Editorial: Long Island must heal and rebound from Sandy

Barry Popkin, right, gets a hug from his

Barry Popkin, right, gets a hug from his son Zach as they see each other for the first time after superstorm Sandy. Part of Popkin's home is buried under sand. (Nov. 2, 2012) (Credit: Alejandra Villa)

It's hard to believe and hard to accept that we were so unprepared.

Sandy has forever made our island existence impossible to ignore. We have always celebrated its bountiful good, our beaches, boating and fishing cultures. Now we appreciate the dark side. Islands are vulnerable places. And it's deeply unsettling to realize our home turf is so fragile.

Our powerlessness these past two weeks goes far beyond the mere loss of electricity. Our exposure to the elements is a blow to the psyche as well.

PHOTOS: LI damage | Then and now | Aerial views
VIDEOS: Recovery still in progress | Desperate for buyout
DATA: Federal aid to victims | Storm damage | Infrastructure proposals | LI storm damage | How LI reps voted on Sandy funding
MORE: Year after Sandy interactive | Complete coverage

In the Northeast, we expect snowstorms and ice storms and take them in stride. Surrounded by the ocean and Sound, we know wind and rain and high tide-full moon floods. Nor'easters and even hurricanes will occasionally strike. Irene, the tropical storm that hit in late August of 2011, was greeted by the sturdy and the surfers who awaited on the beach.

We've weathered them, recovered swiftly, moved on.

This time, however, is different. We are witnessing real suffering. The dead are being buried. Entire neighborhoods, the entire City of Long Beach, the entire Rockaway peninsula are still reeling, with homes destroyed and families left with nowhere to go. Soon after Sandy, there was a shortage of meals in the hardest hit places, and one night, even a request for donations of baby formula at a Nassau County shelter. Blankets were being collected by the Town of Hempstead to keep residents warm. Grocery stories had no dairy products. Shelves were empty of foods that need not be refrigerated. Gasoline was in short supply. We relied on social media to tell when the big-box stores got a new shipment of portable generators. "D" batteries became a currency.

The National Guard was deployed and is still here, to stop looting. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is here. As of Friday, there were still 1,000 people at five Red Cross shelters. Four national medical teams, the ones that fly into disaster zones, are working out of "M*A*S*H"-like tents in the parking lots of our hospitals, treating emergency cases and spelling the overworked medical professionals who normally staff these facilities. There are more out-of-state utility crews here than there are motel rooms to house them, so they sleep in their trucks. Neighborhoods welcome them like liberating armies. There are benefit concerts and disaster relief funds for the victims.

This did happen and is still happening, to us.

Responding to natural disasters takes expertise and planning, and it turns out we weren't ready with enough of either.

All along the South Shore, the Rockaways and across lower Manhattan, it's impossible to say when, or even whether, homes and businesses will be restored. Downed trees have yet to be cleared, roads are narrowed by rows of debris. Failed water and sewage treatment plants must be repaired.

The beloved beaches that define our identity have eroded, and even disappeared. Our barrier islands have been bisected by surging waters.

And to heal the spiritual wound and regain our confidence, our moxie, we have to come to terms with, and fix, the weaknesses of our surroundings. The recipe for healing is rebuilding, repairing and planning.

Now that we've experienced this level of destruction, it's time for plans that can adequately deal with disasters and coordinate response. Power sources, substations and lines, will have to be hardened and protected.


We need to make sensible decisions about beachfront building -- and the beaches themselves -- that take into account the massive expense of vulnerability to a changing climate and rising waters. We have to be ready.

We have to do this on Long Island, and in New York City, and across the region.

Once we've repaired the damage from these storms, and the damage from our lack of preparation for them, we can exhale. We can begin to regain our confidence.

But not before.

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