SuperStorm Sandy trumps other plans

It’s impossible for me to blog about personal goal-setting or concerns about food safety and agri-business while the impact of Sandy’s wrath on the U.S. east coast is still unfolding.  The storm – a once-in-a-lifetime convergence of 2 storms along with high tide during a full moon – trumps all.  The death toll is sobering.  Millions are without power and hundreds of thousands will have seen damage to their property.  The extent of water damage in New York and New Jersey is mind-boggling in its scope.  Fires have been an additional heartbreak.  The efforts of professionals to restore power, start extensive cleanup, and keep people safe is inspiring.  There is a well-considered plan, but it all takes time.

NYC Marathon, Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

I’ve had a lifelong attachment to New York City; it didn’t start with my participation in the NYC marathon last year.  I grew up near there and hold an abiding affection for the city’s unique personality and admiration for everything that makes it a “world city”.  Yesterday, as New Yorkers were bracing for the storm to hit, many of us were there in spirit.  Today New Yorkers are waiting to hear when life might get back to “normal”.  If Sandy hadn’t emerged and yesterday’s weather had been a non-event instead, they – or the media – might have been reminiscing about the historic early snowstorm of 2011.  Indeed, it was October 29-30, 2011 when the same region was hit by the earliest snow on record, including nearly 3 inches in Central Park and far more in a wide swath of the northeast.  Wet early snow brings down at least as many power lines as wind and rain, and many parts of the region were without power for more than a week, including Connecticut.

I was particularly aware of this because we expected it to continue up the coast and hit us, just north of Maine.  It didn’t get that far, happily for us.  But I was also acutely aware of the snow in NYC because we were scheduled to arrive there a few days later for the 2011 NYC Marathon.  We wondered if the race would be able to be held.  But miracles can happen.  Fortunately, the snow in the city melted quickly, the sun came out, and all was well.  In fact, it couldn’t have been better.  And, as I mentioned in a previous blog (NYC marathon, once upon a time…), everyone should experience the NYC Marathon at some time in their life, either as a runner or a spectator.

Battery Park, NYC
Photo by Eddy Mueller

The New York Road Runners, who organize the race, must be wondering how a weather calamity can hit two years in a row.  The logistics for the race are staggering.  More than 47,000 runners from well over 100 countries have to arrive in the city.  Once they are there, they have to be transported to the starting point at Staten Island, either by ferry from Battery Park (getting to the ferry by subway), or by bus over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.  Then the assembled runners wait in a large grassy area – organized with food, water, entertainment, and masses of porta-potties – until it is their turn to get into their corral and to the starting line at the Staten Island end of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Just 26.2 miles to the finish line in Central Park!

Battery Park, NYC, Oct. 29
Photo from

Think about how much has to be done before this year’s NYC Marathon can go ahead this Sunday as scheduled.  The NY Road Runners (NYRR) are currently assessing the situation.  At the moment, all airports are closed until Thursday at the earliest.  LaGuardia Airport is expected to be closed for far longer because of water damage.  The convention center that holds the fitness expo is in the flood zone.  Battery Park was under several feet of the Hudson River last night and the subway tunnels near there were inundated with sea water.  So far, the transit authority is unable to determine when the subway might be safe to return to service.  Although no part of the marathon route is in the flood zone, obviously all debris would have to be cleared from the route, including Central Park, which may or may not be a priority within the next few days of basic recovery.  Spectators, who typically count in the millions, use the subway to get from viewing spot to viewing spot.  As well, police usually provide help with crowd and traffic control during the marathon, but in the early days of recovery, again, this may not be able to be the priority for the police and other support agencies.  It’s a complex situation.

The economic impact to regions when they are hit with extreme weather events is staggering.  And although the NYC Marathon is not on everyone’s radar screen (although I find that hard to imagine!), the economic losses if the marathon had to be cancelled would be enormous.  In fact, it is estimated that something in the order of $350 million is left in NYC as a result of the marathon.  More than 47,000 runners from across the U.S. and around the world, many with friends and families, use a LOT of hotel rooms, restaurants, and associated tourist services.  And they all quickly learn to LOVE New York and want to return.

Let’s hope that New York and the NYRR find a way forward so that the race can be held safely and successfully.  We know that they will move heaven and earth to try to make that happen.

Update: Nov. 2, 2012. After massive efforts to allow the race to happen against all odds, the magnitude of the devastation left by Sandy throughout the 5 boroughs of NYC brought organizers and officials to the realization that, despite the theoretical positives in seeing it through, it just couldn’t be the priority at this time.  The right decision was made.  Staten Islanders in need must have priority over getting runners to the starting line.  As disappointing as this decision is for both organizers and the tens of thousands of runners who have dreamed of this day – and trained, trained, trained for it – people will understand that what is most important is to continue to get help to people in need and keep the recovery going.  SuperStorm Sandy has taken her place in history as an even more destructive force than anyone could have realized when she first came ashore 3 days ago.

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