FEMA has distributed $5.4 billion in the state in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy
Since it was created in the late 1960s, the National Flood Insurance Program has paid out more than $50 billion to policyholders in all fifty states, US territories and the District of Columbia.
According to FEMA data going back to 1978 – when the agency first began computerizing its records -- Louisiana ranks at the top of the list of NFIP payment recipients, with more than $16 billion in historical losses, largely as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Nearly half of that total – some $7.2 billion -- is due to flood damage in New Orleans alone. After Louisiana, Texas ranks second, with $5.5 billion, and post-Sandy New Jersey comes in a close third place, with $5.4 billion in payouts.
Following is a list of the top 10 communities in the state receiving flood-insurance payouts over the years:
Accounting for nearly 10 percent of New Jersey’s total flood insurance losses over the past three-and-a-half decades and with a bill more than twice as high as the next municipality on the list, Toms River easily bears the unfortunate distinction of first place in this ranking.
Nearly 9,000 of its homes and rental units and many of its businesses sustained damage during Sandy, both in barrier island sections of towns like Ortley Beach as well as on the mainland, and the township lost more than 18 percent of its tax base in the storm.
Historically, Ocean County – where Brick Township is located – has been the fastest-growing county in the state, and Brick’s remarkable rate of development – from having less than 1,400 residents in 1940 to more than 76,000 today – has been central to that trend. This growth along the Shore has been an essential driver of the state’s economy over the past half-century, but it’s also the reason places like Brick rank as high as they do in this listing.
Since its founding in the late 18th century, Stafford’s location on the water has always been a significant part of its identity. Fishing and boat-building were important industries in those early days, and the township’s cemeteries contain hundreds of unmarked graves of victims of shipwrecks off the Atlantic coast.
Today, its location has made it a bedroom community for a new crop of residents who work in Philadelphia or Northern NJ but want to live near the ocean. But the lure of the shore has its trade-offs. Flooding is not uncommon, and in a recent survey conducted by NJ Spotlight and Jersey Shore Hurricane News, readers listed Stafford’s Beach Haven West neighborhood as one of areas still struggling the most to recover, more than a year after Sandy.
Sandy devastated communities on Long Beach Island, but it was just the latest in a series of major storms dating back to the 1920s. A 1981 document from the NJ Department of Environmental Protection warned that coastal overdevelopment could lead to a repeat of the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962, which killed 14 people in the state and wreaked havoc up and down the coast.
“Since present population and development levels of the state’s barrier islands exceed pre-1962 levels, future severe storms will undoubtedly result in far heavier tolls in lives, injuries and property damage,” it said.
Thankfully, these concerns haven’t been lost on township officials. Along with Stafford Township, Long Beach is one of nine New Jersey municipalities to achieve a class five ranking in FEMA’s Community Rating System program. That means the town is taking important steps to lessen risks of future flooding, and its actions have paid off, as it’s been able to save its residents 25 percent off their flood insurance premiums.
The southernmost municipality on this list, Ocean City is the only community from Cape May County to make the top 10. That’s probably because Ocean City is the most highly developed municipality in the county. During the summer months, its population swells tenfold, as around 120,000 people come to enjoy “America’s Greatest Family Resort.” Its historical flood losses are more than five times those of Sea Isle City, which is the next highest in the county.
Thousands of homes in the Mystic Island section of Little Egg Harbor were flooded during Sandy, and many remain damaged and uninhabitable to this day. Though Sandy was just the latest in a long line of storms, it appears to have been a game changer for some residents of this township, as for sale signs have been sprouting up all over the neighborhood. As in other places, many people are struggling to afford making repairs and elevating their homes, and they’re concerned about the increased cost of flood insurance.
Wayne bears the unique distinction of being the only municipality on this list that is not at the Jersey Shore. Bordered by the Passaic and Pompton Rivers in North Jersey, the township – along with neighboring municipalities like Fairfield and Pompton Lakes -- has experienced flooding problems for years.
Recognizing that fact, the state announced that a portion of the federal Sandy aid money will be used to provide buyouts to approximately 300 homeowners who’ve suffered repeated flood damage in the Passaic River Basin.
Founded as a fishing community in the late 1800s, Lavallette’s association with the sea became all too clear when Sandy filled its streets with floodwaters and sand and destroyed three-quarters of its mile-long boardwalk. Located on the barrier island north of Seaside Heights and just four blocks wide from the Atlantic Ocean to the Barnegat Bay, it’s not surprising that Lavallette would earn a top 10 spot on this list.
Though its population of less than 40,000 means it’s not even among the 50 largest municipalities in the state, Atlantic City’s status as a tourist mecca means it has billions of dollars of infrastructure potentially at risk, every time there’s a big storm.
Its boardwalk and casinos were largely spared during Sandy, but it was a different story for other parts of town, where a fifth of residents live in poverty. By one estimate, about $23 billion worth of real estate in the city sits below a 5-foot flood level. That’s bad news considering that scientists conservatively estimate sea levels in Atlantic City could rise four feet or more by the end of the century.
Situated on a peninsula with the ocean on one side and the Shrewsbury River on the other, there were few places in Monmouth Beach that didn’t flood during Sandy. Looking at a map, it’s easy to see how the average homeowner had damage assessments topping $19,000.
Recognizing its vulnerabilities, the community has been proactive in taking steps to reduce its risks. Monmouth Beach now requires that all new construction as well as repairs of severely damaged homes be elevated three additional feet above the requirements on the FEMA flood maps to provide an added level of protection from sea level rise and future storms.