Hurricane Sandy and the 2012 Election
INTERESTING STUFF: 3 November 2012

Elders and Hurricane Sandy

Look at this amazing photograph of a city divided by power or the lack of it.

Power Divided Skyline - Credit: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Uptown, where there is power, is its usual bright and shiny self. Downtown has disappeared into the dark.

It is electricity that makes big-city, high-rise living possible. It powers the elevators that whisk residents to and from their upper-level aeries but when disaster strikes, as now, those homes can become deadly, especially for the old and disabled.

”For Rosa Reyes, 75, going from her 18th-floor New York apartment to the street is no longer an option after Sandy’s hurricane-force winds cut power, and with it, elevator service, days ago,” reports

“'I can’t go down no stairs because I’m disabled,' Reyes said, leaning on a wooden cane and pointing to her knee. Her food is holding up, and neighbors have brought jugs of water. So she’s all right, for now at least.”

Ms. Reyes, along with hundreds of thousands of other New Yorkers still in the dark and cold, needs the water delivered because it is, of course, electricity that powers the pumps that push water to the upper level apartments for washing, cooking, drinking and toilet flushing.

Over at naked capitalism, a reader named Nathan telephoned in some observations he made around lower Manhattan where the optimistic prediction for the return of electricity is Saturday or Sunday. An example:

”[Nathan] spent some of the day volunteering at a home for the disabled and blind near him, which houses a couple of hundred people. He hauled pails of water up stairs to help flush out toilets. They were expecting a delivery of food from the National Guard by 6:00 PM and when he left, as of 7 PM, it had not arrived.

”He’s generally concerned about the home-bound disabled and elderly in townhouses, because some may not have people watching out for them...because landlines are down too (as in unless they have a charged cell, and a lot of older people aren’t keen about cell phones, they have no way of calling for assistance).”

From what is known so far, there have been remarkably few deaths but there are a pronounced number of elders among the few, as the New York Daily News reports:

”Safar Shafinoori, 84, of Roslyn, was killed by a falling tree.

“A bedridden 75-year-old Manhattan woman died after her oxygen machine lost power, the backup failed and her family could not get help fast enough to save her.

“The body of a 55-year-old man was found in an empty retail space at 90 Broad St. in lower Manhattan on Tuesday morning. Police said it appears he was swept into the building by a 4-foot-deep river of water that smashed the glass front of the building.

“At 92 Laight St. in Tribeca, a middle-aged parking garage worker was killed when he got trapped in the basement by flash flooding.”

And in the Rockaways, three people in their 50s and a 72-year-old man were found drowned in their homes.

Unrelated to Hurricane Sandy, yesterday a winter preparedness guide arrived in the mail from the City of Lake Oswego where I live. Among the suggestions is for elders to sign up with a remarkable program, Operation Alert, for older adults living in the town.

A joint project of the police, the fire department and the Adult Community Center (ACC), the free service provides a daily telephone call to registered participants in times of emergencies such as prolonged heat, severe winter storms and power outages.

After speaking with the participants, ACC volunteers relay any needs and concerns to the appropriate authorities for followup.

It would be worth it for everyone to check around and see if there is such a service in your community.

When Hurricane Sandy struck, 50-year-old Greenwich Village resident, Tim McDarragh, told his mother to remain in North Carolina where she had been visiting friends rather than return to New York City:

“'Thirty floors without an elevator, a light bulb, or a drop of running water is no place for an 80-year-old woman to spend a week,' McDarrah [told Bloomberg]. 'God forbid there’s a fire.'”

One more little note for you at The Elder Storytelling Place this week and then stories will be return next Monday.


Being old is that same feeling of vulnerability I felt when I was 8 or 9 months pregnant. Knowing that you are not completely able in an extreme situation. That teeny feeling of uncertainty in the back of your mind.

It sucks.

Operation Alert sounds like a wonderful program. I don't think Tucson has anything comparable and I will suggest this to my friend who volunteers at Pima County of Aging. They handle most of the elderly programs. They do have a caretaker program, but they are swamped with requests and there aren't enough volunteers to handle the need.

I have another friend that I e-mail every morning and if she doesn't hear from me by noon she will call and/or come to my house to see if I am okay. Maybe everyone who lives alone should ask a friend to call or e-mail them daily if there is no Operation Alert in their area.

Not that it matters but PCOA stands for Pima County ON Aging. Sorry for the typo.

If you have good neighbors, that's a huge plus. Our next-door neighbor is a critical-care nurse, and she invariably checks on us whenever there's a severe weather event or other emergency. Another neighbor also checks in with us. Even though my husband and I are older, we're reasonably able-bodied for 83 and 76, respectively, and we've tried to prepare for emergencies (to the extent possible). We haven't needed help yet--not even when our power was out for 9 days a few years ago--but we're very grateful for our neighbors.

Disasters such as this recent hurricane bring out the best, and unfortunately, the worst in people according to what I have been reading in the papers. We were without power for four days. And, for us, it was just an inconvenience. Some of our family members who live at the Jersey Shore are unable to get to their homes while others have been able and were devastated by the damage. I can only imagine the fear and heartache so many are experiencing.

We have returned from our Washington DC trip, just in time, and I need to find my cell. We have a reverse call list here, but it's for those who live in the back country and are threatened by fire. This will cover all ages.

They just announced that the NYC Marathon is cancelled.

This post highlights one of the major challenges that we face as an aging nation—how do we help people “age in place” for as long as possible, while still keeping them and those around them safe? NYC is one of the best cities for aging in place because of how accessible many things are without the need for a car. But, when there is a natural disaster that cuts off electricity (and water, elevator service, etc., as you point out), this puts our older population at very high risk. There are many different ways to figure out whether someone is safe or capable of living independently, but keep in mind that there are also lots of challenges that come along with moving someone out of independent living. It can be stressful and tough making decisions about living situations, whether someone needs help, or whether a family member should take on the caregiving role to do that. There are lots of good resources available online for helping you to do that.

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