November is the month folks typically pause to give thanks for what they have. This year, though, we’d propose we all take the opportunity a little sooner than usual.
More than a week after Hurricane Sandy blew up the East Coast, millions were still without power and, the storm was responsible for more than 100 deaths in the U.S. and, according to New York City’s mayor, tens of thousands have been left homeless in that metropolitan area alone.
The development of news coverage gives some indication of how bad it actually is down there. Reports about the brute-force damage of the storm (flooded subways, blocked roads and power outages) turned to news of gas shortages and the flood of newly homeless. It seemed with every news cycle, things got worse and worse as reporters caught up with the stories.
It was at first almost easy to poke fun at some of the early news, as photos of swarms of New Yorkers huddled around Wi-Fi hotspots like moths to a flame materialized. But then as things stretched on, one realized the true victims of power outages aren’t out in public for photo ops, they’re trapped in their darkened apartments because of disability or age, hoping for a rescue.
To compare one disaster to another is a tactless exercise, but in looking at how Hurricane Sandy has developed as a news story when compared to the unprecedented tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, we find two different arcs. In Katrina everyone assumed the worse (thousands dead in the Superdome, mass anarchy, etc.) and was relieved when the news was better. In the wake of Sandy, many have yet to realize how bad it actually has become.
This is the story of two cultures, of two cities. The top news reports focus on lagging mass transit service and failing cellphone towers while, on the inside pages, it becomes more and more clear the poor are freezing in the projects.