Good Morning
Good Morning

Editorial: Five days later, coping with the post-Sandy era

The National Guard brings bottled water to residents

The National Guard brings bottled water to residents in Long Beach. (Nov. 1, 2012) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Friday is Day 5 of the Sandy era for Long Island, and it's clear that getting past the storm's impact is going to take us a while. We have to be calm, resolute, considerate and smart in adapting our lives to post-Sandy reality.

Most of us are suffering. Some of that pain has been horrifying and incalculable, like the Staten Island mother whose car was indundated and who lost her two young sons to the waves as she tried to lead them to safety. Many have lost homes. Many are suffering severe economic hardship, because they don't get paid unless they work, and their places of business are shuttered.

For most of us, the suffering is more like an aggravated inconvenience: living in homes that are dark and cold, and losing melted food -- and in some cases, being gouged on prices. For those who work in the City of New York, commuting without the Long Island Rail Road and the subways has become a gridlock nightmare, magnified by the difficulty of getting gas -- for cars and for generators. More gas is on the way. So we have to be patient and avoid topping off nearly full tanks. And as we drive, we have to approach unsignaled intersections with supreme caution.

As if the real obstacles were not painful enough, we have to swat down the fast-as-lightning rumors that exaggerate it. Here are some rumor-free facts:

Water -- The Suffolk County Water Authority did suffer some power loss, but its generators kept the water flowing to the vast majority of the 1.2 million people it serves -- except for more than 2,000 customers on Fire Island. Most of the tens of thousands of private wells in the county are fine, but those whose basement pumps were flooded should seek help to assess any contamination.

In Nassau County, with few private wells, the 40-plus public water suppliers also suffered some power loss, but got through it fine. The exceptions are a small number of homes in Mill Neck Estates, and, far worse, the City of Long Beach, where National Guard troops were handing out water yesterday.

So, heating it for tea is still a challenge, but for most, our water is safe.

Power -- It's the most used word in the region. Some have it. Most don't. The Long Island Power Authority is fixing what it can, while determining the scope of the damage to prioritize the repairs. Once this assessment's done, LIPA must be totally honest with us about how long restoring power will take. We can't cope if we don't know the truth.

Transportation -- If there was even a scintilla of doubt about how vital mass transit is to the region, Sandy washed it away. With rail transit crippled, cars turned Manhattan streets into congealed masses of metal on Wednesday. So Mayor Michael Bloomberg's decision to temporarily bar cars carrying fewer than three people from entering Manhattan was a master stroke.

So was the MTA's temporarily waiving fares on the subways, buses and the LIRR and Metro-North trains, which gradually have begun operation. In announcing the fare break, which continues until 11:59 p.m. today, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called the situation what it is: "a transportation emergency."

Don't expect normal soon. The Queens-Midtown Tunnel and the Hugh Carey Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, which funnel 45 million vehicles a year into Manhattan, remain flooded. MTA officials won't offer a guess how long the pump-out, inspection and repair will take.

Leadership -- Though plenty of problems remain, our leaders have made a good start. Whether it's Bloomberg explaining the intricacies of delivering food in neighborhoodswith power, or Gov. Chris Christie telling New Jerseyans with palpable emotion that all efforts were being made to help residents, or Cuomo visiting the Hugh Carey Tunnel yesterday and promising to get this all fixed -- leadership matters plenty.

Sandy has shown us this week is that we're fortunate to have leaders who can stay abreast of events, master fast-breaking details, make tough decisions, work well with others and reassure us -- and arrange military cargo planes to air-lift civilian bucket trucks from California to speed up the restoration of power lines.

From President Barack Obama to MTA head Joseph Lhota, our leaders have performed at the top of their game -- to respond to what Sen. Charles Schumer calls the worst natural disaster in state history.

The result is a rescue, recovery and reconstruction mission that is unfolding so far with uncommon competence and coordination. To our first responders, and those who guided them, thank you.