Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Preview Of Coming Attractions?



I don't think I need to tell you that the situation unfolding on the East Coast right now  is an almost perfect perfect preview of collapse. I'm sure there are other writers doing that, or will be in the months ahead. It's a perfect case study - and hopefully the Peak Oil community is paying attention. Here we can get a preview of what happens when the pumps at the gas stations run dry (guns pulled, riots), personal mobility is curtailed (restrictions on driving), electricity fails to emerge from the sockets (candles, diesel generators), and sea levels rise (forced evacuations). Notice it's a far cry from the zombie apocalypse future scenario, but it ain't pretty, either.

Keep in mind as you read them that these lines come not from a post-apocalyptic novel set in the Peak Oil future, but from the current news headlines:
Fuel shortages and difficulties in restoring power are hampering efforts to restore normality to parts of the US north-east in the wake of Storm Sandy. Fights broke out at petrol stations in New York and New Jersey, and power suppliers warned some areas might not have electricity until 11 November.

Residents and workers of areas affected by Sandy awoke on Friday to continued problems of transportation, lack of electricity and a dearth of fuel.At many petrol stations there were long lines of cars and of people carrying jerry cans. "I got here about two hours ago, but the gas station has apparently said they're not going to open until there is a police presence. I heard there were riots here yesterday," he said. "The first person who is in the queue got here five hours before me."

One owner of a fuel station in New Jersey told the New York Times he had been pumping petrol for 36 hours. He said he had to call the police and turn off the pumps temporarily as tempers among customers rose. There were reports of sharp price increases by some suppliers. Well over half of petrol stations in New Jersey and in New York City remain closed.

Power officials hope to restore electricity to all of Manhattan and more areas on Brooklyn by Saturday, with more underground lines opening. Trains remain free on Friday and a ban on cars with fewer than three people inside will stay in place in ManhattanBut utility companies reported that 1.3 million customers in New York and 1.4 million in New Jersey were still cut off as of Friday morning, Reuters reported.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a letter to power companies that he would "take appropriate action against those utilities and their management if they do not meet their obligations to New Yorkers in this time of crisis." Consolidated Edison, the power company serving New York, warned that some areas of the city would be blacked out until 11 November. New York West Village resident Rosemarie Zurlo told Associated Press she was abandoning her flat temporarily and heading to Brooklyn: "I'm leaving because I'm freezing. My apartment is ice cold. Everybody's tired of it."
Storm Sandy: Anger as fuel shortages hamper recovery (BBC)
As I write this, I'm on a crammed city bus crawling uptown through the blacked-out Financial District. Blackouts in Manhattan used to mean nights of terror. But the mood here isn’t chaotic. If anything, it’s tinged with anticipation and relief. Neighborhood by neighborhood, the power is coming back. By the end of Saturday, Con Edison expects to have electricity flowing to the whole island.

As the lights flick on, they will reveal a city bruised but essentially intact. It will look almost as if everyone had power all along. And in a way, they did.

I walked today from Midtown to the island’s southern tip, took the East River Ferry to Brooklyn, walked back across the darkened Brooklyn Bridge, and waited in the cold blackness for the bus back uptown. The electricity was out, yet everywhere there were people in the streets, going about their business. Sure, many had fled to comfier digs in other parts of the city. But others stayed and jerry-rigged ways to keep their food hot, their phones charged, and even, in some cases, their credit-card readers running. In many cases it was the private sector that provided essential services.

On Broadway in the Flatiron district, the high-end retail chains were mostly shuttered, their windows still sporting closure notices from the day the storm blew in. But an independently owned kitchen supply shop called Whisk was open, candles flickering invitingly within. Owner Natasha Amott told me she had reopened Wednesday morning. Originally, she accepted cash only, but with most ATMs out of order, cash was scarce. Undaunted, she and her team figured out a way to tap into their point-of-sale system via a mobile app. (The storm took out cell service in some neighborhoods, but on the whole the city’s wireless service fared far better than its power grid.) By Wednesday evening they were taking credit cards and selling candles by the hundreds.

I happened to be walking down Little Italy's commercial main drag, Mulberry Street, when the lights buzzed to life there. A man outside a restaurant whooped and the customers inside toasted and cheered. A young boy sprinted down the sidewalk in glee. And a jubilant old woman opened her second-story window, leaned out, and began banging on a pot.

I saw just one smashed window in the city—on a BMW that had floated onto the sidewalk in the Financial District.Perhaps the most depressing place in Lower Manhattan on Friday: the Staten Island Ferry building. It was so deserted that I had to ask a security guard whether it was really open. He confirmed that it was. But even those affected by the Manhattan blackout seemed to know that things were much worse on Staten Island. Most of the traffic was in the other direction.
How Manhattan Powered Through the Blackout (Slate)

The following are from The New York Times' interactive coverage:

At an Exxon station in Bayonne, N.J., police officers and people waiting in line for gasoline argued over the meaning of Gov. Chris Christie’s order regarding gas rationing.

The order reads: “If your vehicle’s license plate ends in a letter (A,B,C…), you are only permitted to fuel the vehicle on odd-numbered days.” Numbers are allowed on even-numbered days.

The problem: All license plates in New Jersey end in letters, except for vanity plates. So on Saturday, most everyone in the state could buy gas. On Sunday, no one can. Or so it seems.

“It’s an executive order from the governor’s office,” said Drew Niekrasz, the Bayonne deputy police chief. “We have to follow it. Even though it makes no sense.”

Janet Tysh, a Bayonne resident, was waiting in line for fuel for her generator and had planned to get gas for her car on Sunday. When she asked a police officer to explain the new policy, he pulled the governor’s order from his pocket.

“What do you mean?” said Ms. Tysh, 61, who is retired. “Look at all these cars! Every one of their license plates ends in a letter! So the only way I can get gas is if I have vanity plates?”

As Gas Rationing Begins, Confusion Reigns

While salaried employees worked if they could, often from home after Hurricane Sandy, many of the poorest New Yorkers faced the prospect of losing days, even a crucial week, of pay on top of the economic ground they have lost since the recession.

Low-wage workers, more likely to be paid hourly and work at the whim of their employers, have fared worse in the recovery than those at the top of the income scale — in New York City the bottom 20 percent lost $463 in annual income from 2010 to 2011, in contrast to a gain of almost $2,000 for the top quintile. And there are an increasing number of part-time and hourly workers, the type that safety net programs like unemployment are not designed to serve. Since 2009, when the recovery began, 86 percent of the jobs added nationally have been hourly. Over all, about 60 percent of the nation’s jobs are hourly.
Even as the sluggish economy has accentuated this divide, Hurricane Sandy has acted as a further wedge, threatening to take a far greater toll on the have-littles who live from paycheck to paycheck.

For Some After the Storm, No Work Means No Pay

On the night that Hurricane Sandy hit New York, burglars broke into Kixclusive, a shoe store on the Lower East Side where rare pairs of basketball shoes are priced as high as $1,400. The proprietor told the police that 30 pairs of sneakers were stolen, saying the shoes were worth $30,000 in all, according to the police.

The storefront, on Mulberry Street, was quickly boarded up with plywood. Then on Wednesday, an alert police officer, Charles Hofstetter, spied four men moving aside the plywood and entering the store.
All four were arrested on charges of burglary.

Across the city, there have been reports of looting since the storm hit, leading to a 7 percent rise in burglary complaints from Monday through Thursday, compared with the same period last year. Over all, reported crime is down, although some police officials caution that a full accounting is not yet possible.

A Rise in Burglary Reports Follows Storm

Four dark days after Hurricane Sandy blew through the New York region, residents and businesses in the lower end of Manhattan began to get power back on Friday, starting to unite a borough that had been divided between the light and the darkness.

As lampposts, streetlights and storefronts flickered to life, cheers could be heard across whole neighborhoods.

“The first thing we did was the coffee machine,” said Ali Salah, 40, who works at his family’s deli Chelsea. “Then we plugged in our phones.”

This past week, he said, it did not feel like he was living in New York City, but rather it was more like a small town in his native Yemen.

But when the lights came back on, he could barely contain his joy.

“Today is like New Year’s,” he said. “Like a new holiday.”

Of course, hundreds of thousands of people in the region remained without power. And as temperatures dropped Friday night, anger mounted.

In other boroughs and in the suburbs, the prognosis for full restoration was grimmer. In many parts of the region, utility companies forecast that people might be without power until the middle of November.

As Power Is Restored for Some, Others Face Grim Outlook

A government survey has found that roughly two-thirds of the gasoline stations in the New York metropolitan region do not have fuel to sell.

With gas lines stretching for hours, frustrated commuters often searching for open stations in vain and little reliable information about where gas can be found, the U.S. Energy Information Administration began conducting a survey of supply conditions on Friday.
Its first report was not good.

“Of the stations sampled, one-third had gasoline available for sale, 3 percent were not selling gasoline because they had no power, 10 percent had power but no gasoline supplies, and 53 percent did not respond to attempts to contact them,” the agency said.

Survey Finds No Gas at Two-Thirds of Stations in Region

When the power went out downtown because of Hurricane Sandy, Andy Humm, a former human rights commissioner in the Dinkins administration, learned a curious thing: The water in New York City buildings naturally rises to a certain level, often six stories, without being pumped.

Pressure from the city’s upstate water supply pushes water up a few floors, but for higher floors, buildings rely on the ubiquitous rooftop towers to gravity-feed sinks, toilets and showers. But without electricity, water could not be pumped up to the towers.

Mr. Humm had working sinks and toilets in his fourth-floor apartment at London Terrace, the huge, now-fashionable apartment complex in West Chelsea. But many of his neighbors did not. So Mr. Humm, a reporter on gay and civil rights issues and an activist by nature, went on a crusade to open up a lower-floor bathroom to be used by higher-floor tenants, particularly the elderly.

“If you’re above the sixth floor, the toilets don’t flush,” Mr. Humm said. “Yes, people were advised to fill your tubs, but this has been going on for days.”

Helping Out Neighbors Without Water in West Chelsea

much more here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/10/28/nyregion/hurricane-sandy.html#sha=2dce2cfc8

And Naked Capitalism today has an extended feature on the storm's aftermath. Here's a featured excerpt from a blogger:
So, I was going to talk a little bit about infrastructure. You don’t realize how bad American infrastructure is until you meet a visitor from Germany in the gas line saying, “This is incredible. I can’t believe how bad this is. Four days without electricity and everyone is cold!” Beside the antiquated rail system with its switching system that in the best of times failed on a regular basis (never try to make a matinee in NYC via NJ Transit during a rainstorm) to the levee system that dates back to King George III to the miles and miles of overhead power lines, it looks as if the northeast is in a time warp. I’ve always wondered why the cell service was so bad here. Just think, if the power, broadband and cell had recovered quickly, the frenzy over gas wouldn’t have been so severe. Most of us could have easily worked from home. But since that was impossible and getting paid meant being present, we had millions of people frantic to get to work this week in any way possible. Brooke says she saw the national guard today driving a little convoy of trucks marked “flammable”. I guess it really is that bad.
Read it all here: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/11/links-11312-2.html. NC concludes, "A budding petro-state with an infrastructure that can’t deliver petroleum to its citizens is in worse trouble than people, and in particular its elites, imagine." Indeed. How long before the above headlines are not related to a storm?

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