In case you haven’t heard, we’ve had some snow over here on the east coast of the United States. Last Saturday, as people started to get their Halloween costumes in order, an unexpectedly early storm blew in and covered much of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Maine. The nasty northeaster raged at up to 60 miles per hour and dumped a foot of snow over much of the region.
The next day, nearly 3 million households found themselves without electricity. Connecticut’s governor Dannel Malloy said that The Constitution State had experienced its worst power outages in history. Air and rail transport was suspended, schools were closed and news came that even the White House had been forced to interrupt their annual Halloween Party.
We were lucky in downtown Manhattan and got out pretty unscathed – a light dusting of snow barely settled and instead it served more as a good excuse to cosy up inside with the weekend’s papers. However, those only a matter of a few miles away were facing a very different situation. Now, four days after the storm passed, one million people in the region are still without power. The worst hit state has been Connecticut where 500,000 prepared last night to face yet another evening without electricity and having been amongst the worst hit by Hurricane Irene in August, residents there are understandably perplexed as to why they are being told that power will not be fully restored until Sunday – over a week on from the storm.
It’s almost absurd to see images of abandoned cars in ditches and entire towns without electricity in one of the richest regions of the world’s largest economy. But, the true tragedy lies in the fatalities that have resulted from the snow. Not only have there been accidents on slippery roads that surely could have be salted before the storm hit, but a number of deaths have also been reported due to the inhalation of unvented toxic fumes after some residents sought alternative power sources such as propane stoves to keep them warm.
There are sure to be local hearings in the coming months to address how a storm that simply came a few weeks earlier than normal managed to cause damage to property, business and people’s lives. While the legacy of Hurricane Irene is in many ways one of authority overreaction, it seems that few lessons were learned from the damage it did cause. The simple task of cutting tree limbs that grow near power lines could have saved lives in Connecticut and elsewhere. If local government can’t keep their constituents moving when hit by a single foot of snow, the situation doesn’t look promising for the much greater problems that the American economy faces.