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Flood, Rebuild, Repeat: Are We Ready for a Superstorm Sandy Every Other Year?

Environment  (tags: climate-change, CO2emissions, conservation, destruction, ecosystems, environment, government, greenhousegases, floods, globalwarming, habitatdestruction, nature, rebuilding, storms )

- 1693 days ago -
Why we pretend the next storm won't happen--and flush billions in disaster relief down the drain.

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Kit B (276)
Monday July 29, 2013, 6:44 am
Image Credit: Illustration by Yuko Shimizu

Two months after Hurricane Sandy pummeled New York City, Battery Park is again humming with tourists and hustlers, guys selling foam Statue of Liberty crowns, and commuters shuffling off the Staten Island Ferry. On a winter day when the bright sun takes the edge off a frigid harbor breeze, it's hard to imagine all this under water. But if you look closely, there are hints that not everything is back to normal.

Take the boarded-up entrance to the new South Ferry subway station at the end of the No. 1 line. The metal structure covering the stairwell is dotted with rust and streaked with salt, tracing the high-water mark at 13.88 feet above the low-tide line—a level that surpassed all historical floods by nearly four feet. The saltwater submerged the station, turning it into a "large fish tank," as former Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota put it, corroding the signals and ruining the interior. While the city reopened the old station in early April, the newer one is expected to remain closed to the public for as long as three years.

Before the storm, South Ferry was easily one of the more extravagant stations in the city, refurbished to the tune of $545 million in 2009 and praised by former MTA CEO Elliot Sander as "artistically beautiful and highly functional." Just three years later, the city is poised to spend more than that amount fixing it. Some have argued that South Ferry shouldn't be reopened at all.

The destruction in Battery Park could be seen as simple misfortune: After all, city planners couldn't have known that within a few years the beautiful new station would be submerged in the most destructive storm to ever hit New York City.

Except for one thing: They sort of did know. Back in February 2009, a month before the station was unveiled, a major report from the New York City Panel on Climate Change—which Mayor Michael Bloomberg convened to inform the city's climate adaptation planning—warned that global warming and sea level rise were increasing the likelihood that New York City would be paralyzed by major flooding. "Of course it flooded," said George Deodatis, a civil engineer at Columbia University. "They spent a lot of money, but they didn't put in any floodgates or any protection."

And it wasn't just one warning. Eight years before the Panel on Climate Change's report, an assessment of global warming's impacts in New York City had also cautioned of potential flooding. "Basically pretty much everything that we projected happened," says Cynthia Rosenzweig, a senior research scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, co-chair of the Panel on Climate Change, and the co­author of that 2001 report.

Scientists often refer to the "100-year flood," the highest water level expected over the course of a century. But with sea levels rising along the East Coast—a natural phenomenon accelerated by climate change—scientists project that in our lifetimes what was once considered a 100-year flood will happen every 3 to 20 years. And truly catastrophic storms will do damage unimaginable today. "With the exact same Sandy 100 years from now," Deodatis says, "if you have, say, five feet of sea level rise, it's going to be much more devastating."

Roughly 123 million of us—39 percent of the US population—dwell in coastal counties. And that spells trouble: 50 percent of the nation's shorelines, 11,200 miles in all, are highly vulnerable to sea level rise, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And the problem isn't so much that the surf laps a few inches higher: It's what happens to all that extra water during a storm.

We're already getting a taste of what this will mean. Hurricane Sandy is expected to cost the federal government $60 billion. Over the past three years, 10 other storms have each caused more than $1 billion in damage. In 2011, the federal government declared a record 99 weather-related major disasters, from hurricanes to wildfires. The United States averaged 56 such disasters per year from 2000 to 2010, and a mere 18 a year in the 1960s.

The consequences for the federal budget are staggering. In just the past two years, natural disasters have cost the Treasury $188 billion—nearly $2 billion a week. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which covers more than $1 trillion in assets, is one of the nation's largest fiscal liabilities. The program went $16 billion in the hole on Hurricane Katrina, and after Sandy it will be at least $25 billion in debt—a deficit unlikely ever to be fixed.

Meanwhile, Washington is stuck in an endless cycle of disaster response. The US government spends billions of dollars on disasters after they happen, but it pinches pennies when it comes to preparing for them. And both federal and state policies create incentives for people to build and rebuild in increasingly risky coastal areas. "The large fiscal machinery at the federal level is cranking ahead as if there's no sea level rise, and as if Sandy never happened," says David Conrad, a water consultant who has been working on flood policy for decades. "This issue is moving so much faster than the governmental apparatus right now."

Put another way: We're already deep under water.
*****Continue reading article and view charts and pictures at VISIT SITE***

By: Kate Sheppard | Mother Jones |

Naoko i (264)
Monday July 29, 2013, 6:56 am
Extremely heavy rain, floods, land slides....."natural" disasters everywhere on the earth but maybe they are "man-made"?

Kit B (276)
Monday July 29, 2013, 8:00 am

True Naoko, maybe the intensity and frequency is due to man made causes. Maybe governments do not need to wait for the next storm or wonder if the cause is man-made. Maybe we should try to be prepared before the storms hit.

JL A (282)
Monday July 29, 2013, 8:36 am
Penny-wise equaling pound foolish once again. Prevention is universally more cost-effective and the true fiscally conservative approach compared to after the problem fixes in virtually every part of life government touches.

Theodore Shayne (56)
Monday July 29, 2013, 10:19 am
Perhaps they should have invested in healthy wetlands; shorelines and breakwaters first. How about restricting housing in troubled areas for a start by revising the number of housing units that can be built and according to stricter specifications? Just a thought....

Alice C (1797)
Monday July 29, 2013, 11:53 am
We got hit very hard with Sandy here in New Jersey and Manhattan did also. No power ~ no cable ~ no water !
I just had a downed tree removed from the farm road today. It was not covered by insurance. I also had the mailbox fixed today as well. Many things were not covered by insurance or FEMA. My cousin's house was a total loss, however, She has decided to rebuild.

Alice C (1797)
Monday July 29, 2013, 11:56 am
BTW, My farm is not near the ocean ~ I'm about 45min drive inland ! Most of the damage here was wind, rain, downed trees and power lines.

pam w (139)
Monday July 29, 2013, 2:21 pm
Can anyone imagine the ENORMOUS FLAPDOODLE which would result from an Obama-driven move to STOP rebuilding in these areas and START moving back from the shores?

Out here in So. California, we have the following scenario....Topanga Canyon has been draining excessive rain water into the sea for a million years.

Guess what? Idiots with money build houses not only IN the canyon, but at the beach where it empties, in Malibu. Guess what happens with rain and mud floods? Then...when vegetation grows...we have fires.

Guess what happens then?

IDIOTS REBUILD. You can count on interviews with people claiming "Oh, and we had just finished rebuilding from the LAST storm/mudslide/fire/whatever! But we love it here, so we'll rebuild again!"....and guess who pays higher insurance premiums to cover those payouts?

See? I just KNEW you'd figure it out.....

MmAway M (503)
Monday July 29, 2013, 4:30 pm
Alice C...Sorry to hear about what you went through!
Kit, was just thinking while reading your news "OH JOY JOY JOY"

Kit B (276)
Monday July 29, 2013, 4:32 pm

Thanks Marilyn - I think....

David C (150)
Monday July 29, 2013, 4:41 pm
great question.

Alexandra Rodda (180)
Monday July 29, 2013, 4:47 pm
Denial is a psychotic mental mechanism.

Kit B (276)
Monday July 29, 2013, 4:59 pm

How disappointing I sure it was river in Egypt. Thanks Alexandra. (can't send another star - yet)

Nimue Michelle P (339)
Monday July 29, 2013, 5:01 pm

MmAway M (503)
Monday July 29, 2013, 5:11 pm
Dear Kit, It was meant as a TU to you for getting the article out, but a Smak to Man at what he does to the environment. Hope that explains the "OH JOY!"

Sheryl G (363)
Monday July 29, 2013, 5:46 pm
Interesting videos, Gloucester, VA....the seaport being hit first with rising tides. There are islands in the Pacific and an Inuit village off of Alaska also on the front lines, Bangladesh another Country, areas that this already is showing the "reality" is today, not off in some far off tomorrow land.

Gloucester, VA, has 1.6 million people in that area according to the video, the entire Country of the Maldives is going under, millions live in the low areas of Bangladesh, so this is major migrations of people. Where do they go? Combine this with other Countries whose lands are turning into desert, waters no longer there for the people to drink, then add on top of it the land that is being destroyed by fracking, mountain top removal, oil spill disasters occurring more and more frequent, uranium mining waste, nuclear disasters and waste, the list goes on and on.

After awhile where is left to live? To grow our crops safely? Time is running out and I don't see any major life changes by the Leadership of most Countries. When do they finally get it that they too live on this planet? And their children.

Kit B (276)
Monday July 29, 2013, 7:06 pm

Thank you, Marilyn.

Dandelion, we will still grow food and live in cities and many will be near the new shore lines, and in time there will be new relatively stable shore lines. Until we figure out the what and where of that, things will be dicey for a while, storms will continue as long as we continue to feed them. The storms are fed by warming land and water, and that will probably become the new face of storm seasons. Not a pleasant picture.

Stephen Brian (23)
Monday July 29, 2013, 9:16 pm
Quick problem with the story here: The NOAA reconstructed Sandy in models that did not include CO2 or climate-change. It arose from known natural weather-cycles.

Still, it is absolutely necessary to be properly prepared for disasters. I understand that decades ago, there used to be a system in place for that, a volunteer-organization for veterans to help organize disaster-response. Apparently it was pushed out of the field by politicians who said that having plans for them military to take control of civilian affairs might spook the USSR.

Sheila D (194)
Monday July 29, 2013, 10:45 pm
What I get frustrated with are the people who keep rebuilding on same spot every time. We have tornadoes here in the Midwest. I've seen interviews with people who say this is the second or third, or more, tornado where they've lost everything. But they continue to build on that spot, insurance footing most of the bill - meanwhile other people's premiums are raised. Sorry, I have no sympathy with those people any more; I save it for people going through their first tornado, hurricane, flood, etc.

Inge B (201)
Tuesday July 30, 2013, 12:10 am
Noted, very interesting


TomCat S (132)
Tuesday July 30, 2013, 1:53 am
If we're not, we'd better get that way, because there are few places on this earth that are immune from the catastrophic effects of climate change.

Frances D (156)
Tuesday July 30, 2013, 2:30 am
thanks for thre article

Gene J (290)
Tuesday July 30, 2013, 7:49 am
"Roughly 123 million of us—39 percent of the US population—dwell in coastal counties. And that spells trouble: 50 percent of the nation's shorelines, 11,200 miles in all, are highly vulnerable to sea level rise, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration."

We better be because that is what is coming and not just one a year, the pace will pick up as will the size and ferocity of the storms. If there is a saving grace here, and there really isn't, it is that for the most part those coastal areas are inhabited by the 1% and their almost rich friends as well as resorts whose taxes fund the republican governments of most of those coastal states - two of which have passed laws banning sea level rise, the largest allowed is 8 inches. I sort of doubt they're going to have a hard time serving God for violating their laws though so that part might be entertaining. What won't be is the cost to the rest of us who choose to live in areas not so susceptible to utter destruction by rising sea levels and monster storms because it is our taxes that will pay for these fools to rebuild right where they were - expecting each super storm to be the last. Or maybe they'll just pass a law making it so. Saw a story about incandescent bulbs a bit ago - the collective brain power of all of those red state legislatures couldn't light even one...

Lisa Zilli (17)
Tuesday July 30, 2013, 7:55 am
We need to restore our wetlands. Wetlands help to mitigate the effects of hurricanes.

Valerie H (133)
Tuesday July 30, 2013, 12:43 pm
Noted......thank you for sharing with us!

Betty Kelly (4)
Tuesday July 30, 2013, 12:47 pm
Apparently most people are in denial of the effects of global warming and are unwilling to make adjustments to minumize the damage.

JL A (282)
Tuesday July 30, 2013, 3:14 pm
In much of Northern CA, the river floodplains weren't built on until the housing bubble where counties and cities were persuaded by developers that floods were unlikely and the taxes from building, etc., would more than offset the way even close and it hadn't been that long since major floods either.

Robert T (62)
Tuesday July 30, 2013, 4:57 pm
Of course, the Rand Pauls in the Congress will vote against the aid needed after these disasters.

Diane K (134)
Tuesday July 30, 2013, 6:46 pm
It really is scary. Coastal properties beware of disaster to come, for sure! Thanks, Kit

Past Member (0)
Wednesday July 31, 2013, 6:43 am
Because all those biitchy New York democrats complained that we should help?

Tom T (246)
Wednesday July 31, 2013, 7:09 am

YEP .....
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