Some of the most enduring images of the days following Hurricane Sandy have been of citizen volunteers helping victims in the Rockaways, along the Jersey Shore, and elsewhere. On the other hand, the picture has been one of failure by the institutions in which many trusted. The Long Island Power Authority, for example, and nearly every level of authority were unprepared for the scale of devastation and disruption of normal, day-to-day life.
Neither government nor the Red Cross nor any semi-official group was ready for this disaster. Perhaps none could be, given a crimped economy and too much of the nation’s wealth spent on the military rather than on the welfare of its people. Perhaps in Sandy we have seen the outer, frayed edges of a free-market system, where, when it gets down to it, it is everyone for him or herself — except for the kindness of strangers.
Even here, so far from the hurricane’s highest surges and fiercest gusts, town officials appeared to falter. Not so with the Amagansett, East Hampton, and Montauk Libraries, which served as essential community centers for many, many residents left in the dark or without heat. That the humble libraries — and ordinary people with huge hearts — filled needs that were not to be provided by government is eye-opening. The libraries are for the most part taxpayer-funded, and their administrators are glad to do what is helpful. But it is surprising that there were no other places for people, at least in the Town of East Hampton, to pursue their everyday lives, to find working toilets, to connect to the Internet, or get a jug of water.
It is wonderful that these institutions were able to provide this service. Thank goodness they could keep the lights on, so to speak. But by itself that is not reassuring. The post-storm needs of residents must be more fully addressed by those we elect to lead us, not simply fobbed off to citizen heroes or libraries willing to fill the gaps left by officials who have been painfully bereft of foresight.