Hurricane Sandy vs. Amazon

November 5th, 2012

Sand bags for hurricane Sandy in New York City

My friend Nate lives in New York City — and he’s really grateful to Amazon. On Friday Nate told a remarkable story about life in the water-damaged city after it was hit by Hurricane Sandy. It was the largest hurricane ever to come out of the Atlantic Ocean, and it had had a huge impact on the millions of people who lived in the big city.

New York’s subway system wasn’t providing any service below 34th street “for an undisclosed period of time,” Nate posted on his Facebook page, “and cabs cost about $25 each way to work right now (and sometimes more).” But Nate felt guilty using any gas-powered vehicle, since it was obvious that there was going to be an ongoing shortage of gasoline. The answer turned out to be surprisingly simple: Nate decided to get a bicycle! “I tracked down a decent folding bike for less than it’ll cost in taxis next week alone,” he eventually posted on Facebook.

But here’s the funny part. Nate just placed his order on Amazon.com, around 4 p.m. Thursday afternoon. “I’ve got Amazon Prime, so the order shipped for free…” he posted the next morning on Facebook. And his bicycle had already arrived! “In 16 hours,” he posted in amazement. “A BIKE. To Post-Sandy NYC. For Free.

And Amazon was also delivering supplies to other New Yorkers, too. (“Take a guess,” joked The Huffington Post. “Why were two-gallon gas cans one of the most popular items sold on Amazon this week?”) People were also ordering gas-powered generators and even lanterns from Amazon, according to the Post‘s article. Difficult times called for creative solutions, and to get the supplies they needed, at least some people turned to Amazon.com for things they couldn’t find locally.

New York City after hurricane Sandy - the Plaza Shops underwater

In fact, in a comment on the article, someone reported that my friend Nate wasn’t the only person who was riding a bicycle across the gas-starved city. “There are thousands of them on the streets of New York City right now.” New York’s transportation department estimated that just on Thursday, there were 17,000 more bicyclists crossing the Brooklyn Bridge and the three other biggest bridges in Manhattan, Queensboro, and Williamsburg. Most of the bikes were probably in New York before the flood, but Nate was delighted that he could actually get one shipped in!

After the hurricane, people began to look at the world a little differently, and it was nice to hear stories about people reaching out to help others. One fitness center even posted a sign offering free hot showers or an outlet for recharging cellphones to anyone who needed it, Nate posted on Facebook. “I’m trying to figure out how I can order stuff from Amazon to be delivered to the people who need it on Staten Island or the Jersey Shore,” he added later, “because apparently Amazon are the only people who can get things places right now.” It’s nice to see Amazon’s expertise in shipping having a positive impact on people who really need it.

One of Nate’s friends even joked, “Maybe the government should commandeer Amazon until the crisis is over.” But Nate wasn’t even sure that was a joke, because he’d been so amazed by the way Amazon performed after the hurricane. “That was kind of my point. I was looking at getting some solar panels or generators shipped out using Amazon Prime. They have them.

“Apparently they could deliver them in 16 hours if I ordered them!”

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