During the week of October 28, 2012, the New York and New Jersey region was devastated by Hurricane Sandy, a storm that displaced people from their homes, crippled entire communities, and took the lives of 117 people in the United States. Two years later, the REC staff looks back and reflects on the storm and its lasting legacy on our work and our lives.
Hurricane Sandy was a scary time for me because my family out in Coney Island lost power for over a week after the storm. Sandy was a wake up call for New Yorkers that we definitely are not exempt from the impact of climate change. On the second anniversary of the storm I think it’s important that we dwell on what happened but also how we can be holistically rebuilding this city in a way that doesn’t drive out people of low income and working class backgrounds.
(image: John Huntington/controlgeek.net)
During Hurricane Sandy I was living in Providence, RI. Though the storm was not as strong that far up the coast as it was in New York and New Jersey, the coastline of Rhode Island was nevertheless severely battered. I remember walking through some of the strongest rain I've ever seen. Later, visiting family and friends in northern New Jersey I learned more first hand about the devastation. It struck me how the storm brought out both the best and worst in terms of our society's response to climate change: denial, victim-blaming, and government unaccountability, but also unity, cooperation, and resilience among survivors.
I was in central NJ when Superstorm Sandy hit, living in a house with several other college students. For one night, the house shook from side to side and the transformers throughout New Brunswick exploded. We watched from the window as the one near the corner blew out like fireworks. Miraculously, we only lost power for one day but the rest of the town was not as fortunate. We housed people who had no heat or electricity for up to a month after the storm. As a natural phenomenon, Sandy was very short but its effects were especially devastating for the poor and working class. Relief and rebuilding in New Jersey were slow to come and, up to this day, I know people who are still struggling from the impacts of the storm. As I continue my work as an organizer, Hurricane Sandy serves as a reminder that the "disaster" in "natural disaster" is often man-made. The roots of climate change can be traced to economic and political activity that we, as humanity, have direct control over. It is also crucial to realize that the infrastructures put in place disproportionately disadvantage the least powerful and the least wealthy. As I look back on the storm, I honor the poor and working-class people who were rendered most vulnerable to Hurricane Sandy and recognize that it is especially their interests and well-being that I continue to fight for.
Sandy cost $71 billion in damages to homes, buildings and critical infrastructure and in economic losses from shuttered businesses. With global warming expected to accelerate over the rest of this century, sea levels too will rise. According to the New York City climate panel's high-end projections, sea levels could rise by as much as 2.5 feet by the mid-2050s. This increasing ocean height means amplified destruction during future storms. Unless measures are taken and movements are built to stop climate change, Hurricane Sandy can easily repeat itself. This is a sobering reminder but there is hope.
REC honors the people whose lives were affected and continue to be affected by Hurricane Sandy. Let us continue to educate and organize ourselves to put a stop to climate change.