Since this comparison has come up a lot, let’s sort a few things out.
For the sake of simplicity, we’ll limit the comparison to the two major cities that were effected, New Orleans and New York City (which includes the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.)
Over 800,000 people evacuated New Orleans, some by planning ahead, the rest because their city was flooded. In some places. the city remained underwater for upwards of a month. Every conceivable service citywide – police, fire, sanitation, hospitals, stores etc. – was by necessity suspended.
Approximately 1,464 were killed immediately by the flood itself with many, many more (uncounted) dying as a result afterwards.
In contrast, while hit very hard, only the coastal regions of New York City were effected by Hurricane Sandy and most areas stayed high and dry throughout the storm and afterwards.
Sources of help
New Yorkers effected by the storm have been helped by the fact that so many of their fellow citizens were not flooded out and were able to provide aid and continue to provide aid in the face of epic failures by the City of New York, the Red Cross and FEMA.
The New Orleans situation was much more difficult because in addition to the failures of the city, FEMA and the Red Cross, the entire city and surrounding region were devastated.
In contrast, the parts of New York City and its surrounding area not impacted by the storm were back to business as usual within days, not counting a temporary and easily predictable and preventible gasoline shortage made worse by the poor judgement of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Causes of the damage
The flooding of New Orleans was not caused by Hurricane Katrina, but by the failure of the levees system designed, built and maintained by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Full details are available at levees.org.
The flooding of New York City was an act of nature combined with the epic carelessness and hubris of people like Mayors Michael Bloomberg and Rudolph Guiliani and all the mayors who preceded them for failing to take even the most basic steps to provide engineered protection for the city’s subways and tunnels, which are well below sea level, from flooding.
Civic engineers who visited the city after the storm for evaluation of its effects were literally speechless at the carelessness with which New York City treated these essential and obviously vulnerable transportation assets.
Post-flood government criminal ineptitude
Approximately 25,000 New Orleaneans were left stranded in the city at the Convention Center and Superdome. They’d been told to go there to ride out the storm and were promised help which did not arrive and for all practical purposes never arrived. Many didn’t see food or water until they were evacuated fives days later.
New York politicians and local New York news media have loudly and frequently proclaimed the success of the official response to ravaged post-storm neighborhoods. The truth much more closely resembles the total abandonment of New Orleans citizens by its city government, FEMA and the American Red Cross.
Twenty-three days later (the time of the writing of this article), at least 50,000 New Yorkers remain without electricity, heat, or access to predictable food supplies and other services like laundromats and ATM machines. Some have been told their neighborhoods will not receive power (and thus heat) “until Christmas.”
No one know exactly how many people are effected because no one in the government or news media has bothered to make an estimate (and if they have, they’ve kept the number to themselves.) In some of these areas, the devastation is identical to the level of destruction seen in New Orleans.
As was the case in New Orleans, many New Yorkers do not own cars so their mobility is limited. The areas hardest hit, the Rockaways for example, are also some of the most remote.
Housing for the newly homeless
Post-flood housing was a problem in New Orleans and is a problem in New York.
In this area of comparison, New York has a serious problem, smaller than, but perhaps more difficult than what New Orleans faced.
Whereas New Orleaneans were offered temporary housing and resettlement aid by cities like Houston and Atlanta and other communities, trailers, and hotel vouchers they could actually use, no such help has been offered to New Yorkers to any meaningful degree as of yet.
The economic conditions of the country are different too: In 2005, the US was experiencing a financial boom. 2012 is the fourth year of an ever deepening recession.
Housing in the South is relatively affordable with normal and above normal vacancy rates. Housing in the New York City area is the most expensive in the nation and vacancy rates, especially within the city itself, are the lowest in the nation. Moving, in even in the best of times, is a rare and difficult undertaking for the average New Yorker.
There there’s the weather…
People generally don’t freeze to death in the South. Freezing to death, which includes the sick and elderly being killed by prolonged exposure, is a definite possibility in New York and has probably already happened. If it is tracking such things, the City is keeping this information to itself and the news media is compliantly not raising the issue.
Telling the truth about the scope of the problem and the need for relief efforts
The political class in New Orleans and the news media there had little choice but tell the truth about their inability to meet the relief needs of its citizens. The overwhelming majority of the city and its residents were flooded out.
New York City has chosen a different path.
The dire situation in places like the Rockaways and coastal Staten Island is being addressed by political press conferences and undocumented – and highly suspect – claims of aid (so many meals served, so many “blankets” distributed, so many “warming centers” open etc.)
The reality is that the vast majority of relief food and other essential supplies have been brought in and continue to be brought in not by the City, FEMA, or the American Red Cross, but by private citizens acting both independently and in conjunction with local churches and community groups (some of the latter created specifically to address the catastrophe.)
In fact, were the “aid” from the City, FEMA and the American Red Cross to be removed from the picture, it would not effect the situation on the street materially.
In contrast, without the private aid system, the neighborhoods effected would be suffering from an even much more serious catastrophe than they are already facing.
1. Continued – and increased – aid from private citizens
This is made difficult by the daily prevarication coming from the Mayor’s Office, the Red Cross and the news media. By not telling the simple truth of the situation in order to bolster their own positions, these groups are actually diminishing the amount of private aid coming to the areas that most need it.
2. A thorough and entirely independent audit of the claims made by the City’s Office and the Red Cross through the news media about the level of aid they are providing
It appears to me and everyone else in the trenches – and this includes police officers, National Guard members, community relief workers, and the community itself – that the level of aid distributed has been not only overstated, but grossly overstated.
3. A very loud, public and continuous shaming of the Mayor’s Office, the American Red Cross and FEMA until they stop lying and start doing their jobs
Over the years, these organizations have, in the aggregate, collected billions of dollars via donations and taxes specifically to provide for such circumstances. Where is this money now that it’s urgently needed and why is help from these sources so hard to find (unless, of course, you’re watching it being ceremoniously doled out on the evening news.)
People will die and lose their health (many already have) as a result of this ongoing fraud.
These neighborhoods need power, warm food, medical services, real warming stations and real blankets and warm clothes and they need them now.
Not providing these things when it is well within the City and Federal government’s and Red Cross’s ability to do so is criminal.
Not providing them while claiming to provide them is nothing short of demonic.
– Ken McCarthy
For a list of reliable relief groups who are quietly and effectively doing the work of feeding and helping storm victims go to: Help After Sandy.org