I don’t want to overhype anecdotal information, but if this is in any way an accurate assessment of life in Lower Manhattan right now, we need to make some noise about it.

4) For now, this is an economic crisis – hourly workers cannot be paid, freelancers have no clients, small businesses have no sales, office buildings are shuttered. In my estimate, the lost output is $1 billion dollars EVERY SINGLE DAY that goes by without power for lower Manhattan. Included in this number is the shutdown of our major airports and transportation system. (Note that NYC’s economy generates $2.8 bn daily and over $1 trillion annually – which makes it the world’s 17th largest economy, if it was a country).

5) There is no running water or flushing toilets for people living in the Jacob Riis Houses and surrounding NYCHA buildings on the Lower East Side. In my estimate, this is roughly 20,000 people. One family I spoke with is packing their bags and moving to Brooklyn until services are restored. But it did not appear that all residents were evacuating, even as their toilets did not flush.

6) I did not witness a single Red Cross Truck or FEMA Vehicle in lower Manhattan. Recall the assistance these agencies provided after 9/11 – this is NOT HAPPENING. There are bound to be hundreds of elderly people, rich and poor, who live on the upper floors of buildings with elevators that are now disabled. IF POWER IS NOT RESTORED, THIS WILL MOVE FROM BEING AN ECONOMIC DISASTER TO A HUMANITARIAN DISASTER.

There’s no question about the first point here; I described the looming transportation disaster previously. It’s hard to say when or if this shifts into humanitarian disaster territory. This is a localized take; the sense I get elsewhere is that emergency management has done everything they can, save for situations like Hoboken, where continued flood conditions and downed power lines make it nearly impossible to rescue trapped residents. Even in that case, military vehicles are moving into the streets. And for the most part, the water in Manhattan has receded.

There is definitely one thing to keep an eye on: rats. They normally live in the subway system, but with many of those submerged, they have to climb up to find a livable spot. And that means potential vulnerability to disease for the city’s residents.

According to Ostfeld, this could result in increased risk of infectious diseases carried by urban rats, including leptospirosis, hantavirus, typhus, salmonella, and even the plague.

“One of things we know can exacerbate disease is massive dispersal,” he added. “Rats are highly social individuals and live in a fairly stable social structure. If this storm disturbs that, rats could start infesting areas they never did before.”

Then again, many of the rats may have been killed by the storm surge, and at any rate, signs of increased infestation have not materialized. So I’m dubious to panic about mass outbreaks or humanitarian disasters – yet.

Meanwhile, we definitely know about one set of humanitarian disasters as a result of Hurricane Sandy, in Haiti. It’s reasonable to suggest that the area with the poorest existing infrastructure would suffer the most, and that’s not Manhattan.

David Dayen

David Dayen