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Long before Superstorm Sandy ravaged New York City and the surrounding region in 2012, scientist Klaus Jacob issued a prophetic report warning city officials of the inevitability of such a crippling flood.

Then on October 29 of that year, Sandy made landfall, killing more than 100 people in the United States, including 43 New Yorkers. It caused $19 billion in damage across the metropolis, causing extended power outages, temporarily displacing thousands of people and damaging tens of thousands of homes.

More than two feet of water flooded Jacob’s own home in a quaint town on the Hudson River in New York state, an irony he suffered because municipal zoning laws prohibited him from raising the building enough to avoid such flooding.

“A week after Sandy, I got a letter in the mail saying, ‘Now you can pick it up,'” said Jacob, a geophysicist at Columbia University who specializes in disaster risk management.

This experience points to much bigger problems with short-sighted thinking as warnings about climate change become more dire.

Ten years after Sandy left one of the world’s cultural and economic centers tragically swamped, Jacob says, city far from ready for the coming era of severe storms.

New York received billions of federal dollars and invested in reconstruction. A number of resiliency projects remain in the planning stages, while several, including a project to reduce the risk of flooding on the Manhattan coast, are underway.

Jacob said the subway repairs, which have fixed thousands of potholes, will keep the vital transportation system running better after another Sandy-style storm.

And the US Army Corps of Engineers recently detailed a plan to build a massive $52 billion system of barriers and seawalls.

But it will take years of red tape to get permits, and construction isn’t scheduled to begin until 2030.

Climate and housing

An October report by the New York City comptroller — the elected official responsible for scrutinizing the budget — criticized some city agencies for being slow, several projects stalled and billions in federal funding that had not been used and was still available.

Last fall’s Hurricane Ida, meanwhile, exposed the city’s persistent shortcomings, including an aging sewer infrastructure.

In just one hour, Ida dumped more than three inches of rain on Central Park—almost twice what the city’s sewer system can handle—and, according to Jacobs, “the subway system became the default sewer system.”

Dozens of people in the region died. Several of the dead lived in basement apartments in New York that were flooded.

If Sandy hits tomorrow, “we’re going to be a lot worse off,” said Tadeusz Pawlowski, an urban designer focused on climate resilience who formerly worked for New York City’s Office of Emergency Management.

“Our housing situation has deteriorated significantly. Our districts are much more unequal,” Pawlowski told AFP.

New York is facing an acute housing crisis, but much of the city’s new housing is in coastal areas such as Williamsburg and Long Island City. Municipal data compiled by local publication The City show that about 2,000 new units were built in the Coney Island floodplain, an area devastated by Sandy.

The state has bought out some homeowners living in distressed neighborhoods, including Ocean Breeze on Staten Island, where hundreds of homes were bought and demolished.

“It’s a good pilot program, but it’s breadcrumbs — we need loaves,” Jacob said. “Redemption is not enough. We need to have a place where they can move to.’

Jacob referred to the need for denser residential development, but stressed that new construction should take climate risk into account, not serve the real estate industry.

“We don’t have a long-term vision, for example, that short-term measures like building housing work alongside this long-term vision,” he told AFP.

“Without that vision doesn’t develop, I think we’re just forever tinkering around the edges.”

“Mass Mobilization”

Climate experts and political leaders agree that there is no such thing as a best bullet—reducing risk and building resilience requires extensive planning and investment in conjunction with neighborhood storm management, such as shrub-filled bioreservoir ditches that filter runoff.

“We’re not going to be able to say, ‘We did one project and now we’re safe forever,'” said Rohit Aggarwala, the city’s chief climate officer. “That’s not how it’s going to work.”

Pawlowski drew attention to the “Green New Deal” – the plan proposed by Congress to change America’s climate and economic policy— as a way forward.

“We need mass mobilization,” he said.

Jacob did say that, unlike some low-lying coastal cities in the United States, such as New Orleans, New York has the “luxury of high typography” that should be the basis for the construction strategy.

Perhaps sadly, he noted that the city’s cemeteries occupy the highest points: “We could swap the dead and the living.”

Above all, Yakub urged against inertia, saying, “Either we are psychologically overwhelmed, or the water will overwhelm us.”

– Which do you prefer?

Vulnerable to climate change, New York is building a dam

© 2022 AFP

Citation: A decade after Sandy, New York more vulnerable than ever (October 28, 2022) Retrieved October 28, 2022, from .html

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