David Usborne: Our Man In New York

A postcard from this complacent city on the edge

Share

I have witnessed more disasters sfirst-hand, both natural and man-made, in America than most. I have seen the damage left behind by tornadoes in rural Kansas, the devastation wrought by hurricanes in Louisiana and Florida and, worst of all, I was there when the first of the Twin Towers buckled and sank into the ground.

You would think these experiences would make me heed the authorities' repeated exhortations to us to prepare for whatever fresh calamity might strike next. Sadly, however, I am one of those people who prefers to cross bridges only when they get to them.

But let's consider bridges for a moment. A study just published by the New York chapter of the Red Cross found more than half the people living in Manhattan thinking that in the event of an emergency they would rely on cars and taxis to get out. That, say the experts, would be their first mistake. Every bridge and every tunnel leading from the island would be clogged solid with fleeing masses.

It is not that I don't imagine that anything else can happen here. I wish I could be so certain. The sound of helicopters one recent morning instantly alerted me to something being amiss outside as did the pall of black smoke I spied rising to the east. As it turned out, it was only a warehouse fire across the river in Brooklyn. I say only - it was, in fact, the biggest fire in the city since 9/11.

Gotham's vulnerabilities are actually manifold. What scares city officials more than anything is the release of a dirty bio-weapon, spreading disease and death as fast as the wind happens to be blowing. At least as catastrophic would be a nuclear device going off or, alternatively, an attack at Indian Point, a nuclear power plant that sits just 25 miles north of the city on a bend in the Hudson river.

We are even told to prepare for hurricanes. It's rare, but they have been known to travel this far up the eastern seaboard. The really big one struck in 1821, pushing up sea levels around New York City 13 feet and inundating every neighbourhood south of Canal Street. A 185mph storm they called the Long Island Express hit in 1938 causing havoc across the region. They reckon we can expect to suffer a major hurricane once every 75 years. So it's true that we are almost due another.

It's tempting to scoff at these predictions of Armageddon. Scaring us is what the media, especially television, does best. I almost forgot the nifty graphics in Al Gore's new eco-film showing the sea swallowing large chunks of this island when the ice caps melt. At least that process would be gradual.

But it is odd, after everything that happened here, that so many of us remain so dozy, even complacent. Because I am not alone. The Red Cross study found that just over half the city's residents claim to be ready in the event of a serious disaster, which might also be another of those summer blackouts. But cross-examination found that most of them were telling fibs - they weren't ready at all.

First, we need to stock our kitchens with supplies to last everyone in the household for three days. That means a fresh gallon of water for each person each day, iodine tablets to disinfect water if any is still coming out of the taps, lots of canned food and other items like spare cell phone batteries and torches. Cell phones may not work, so we are also advised to agree on two rendezvous points outside the city.

Then there is the dog. Mass transit here recently announced plans to lift its ban on pets on the buses and in the subway if a state of emergency is declared. This seemed uncharacteristically compassionate and sensible to me. As officials in New Orleans can attest it is hard to persuade people to evacuate if they are told to leave their pooches behind. But now the New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is having a fit, saying that pets would have to stay behind to fend for themselves. He hasn't met our pug. A hunter he is not.

A quick glance around our kitchen would confirm that we are typical New Yorkers, who rely most of the time on ordering dinners in and rarely having anything in the fridge beyond fermenting red wine. Clearly, this must change. My task today is to buy lots of baked beans and tinned tuna as well as plastic containers of fresh water and maybe - nerves will be ragged - cigarettes.

And in case we do ever find ourselves at panic stations, we should be investing in a case or two of premium canned puppy chow too.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor

£30000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent: Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor - Ke...

Argyll Scott International: Risk Assurance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Hi All, I'm currently recruiting for t...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Ashdown Group: IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

£23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Bill Cosby speaks onstage at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund 25th Awards Gala on 11 November 2013 in Washington  

Bill Cosby: Isn’t it obvious why his accusers have stayed silent up until now?

Grace Dent
 

Our political landscape is not changing anywhere near as much as we assume it is

Steve Richards
In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible