My neighborhood of New York City may remain without power for a few more days, but fortunately visible signs of damage are limited — none of the widespread destruction found along the immediate coast of the city and of nearby communities, where the sea rose and swallowed up land that had not seen salt water in many decades, even centuries. Many trees are down, and countless houses and businesses are wiped out by the sea’s wrath, even entire beach communities. The numbers of lost homes are surely in the thousands, if not more, with 100 houses alone destroyed in a runaway fire in the neighborhood of Breezy Point, cut off from firefighters by the storm’s high water.
Unfortunately, many people along the coast, lulled into complacency by the fact that last year’s Tropical Storm (formerly Hurricane) Irene was a bit less furious along the coast than was forecast, decided not to evacuate. Unfortunately indeed, because the forecast for Hurricane Sandy was worse than for Irene, and this time, there was no lucky break to make the reality of the storm significantly less severe than the worst-case prediction. I myself know of households who decided to evacuate at the last minute and almost didn’t make it out alive, and others who rode out the storm and found themselves in considerable danger. That so many people remained in harm’s way required “first responders”, as they are termed here, mainly members of the police and fire departments, to make many rescues, quite a few of which wouldn’t have been necessary had people heeded the warnings. For risking their lives to save so many others, the first responders are widely and justifiably hailed as heroes.
Also deserving of high praise, in my view, are some of the leading politicians and other civic leaders in our region’s states and cities. There are quite of few of them whom I don’t agree with politically and whom I personally don’t like very much, but on the whole they all seem very smart. And in this case they understood the risks, took them seriously, and made prudent decisions to order evacuations of areas in danger and to protect public property. They deserve a lot of credit for their non-nonsense approach.
But I feel that there’s an important story that the press is almost ignoring. There’s another group of people, little-mentioned in the media, who probably saved more lives and property than anyone else. I refer to the experts at the National Hurricane Center (NHC), and more generally the various branches of the National Weather Service (NWS) and its parent, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).