The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Weather Hazards Increase, Needed Public Services Cut

Nov 12, 2012

Hurricane Sandy is expected to cost as much as 50 billion dollars in property and business losses, making it the second most destructive storm in U.S. history – behind only Hurricane Katrina. The current death toll is 100 and more bodies may yet be found.

As the storm came ashore at Atlantic City, New Jersey, flooding and high winds devastated tens of thousands of homes near the ocean up and down the coast. The storm surge into New York Harbor flooded major parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, as well as towns and cities in New Jersey across the Hudson River from Manhattan. All the subway tunnels between Manhattan and Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey were flooded, as was the Holland Tunnel, one of two tunnels providing access to New York by road from New Jersey. More than 100 houses burned down in one Queens neighborhood alone. More than eight million people lost electrical service in an area stretching from parts of northern Virginia to New Hampshire. Tens of thousands of people in New York were stranded in high rise residential buildings with no lights, no heat and no elevator service.

This storm was a killer, but the devastation, misery and death it caused was made worse by years of cutbacks in public services such as electric utilities, water and sewer systems and coastal flood protection.

For decades public services have been deteriorating due to insufficient funding from the politicians and utility companies. The politicians and public officials preferred to hand over tax breaks and subsidies to corporations and real estate developers. Hundreds of billions of federal dollars were spent on fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan rather than funding infrastructure here in the U.S.

But since the “Great Recession” started, the situation has gotten even worse. Millions of both public and private utility workers have been laid off. The reliability of electric, water and sewerage service has gone down. In some parts of Detroit, public services like street lights, garbage pick-up and fire stations have been eliminated. In Baltimore and Washington, D.C., big water main breaks have become a frequent occurrence. Recently a 90-year-old five-foot-diameter water main burst tearing up Charles Street, a major route out of downtown Baltimore, and turning several blocks into the Charles “River” for more than a day. Along actual rivers and coastlines the number of people and businesses endangered by insufficient flood protection has grown.

Even with all this starving of public services, many people in New York and New Jersey now without housing could be sheltered at least temporarily, if the military was called in to set up emergency facilities.

But government priorities lie elsewhere.

With more and more violent storms coming due to climate change, as well as rising sea levels, the continuing deterioration of the country’s public services and infrastructure is a prescription for more disasters.