Virtual Disaster: Witnessing Sandy Through The L.A. Lens


In a series of minutes, I’ve caught up after a day’s work to witness #Sandy in waves: the flooding of the FDR, the collapse of the side of an entire brick building, the water rushing into Coney Island until the rides look like tinker toys bobbing in a bathtub. I just finished writing a piece about the Santa Ana winds and suddenly feel chastened into a hasty revise for sounding like the wuss I’ve become since I’ve moved out here. It’s strange how disasters between coasts are a pissing contest: New York, you get Snowpocalypse. L.A. you get earthquakes and Carmeggedon.  But this, tonight, New York—you win. Yet calamity, even when dispatched by a rainsoaked reporter on CNN or a news link tweeted with efficient commentary via Twitter, still doesn’t connect because of both geographical distance and a disconnected format.  

Which is why Instagram, specifically a hurricane hashtag aggregating site takes the very same digital tool people use to post the hyper-mundane, sepia-toned shots of sushi rolls has become a deeply affecting method of storytelling in near-real time. The filtered images of waterlogged cop cars, sleeping cats (yes, there are still cats, always cats, even in a hurricane), fretting self-portraits and risky, gusty rooftop shots taken over Manhattan are something far more pristine than the catastrophe-porn of cable news or the data-fracking on Twitter. It’s sharing of the most crucial kind: a neverending Rashomon-style depiction of a singular, terrible event, told thousands of different ways through thousands of different frames. Some horrific. Some hilarious.  I can’t say what it’s like to be in New York right now, but even out here, on an embarrassingly balmy L.A. evening as I get ready to leave work for the night, I can feel what it might be like, in an oddly intimate way no newsfeed can. The site is constantly updating, and worth a visit for Angelenos as you sift through the aftermath of news stories today:

Photograph posted by nygovcuomo

Photograph posted by djpanyc

Photograph posted by andjelicaaa

Photograph posted by nygovcuomo

Photograph posted by jsmithpro