In Power and Water Outages, the World Comes to Lower Manhattan

Lena Nicholson/CC BY-ND 2.0

The ongoing power outages in Lower Manhattan and Midtown on the east side, accompanied for many people by no running water and heat, contrasted with the now seeming luxury in the rest of the island really brings the world to the United States.

This description from the New York Times pretty much sums it up:

As downtowners straggle in, some with piercings and leather jackets and mutts on rope leashes, clustering around power strips by the A.T.M.s at all hours, the Midtown tourists take pictures through the large picture windows, capturing what may be the closest they will come to the City of Darkness.

“They say, ‘Look at these poor people,’” said Agata Shultz, 19, who walked up from the East Village and sat on a heated window ledge reading philosophy in Polish and checking her e-mail.

“It’s like a zoo.”

Eric Liebowitz, a photographer who lives on 19th Street, sat on the floor of the bank in a ski hat waiting for his phone to charge. “We are the dark people,” he said.

“The people uptown have no clue what’s going on down here,” he said — and he was enjoying himself, in a way. “Come downtown!” he had just written in a text to a friend. ”You will never have an opportunity to see New York like this again — for another year!”

Some people said they had been turned away from hotel lobbies, other banks and cafes near 40th Street when asked if they could charge their phones. It was as if, said Gabriella Sonam, a massage therapist who had biked up from the East Village, they didn’t even know a national emergency was going on just across the street

“I’m not traumatized by the storm, I’m traumatized by the indifference,” she said near tears.

And this is after two and a half days in the dark.

Yet, and I won't belabor this point but it needs being said: Being without electricity, running water, modern plumbing is the normal state of affairs for a shockingly high proportion of the world's people. What is extraordinary, headline-grabbing, in Manhattan is ordinary and overlooked elsewhere. Sadly, also ordinary elsewhere is the indifference to this stark divide, as the massage therapist quoted in the Times remarks upon.

Carrying heavy loads of water, sometimes for miles, is the ordinary state of affairs for millions of people, as is wondering when the electricity, if it exists at all, will go out again today and for how long. Living without modern plumbing is the norm for an even greater number of people.

Let's just remember that when we start talking about the divide between the City of Darkness, especially when we will likely have power back in Lower Manhattan by the end of the weekend, if recent statements by Governor Cuomo are accurate.

We will live here, in these conditions, for a few days. Our homeless population lives in it everyday here. And it is an entire life elsewhere.

Tags: Energy | Global Climate Change | Natural Disasters | New York City | Poverty | Water Crisis

Best of TreeHugger