Wednesday, Dec. 07, 2011

Hurricane Irene Tests New York City

In late August, with Hurricane Irene barreling its way up the East Coast and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordering the evacuation of more than 300,000 people, the media more than helped fan the flames of panic. Every major network stationed battalions of correspondents in brightly colored rain slickers up and down the coast. On Aug. 27, a reporter for the Weather Channel, wearing swimming goggles to keep the water out of his eyes, dutifully described the buckets of rain and high winds enveloping coastal North Carolina as teenagers in board shorts cavorted behind him. By the time the storm came ashore at Coney Island in Brooklyn at about 9 a.m. the next day, it was clear that the worst fears for New York City would not be realized; Irene had been downgraded to a tropical storm. ("Typical," comedian Chris Grace tweeted. "You think you're hot s---, then you come to NYC and you're not as big a deal as you thought.") What the media should have kept its eye on was the horrific damage Irene was doing elsewhere: the storm caused disastrous flooding in New Jersey and southern Vermont, laying waste to entire towns and prompting the callout of the National Guard.