the basic needs of the survivors of disasters — fell way short of meeting those needs. Red tape tied to the profit motive interfered.
Local community, political and faith-based groups along with small businesses and even individuals rose to the occasion with limited resources to help support those most impacted by the storm. This includes those living in low-income housing projects, the elderly and the infirm.
In Hoboken, for example, residents distributed unused coats and blankets from the back of their cars to help provide warmth to others. Hamburger and hotdog barbecues were held in backyards of residents for those without food or the means to cook food that would eventually spoil in unpowered refrigerators.
In Atlantic City, hundreds remain homeless. The A.C. Rescue Mission, a permanent homeless shelter across from the city’s convention center, was filled beyond capacity with over 450 people. More were being housed at the convention center itself.
The Rescue Mission also served as a depot for much needed donations of food, clothing, blankets, coats and water when no government agency stepped in to provide this service. Power was restored first and foremost to the city’s casinos.
Tiffany Csaszar, an organizer with Occupy Atlantic City, put out a call on her Facebook page for supplies to be brought to the shelter. Workers World Party members were on hand Nov. 4 to assist in the unloading of three trucks of donated items from various Philadelphia communities.
Csaszar told WW: “People need so much but they are not getting it. The city is kicking people out of school shelters so they can reopen these schools. First, the National Guard blocked entry to the city. Then, the priority seemed to be to reopen the streets so that people could get to the casinos, but they are almost empty.”
Disaster unearths repression
Once again a catastrophe has exposed the profit-driven capitalist system for its innate racism and anti-poor bias. For instance, in Jersey City, the Gold Coast area, composed of luxury condominiums, hotels, restaurants and banks located directly across the Hudson River from Wall Street, had its power restored within 36 hours of when Sandy hit. The poor, predominantly African-American sections of Greenville, Martin Luther King Drive and its outlying areas, were still without power as of Nov. 5.
In contrast to the heroic efforts made by first responders such as firefighters and emergency medical service workers, the Jersey City Police Department’s contribution was to arrest more than 20 people, mainly African American, for so-called looting during the power outage. Jeremiah Healy, the mayor of Jersey City, used these arrests to impose a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew to instill fear in the residents during this devastating crisis.
Many of us believe that people have the right to liberate food and other basic human needs when they have been denied access to them in the first place. The arrests show that the role of the police in this society is to repress and terrorize oppressed peoples while protecting the private property of the 1%.
I saw dozens of police roaming my neighborhood with flashlights and canine dogs during the power outage, looking for a suspect and tearing down a neighbor’s fence in the process.
This type of arrogant behavior is very reminiscent of what occurred during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, when African-American residents were indiscriminately brutalized, shot and even killed by the police and white vigilantes while trying to escape the flooded Ninth Ward area.
Betsey Piette and Joe Piette contributed to this article following a visit to Atlantic City, N.J., on Nov. 4.