6 Things That Changed Since Sandy—And 5 That Haven't

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A year after Sandy, maybe the most that the region has accomplished is plans—lots of them: From government commissions, utility companies, architects and planners, about what to do and how to do it.

It is harder to find ways in which changes have already taken root. Below, WNYC offers some examples of what's already different than a year ago — and what isn’t.  

6 Things That Have Changed:

1. Property owners are buying up temporary flood walls, rather than waiting for the city’s big plans to come to fruition.

Landlords can erect the walls around their buildings in a matter of hours. One company, Aquafence, has sold its product to 21 customers over the past year, many to Lower Manhattan office buildings, with dozens of other deals in the works.

“They want assurance that if there is another storm, it’s a one-time cost,” said Adam Goldberg, the New York representative for the company. “They can sleep better at night.”

2. At last count, New York State has purchased about a half-dozen homes in Oakwood Beach, Staten Island, the first of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s buyouts.

Their properties will not be redeveloped, but instead left as a buffer zone for future storms. More than 300 other homeowners there are waiting in line for the same deal.

3. New York City has added hundreds of baby cribs, wheelchairs, cartons of adult diapers, and gallons of Pedilyte to its stockpile in case of another evacuation.

Turns out those items were in high demand, not just for special needs shelters, but for shelters for the general population as well.

4. Consolidated Edison has built higher walls inside of its East 13th Street substation in Manhattan—the plant that flooded during Sandy and blacked out the lower third of the island.

The utility, though, admits it still has much more to do.

5. “Housejacking” crews are putting houses up on stilts to elevate them above flood level.

In Long Beach, Long Island, for example, more than 60 people have applied for elevation permits, though that’s still a small fraction of homes in danger.

6. The tide—forgive the pun—is turning against property rights and in favor of coastal protections.

In July, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled against a couple that wanted money because a dune had been constructed in front of their oceanfront house.


And 5 Things That Haven’t:


1. Thousands of people won’t be home for the holidays—again.

New York City Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway estimated last week that “hundreds” of residents are unable to move back into their homes because they are still too damaged. The county planning board in Ocean County, N.J., for instance, estimated that 26,000 people there were displaced as of a month ago.

“It just takes time,” said Bill Owens, 61, a retired police detective whose Staten Island home was severely damaged in June and is waiting for permits to rebuild. “Whereas time for you and me might be one or two days, time in city language is one or two months.”

2. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been thinking about putting levees and seawalls along Staten Island and the Rockaways for half a century—but don’t expect to see any of them in the foreseeable future.


Midland Beach, Staten Island: one point along the coast where the Army Corps long envisioned levees to keep back storm surges

 Previous plans were dropped for lack of funding and interest. New studies have been expedited but face a long approval process. 

3. Evacuating people from flood zones will be tough in future storms, particularly for newcomers and people who survived Sandy relatively unscathed.

“People who didn’t get flooded, those people aren’t likely to learn too much from other people’s experiences,” said Earl “Jay” Baker, a hurricane evacuation expert at Florida State University. “That is, they are not likely to say, ‘Gee, that could have been me.’”

According to a city survey, just about a third of the residents in Zone A fled for higher ground when ordered to before Sandy.  

 4. Sandy flooded the South Ferry station on the Number 1 subway line, forcing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to reopen the old South Ferry station—the one that forces straphangers to crowd into the first five cars because the platform is too short. 


The MTA expects it will be a number of years before the new South Ferry station gets fixed and flood-proofed.

5. Sea levels are still rising.

The New York City Panel on Climate Change, a panel of experts convened by the Bloomberg administration, estimates that the sea level in this area will rise by 1 to 2.5 feet by the year 2050. With sea walls just a couple of feet above high tide, the city predicts that 43 miles of coastline will be as risk of daily or weekly flooding — and that 24 percent of the city’s land mass could become part of the 100-year flood plain.

"A year later, Sandy is still pretty fresh in everybody’s mind,” said Adam Sobel, a professor of atmospheric science at Columbia University. “But a lot of the things we really ought to do to protect us from the next one are expensive and will take come commitment. People forget quickly.”


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Comments [7]

Of course, there are more systemic problems afoot. Who can deny the effect of macadamization on the local, if not the global environment? And why this insistence on poor people of obviously insufficient means "learning" the need to pay extortionate insurance rates or to move to more expensive sites on higher ground? Have we forgotten that one feature of aristocracy has always been living on higher ground? It is only in the fairy tale farce "Once Upon a Mattress" that we find a princess from the swamp. And, in the normal fairy tale, the prince is in a "castle in the sky". It is no less a fairy tale to expect that poor people will be able to move out of the flood plain.

A more realistic strategy is the one I outline in "Popular Capitalism" (see ) where we live in self-sustaining colleges of extended families. At the very least, we can reverse the ceding of the built environment of communities to alien interests, whether private interlopers or the remote halls of nominally democratic governments.

Oct. 29 2013 01:08 PM

One could look at Battery Park for a solution. After all, everything except the fort was below water at one time. With dredged soil and other landfill, the ground level of the low-lying shore communities, especially all roads and streets, can be raised to the desired heights without having to raise the buildings.

Oct. 29 2013 12:42 PM
TOM from Brooklyn

Again, we are getting ready to fight the last war which was only a salt-water surge, not extreme rain or hurricane-strength winds.
With no surge but with extreme rain(12" at Atlantic City but not at NYC) or high sustained wind(Sandy was only a tropical cyclone--NOT a hurricane--we'd have more general flooding in vaster inland areas, just as much and more power outages and roof damage to many older structures. Everyone limit-up on home insurance yet?
I've seen the Gowanus flood local side-streets after short heavy rains similar to the depth of Sandy. Tornadoes ripped roofs off scores of old houses and chopped off the tops of secluded trees to smash walls and vehicles.
The people will never tune into being prepared unless the lesson is taught that it can and will happen to them in spite of their mild experiences with Irene and Sandy. People with a mobility problem must now find out how they will survive--without government assistance which will always be limited and unreliable.
Now let's talk about the coming earthquake.

Oct. 29 2013 12:23 PM
Gayle Benson from Oceanside, NY

I strongly recommend that people find the slide show called "Our Time With Hurricane Sandy" on YouTube by Christine Tsi Kramer. It came closer to showing what everything looked like & felt like in Long Beach, NY & other neighboring areas.

Oct. 29 2013 10:59 AM
Gayle Benson from Oceanside, NY

Happy Anniversary, Sandy. One year after coming to visit, trees that were killed that day are first being cut down. Yes, Sandy is still here in Oceanside, New York.

Oct. 29 2013 10:56 AM
David Kanegis from Montclair

Does Prof. Sobel know whether the gauge was overtopped by Sandy or where on the gauge Sandy reached?

Oct. 29 2013 10:31 AM
Andrew Boyarsky from New York City

Good story, nice diverse opinions.

The verdict is still out whether the NY/NJ region takes adequate measures to mitigate and prepare for the next major storm, or, like some might predict, slowly cedes its coast, inch by inch, foot by foot, into the sea. Will we learn the lessons and heed them as the City of Galveston, Texas did or will we be haunted by the ghosts of Indianola, Texas.

One minor, but important correction to the story- the correct term is Hurricane Shelters not Evacuation Shelters. Unfortunately, this incorrect term has been somehow repeated again and again. "Evacuation Centers" are the entry point into the hurricane sheltering system. Most often a Hurricane Shelter is co-located with an Evacuation Center which may confuse folks not familiar with the system or its language.

Oct. 29 2013 09:27 AM

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