Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Wall Streeters Invite Underwater Risks

Is it still too early?

I just have one question.

Hundreds of Manhattanites lost their cars in Hurricane Sandy's unprecedented storm surge last night.  Those cars were parked in underground garages located in parts of the island known to be flood-prone.

What does that say about their owners?

Granted, New York City has never before experienced the type of subterranean flooding it suffered last night.  Storm surges have washed over the Battery Park Esplanade before, and clogged parts of FDR Drive, which rings the right side of the island.  But nothing of last night's magnitude.  So we have to allow for some factor of incredulity concerning the scope of this tragedy.

Nevertheless, global warming scientists have been hyperventilating for years now about New York City's low-lying fringes that have become vulnerable to newer, higher tides due to melting glaciers.  So the geography of risk for damaging tides has been well-documented, and maps are readily available online, showing, block by block, which streets are susceptible to flooding, even in an ordinary hurricane. 

For Sandy, we were warned days in advance that, in addition to the hurricane, the East Coast would be at high tide with a full moon, not to mention a nasty cold front barreling down from the northwest, setting up a head-on collision at landfall.

Instead, not only did most residents of Lower Manhattan not evacuate as they were told, but living in high-rises as they do, estimates are that more than half of them stayed put in their homes above the water.

These are not stupid people.  They have supposedly good-paying jobs earning big bucks, since the apartment buildings in which they live don't come cheap.  They can afford to own a car in New York City, itself an expensive proposition, between insurance, tolls, inflated gasoline prices, and the cost to park in garages.  Some drivers pay hundreds of dollars per month for their parking space.  It's not uncommon for New Yorkers to pay more in parking fees than their monthly car payment.

It's well-known that most of the people who've moved to the Financial District work in the finance industry.  Which means they're paid for their brains, not their brawn, and they're likely considered to be key players in their respective companies.  That's one reason they live near their work - they're always at the office!  Indeed, Goldman Sachs' COO boasted during a newscast today that they have a lot of key employees who live within walking distance of the financial giant's headquarters tower in Battery Park City, near the World Trade Center, a part of the city inundated with seawater last night during the height of the storm.  Apparently, Goldman's billion-dollar state-of-the-art tower, which they heavily sandbagged in advance, suffered negligible damage. 

So, when they all return to work tomorrow, how many of their employees will be grousing to their co-workers about their car getting flooded in their apartment building's basement?

How much extra effort would have been required for residents of Lower Manhattan to park elsewhere Monday?

Sure, those extra parking spaces would have been hard to find elsewhere in Manhattan, and even across all of the boroughs.  But it's not like those cars are doing their owners any good today, even though they're still conveniently located just downstairs in the basements of their luxury condo towers (bobbing about in the water).  Maybe these cars meant little to their owners in the first place, so having them marinate in salt water bothers me more than it does them.  But good grief: Why not invest in a little inconvenience to find a safer spot for your car?  Instead of risking it when a monster storm is predicted to hit a vulnerable seaport like New York's harbor area?

Who cares?  Well, think about it:  If this is the type of nonchalant chances these financial folks take with their own cars, what kind of risks are they taking with your money?

Maybe they figure their insurance will take care of their cars.  After all, in the grand scheme of life, there are worse problems than having a water-logged vehicle.

But would you want one of these car owners as your portfolio manager?

Funny how some of the same folks who helped perpetrate the mortgage-under-water housing mess still don't get it.
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