Covering hurricanes is usually like covering War Lite. There is peril, drama, heartbreak and high adventure, but the inherent risks are hugely reduced by the fact that no one is shooting at you.
And there are no big-picture surprises. At a certain point, you know you’re going to get either hit or missed, because no other natural drama unfolds with such slow-motion predictability. You can’t say you were surprised.
They are not like serious earthquakes, which in places like New York, Washington or Philadelphia only happen on a Tuesday and then only every other century or so. Neither are hurricanes like rogue tornadoes or the sudden eruption of long-dormant volcanoes that slash and burn with no warning but the sirens.
The big tropical cyclones always happen somewhere on the East or Gulf Coasts. And we track every stage of their short, violent lives.
“Here is a storm being born in the Eastern Caribbean. Watch its path through the Antilles. Will it turn left into the Gulf of Mexico or right and head up the East Coast? Will it be Florida, or North Carolina, and then where?”
The first question we ask ourselves is whether this going to be our problem or someone else’s. Which is probably the reason the storm’s progress is so mesmerizing. It’s like real-life roulette. Although just a fraction of the viewing audience is directly impacted by the impending event, millions watch the lumbering storm systems and the meteorologists who track them with a fascination that rivals the season finales of “American Idol” or “Dancing with the Stars.”
Even in those areas subject to hurricanes, 99 times out of a hundred the storm is heading elsewhere. That’s what is so freaky about Irene. As I write this, it is bearing down on Broadway, and the prospect of all that kinetic energy coming to the Big Apple is just as daunting as that crazy earthquake. It is also potentially much more dangerous. New York City is built on granite, resilient, indestructible, and forever.
And yet Irene seems to be unfolding like a disaster movie.
Could this happen?
After carving off a piece of North Carolina, the storm plows up the Jersey Shore flooding and wrecking and growing more powerful as she feeds, vampire-like, on the warm waters of the Gulf Stream just off-shore. Irene carves up every beach from Hatteras to Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Now pushing a gigantic surge of seawater, New York Harbor lies trembling in its high-rise anxiety.
Low-lying Coney Island would feel it first; best to evacuate and retreat to higher ground before it happens. The Narrows under the soaring Verrazano Bridge will squeeze a tsunami, bringing pain and suffering from Bay Ridge to Red Hook to St. George’s on Staten Island.
If the tide is high and the storm surge big enough, the wave will wash over Governor’s Island and the ports on the Jersey side. Lady Liberty will easily put a shoulder to the storm, but her skirts will be awash. The Battery at the bottom of Manhattan Island could flood like it does in those maybe-not-so-far-fetched after-all apocalypse films. The subways will be inundated, suspending service indefinitely. Power lines on the Jersey side of the Hudson could be torn asunder, Manhattan cut off as bridges and tunnels are rendered impassable, streets everywhere a jumbled mess of fallen trees and running water. Millions could be hurt, confused, frightened and stranded to their own resources, and billions worth of property destroyed or damaged.
Covering hurricanes is easy. Preparing for one aimed at your own home and family is hard.
Geraldo Rivera is Senior Columnist for Fox News Latino.