Hurricane Sandy lesson: Don't rebuild in vulnerable areas

Experts: Future NYC storms could surpass Hurricane Sandy flood levels. UPI /Monika Graff
Experts: Future NYC storms could surpass Hurricane Sandy flood levels. UPI /Monika Graff | License Photo

BOULDER, Colo., Oct. 27 (UPI) -- Hurricane Sandy caused 40 deaths and massive damage in New York City and researchers say the lesson learned is not to rebuild in vulnerable areas.

Geology professors Alan I. Benimoff and William J. Fritz of the City University of New York's College of Staten Island said days before Hurricane Sandy hit last year they produced a detailed model of the New York City area's potential damage from big storms.


Benimoff said he was able to map the high-water marks in the flooded neighborhoods after Superstorm Sandy and said his team's pre-Sandy model had been right on the money.

Benimoff, Fritz Michael Kress, director of the CUNY Interdisciplinary High Performance Computer Center and undergraduate student Liridon Sela said their new flood model predicts future storms would again flood in low-lying areas in Staten Island and Long Island and could even surpass Sandy levels. In Manhattan, the storm surge could extend past the low areas that flooded in Sandy, which included Battery Park subway tunnels, the Financial District and a 14th Street electrical substation, which plunged downtown Manhattan in darkness.

Benimoff and Fritz have been active in the community discussions about how -- or whether -- to rebuild on the most vulnerable parts of the barrier islands.


They've developed five recommendations for policy makers, emergency agencies and residents:

-- Protect the existing natural barriers -- the beaches and dunes.

-- Build the natural barriers higher.

-- Rezone in the flood zone to prevent home construction. Buy these properties and turn them into parks, which will sponge up the inevitable flood waters and partially protect the islands' higher lands.

-- Be very careful about engineering solutions such as sea barriers because they will not only be expensive but also protect one stretch of beach at the expense of its neighbor. "Jetties, sandbars, seawalls -- these are merely Band-Aids," Benimoff said.

-- Teach coastal residents how to survive a hurricane: Stay informed by watching weather forecasts. Evacuate early. Don't seek refuge in basements, which could flood.

"To paraphrase our governor: There are some parcels of land that Mother Nature owns, and when she comes to visit, she visits," Benimoff said in a statement. "The reality is that these particular barrier islands are uniquely vulnerable to storm surges. They have a lot of coastal and wetland that never should have been built on.

"What's more, they have a geometry of coastline where Coney Island and Sandy Hook make a right angle with Staten Island right at the apex, and the seafloor comes up very gradually. Water piles up in that corner and has nowhere to go but inland. That means any storm that comes perpendicular to the coastline of New Jersey is going to put us in harm's way."


The findings were presented at the Geological Society of America meeting in Denver Sunday.

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