Days after Hurricane Sandy left wide swaths of the northeast in ruins, impacted residents were already chafing at the gawkers drifting through their devastated neighborhoods to snap photos of the destruction. According to Tejal Rao's account in the Village Voice, Red Hook locals immediately took to calling them "disaster tourists," and it appears that Staten Island is currently one of the most popular destinations for hurricane rubbernecking.
"The gawking was amazing last week," Joanne McClenin, whose Staten Island home was flooded with water five feet high during the surge, tells the AP. "It was kind of offensive as a homeowner, because I felt violated." Another resident, Mickey Merrell, explains, "Sometimes it's like we're at the zoo. So many people come and stop and stare at this place." And local Kim Barone says she can tell the tourists from the volunteers "because the gawkers' clothes and shoes are clean." Barone says, "Obviously they have nothing else to do. If this is their source of entertainment, to wallow in other people's despair, I don't have the time."
Fortunately, the disaster tourists have been balanced out by the many volunteers trying to help on Staten Island (and elsewhere). And yesterday U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano visited Staten Island's Midland Beach neighborhood, which suffered the highest concentration of hurricane-related deaths in the U.S. (eight in total). Napolitano had visited the area ten days ago, and told reporters, "It seems like a different place [now]. You can really tell the difference." Of course, there's still an enormous amount of work to be done, and Napolitano acknowledged that restoring power to all residents is a top priority. According to Con Ed's latest numbers, 127 "customer accounts" are still out on Staten Island.