Monday, November 5, 2012

The Flood Waters in New York

Hurricane Sandy passed through Virginia slamming the Eastern Shore with tide surges of up to 7 feet breaching the sand dunes and flooding towns all along the Eastern Shore, from Cape Charles to Chincoteague. Here in the eastern Piedmont the hurricane brought winds and rains, knocking out power, a bad storm and nothing more. I was born in New York and spent a large part of my youth there so last week we stayed planted in front of the TV watching the storm’s progress (powered by our generator) on the Weather Channel and of all stations CNBC which had some of the most up to date New York and New Jersey images. The winds and rain took down a few trees in our yard, ripped branches from others and several of my plum trees were blown part way out of the ground and needed to be staked. A few shingles were blown off the roof. The winds and rain battered the house and garden, but Sandy pretty much missed us and five guys with chain saws and shovels have pretty much brought the garden back to normal. My cousin in the Five Towns found a hot spot in a Verizon store to send me an email saying “Atlantic Beach, Long Beach are destroyed. People have boats in their yard that before the storm were at least two blocks away in the water. Cars are ruined, houses have water and fish swimming inside! Nerves are unraveling all around us. Getting gas for the car was at least an hour wait. By the way all of the talk about a quick one has seen FEMA and not much has improved except some local power has been restored.”

Super Storm Sandy made landfall near Atlantic City taking down the famed boardwalk, the winds and high tide left death, destruction and flooding in her wake. The flood waters have receded and power is being restored. So the big cleanup begins. Floodwaters can contain a wide number of toxins and pathogens in the older cities like New York, areas of Long Island and New Jersey and Baltimore. Chemicals long forgotten layered in underground NYC- oil residues containing metals and electrical insulating fluids from long ago, storm water carrying oils and grease from cars and machinery, gas stations, solvents from dry cleaners. Pesticides, solvents, paints and other products stored in flooded areas may also find their way into the waters. Most importantly the combined sewer systems of New York and New Jersey were unable to handle flows and power to treat sewage was in many places was knocked out. The floodwaters contain a mix of excess stormwater and untreated sewage. The floodwaters can be over 99% water and sight or smell alone is not enough to judge water quality. Coliform bacteria which include E. coli (Escherichia coli) or fecal coliform types that indicate contamination by animal manure or sewage can be impossible to detect by taste or smell. However such waters may contain one or more of a variety of potentially pathogenic microorganisms such as Salmonella, Shigella, enteric viruses, Giardia or Cryptosporidium that may be present in human or animal manure and can cause severe illness.  

Few would think of drinking the dirty flood waters, most drinking water sources in the New York/ New Jersey area are safe. Wading through the standing water, working in it to clean up the destruction from Sandy, or walking through or playing in streets full of standing water can risk contracting a skin rash or water-borne illness from pathogenic microorganisms. It is important to protect your health and your children in this long crisis period. Children are especially susceptible to illness. My cousin was in that Verizon store keeping her grandsons busy and out of trouble. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) posted the following tips gathered from their storm and flooding experience to keep children safe.

Parents or other caregivers should directly supervise children - this prevents them from playing in or around floodwaters. It doesn't take long and it doesn't take much water for children to drown and remember that the water potentially contains contaminants.
Watch for live wires or power sources - electricity from streetlights and downed power lines may be active and may cause a deadly shock through contact with standing water or direct contact with live lines especially as power is being restored.
Keep children from playing around drainage ditches, storm drains, river channels, or any place with moving/standing water - children can fall in, get stuck, or drown.
Be aware of what’s in the water - standing or flood waters can be contaminated and cause children to become sick. Playing in water could also result in being bitten by rodents or other wildlife.

As the storm waters recede it is possible to begin the cleanup. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection has temporarily suspender permitting requirements for businesses and homeowners seeking to discharge water from flooded properties into the City’s sewer system.New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) provided Water-On-the-Go drinking fountains with free portable water to six Manhattan locations with high incidence of power failure as well as to the Rockaways. Water-On-the-Go will serve residents in these areas from 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. daily until power is restored to these areas. My other cousin in uptown Manhattan made it through entirely unscathed and never lost power. She tells me that the coffee shops were very crowed and many restaurants were closed, Manhattan is entirely dependent on deliveries over bridges and through tunnels and none were coming in.

New York City drinking water remains safe to drink for most areas. Since the start of Hurricane Sandy, the DEP has performed thousands of tests on drinking water samples from throughout the city and continues to monitor water quality. The city has set up mobile phone charging stations, so that those with smart phones can stay in touch and get information from FEMA and NY State and City websites as the cell phone companies restore service. Resourceful New Yorkers have found coffee shops in uptown with electricity, Wi-Fi and water and in stores on Long Island. In many flooded areas of the city that remain without water and power many will not leave their homes for shelters-they are afraid of sleeping in a shelter and of what will happen to their homes while they are gone. Neither their person nor their property is safe without their constant vigilance. 

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