Sunday, November 11, 2012

Post-Sandy, a Long Slog Ahead

Most Americans, and the national TV networks that serve them, seem ready to put the Sandy story behind them. The huge northeast storm, a cross between an Arctic storm and a hurricane, has been cleaned up in most of the places it hit, and things are getting back to normal for most of the people affected.

In the hardest-hit areas, though, things are still a long way from normal. There are still a quarter million electric customers, or about 0.1 percent of the whole country, without power. Commuting into Manhattan takes an extra two hours per day because of the closed rail tunnels, and there is nothing to indicate that that situation will be resolved before January. It will take more adjustments of various kinds to get things working in a reasonable way in the interim. And if that doesn’t happen and if the problems drag on and the local political discussion gets nastier than it is already, as many as five percent of the city’s workers and residents could take jobs elsewhere and go away permanently. Some will move away when employers decide that lower Manhattan is more trouble than it is worth. At the margins, some planned layoffs will be larger than they otherwise would have been because of the scale of logistical problems in New York.

Cleanup in the hardest-hit shore towns will take years. Even if it is carried out with more energy and drive than we have seen in New Orleans, it still takes years to repair and rebuild wood-frame construction with salt-water damage. In the bigger picture, storm recovery may be a permanent part of the landscape now. The post-Katrina recovery is not very far along yet. Along the same lines, there is not much reason to imagine that the post-Sandy recovery will be completed before the next big storm hits.