Until Daybreak

In the days leading up to last year’s Hurricane Irene, media coverage was relentless and shrill: Irene, we were told, had the potential to be the storm of the century; it could flood Manhattan and disrupt millions of lives. But the increasingly hysterical reports from small puddles in Battery Park made it painfully clear there might be nothing to report after all. When the storm passed without doing any serious damage to major population centers, most of the villagers concluded that, after all, there was no wolf, and the next time the boy cried it, they would not listen.

The media coverage leading up to Hurricane Sandy had a markedly different tone: if anything, it was understated. The most alarming thing about it was that it never sounded like hype. There was no need for vamping, because this time there was a real story. Nevertheless, most people seemed to react like the villagers in the old tale: “Sure, sure, we’ve heard this before. Another Irene, is it?” Serious storm preparations, at least among people I talked to in New York, were minimal and late. People who were frantically taping up their windows before Irene ignored Sandy until it occurred to them, shortly before the subways closed, to go pick up beer and candles, just in case. Thousands disregarded mandatory evacuation orders.

And then the storm hit. The sea covered Atlantic City. During Irene, an eleven-foot storm surge...

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About the Author

Christine Neulieb is a former Commonweal editorial assistant.