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10 Years Later: Life After Hurricane Sandy

In the unprecedented hurricane season of 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the hardest.

The deadliest and most destructive storm of the year, Sandy raged throughout 24 states, killing 233 people and inflicting nearly $70 billion in damage in the United States. The storm made official landfall 3 times: in Jamaica on October 24, in Cuba on October 25, and finally in New Jersey on October 29. Although it was not technically classified as a hurricane by the time it made landfall in the United States, its sheer size and unique path, caused by a convergence of several different storms, played a role in the devastation it caused. Perhaps because of this, it was unofficially dubbed Superstorm Sandy by the media and, in some cases, a Frankenstorm.

Now, 10 years later, the communities hit by Sandy are still feeling its effects.

Hurricane Sandy’s Impact on New York City

Sandy hit New York City and Long Island severely between October 29-30, 2012, causing catastrophic damage the likes of which the city had never seen before. It was the storm’s terrible timing that lended to the devastation: it coincided perfectly with a spring tide and full moon, which brought about abnormally high tides; its remarkable size: its winds impacted an area 1,000 miles from end to end, more than three times larger than Katrina; and the unusual path it took before making landfall in the United States.

The previous record was set by Hurricane Donna in 1960 when a storm surge at the Battery reached 10 feet. Sandy generated a storm tide of over 14 feet in the same area. A total of 51 square miles of New York City flooded, impacting 443,000 residents and 88,700 buildings. The depth of the floodwaters was significant enough to flood the NYC subway system, which could only happen if it surpassed 10.5 feet.

In the wake of the superstorm, the NYC Mayor’s Office of Housing Recovery Operations (HRO) launched the Build It Back program, which was meant to return families to their homes. The program underwent an overhaul in 2014 with an expectation set by Mayor Bill de Blasio that the work would be completed by the end of 2016. Finally, as of early 2021, nearly 99% of housing applicants had received their full benefits.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was called in to help with the recovery, with immediate response covering the removal of debris and the securing of electrical generators to combat the widespread power outages. 10 years later, the response is nearly 90% complete; long-term repairs were expected to take years or even decades, according to Joseph Forcina, chief of the Civil Works Integration Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, North Atlantic Division.

City planners investigated the ways that different areas of NYC were affected by the storm, learning how to better prevent future damage by creating strategic buffers. Meanwhile, homeowners and businesses were forced to rethink their lack of flood insurance or to fight the insurance companies to get the coverage that they were owed. In fact, more than 600,000 housing units were destroyed throughout New York and New Jersey, totaling about $19 billion in damages in New York City alone.

Hurricane Sandy’s Impact Beyond Landfall

Although it made landfall in New Jersey, the effects of Hurricane Sandy were felt from Florida to Maine. Before it even reached the U.S., the storm hit Cuba, Haiti, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic.

As widespread as the damage was in terms of sheer square mileage, so too were the types of side effects that Hurricane Sandy imposed. It set low air pressure records in Atlantic City, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Trenton; in Atlantic City, closest to landfall, the air pressure fell below the record set in 1932. The storm surge was also record-setting, overwhelming coastal New Jersey, New York City, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Damaging high winds impacted communities as far as Michigan, forming whitecaps on Lake Michigan while the Atlantic Ocean sloshed inland on the Eastern Seaboard. 34 inches of snow fell in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and heavy snow blanketed Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

In the aftermath of the dangerous storm, other hazards came to light: as many as 8.5 million people across 21 states were left without power for weeks, and fire wreaked havoc in neighborhoods short-circuited by seawater. Thousands were evacuated from hospitals and left to fend for themselves without medication or care for weeks on end.

More than 20,000 households were still displaced a year after Sandy hit, with more than 1,000 New Jersey residents still unable to return home 5 years after the storm.

As of 2019, many cities on the East Coast were still fighting to acquire the additional funding necessary to build preventative barriers.

Starting in September 2022, as a recognition of the 10-year anniversary of the storm’s landfall, two Rutgers Cooperative Extension programs collaborated with the Earth Day, Every Day (E2D2) program and the Marine Extension Program Seminar Series (MEPSS) to put on a webinar series investigating the ongoing effects and recovery that New Jersey continues to weather.

The program includes sessions such as:

  • “From One Extreme To Another: Climate Change Driven Storm Events And What To Do About Them”
  • “Beyond Recovery From Sandy: Setting The Stage For Future Community Resilience”
  • “Adapting To Climate Change In Your Community”
  • “Living Shorelines In The Decade Since Sandy: Lessons Learned And Implications For Future Design”
  • “Strategies To Minimize The Impacts Of Coastal Flooding And Salt Water On Agricultural Lands”
  • “Planning For The Unplanned: Preparing For Marine Debris Response In New Jersey”

Preparing for Future Hurricanes

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts that the sea level along the East Coast of the United States will rise between 10-12 inches by 2050. Oceanfront communities in New Jersey are combatting this by distributing sand amongst themselves; for example, North Wildwood, which is losing sand at an alarming rate, trucks it in every spring from Wildwood City, which has too much sand. This is expected to change in 2023, when the Army Corps of Engineers takes over the care of North Wildwood’s beaches to protect them—and others like them—from sea-level rise and future storms.

The MTA in New York City is also preparing for the next climate disaster. From building a 14-foot perimeter wall stretching 12,000 feet around Coney Island Yard to elevating power cables to save them from storm surges, the MTA is taking storm recovery—and preparation—seriously.

10 years after Superstorm Sandy, New York, New Jersey, and several other affected communities are still recovering. At the same time, they are also preparing—in a period of watchful wait, as described by Malcolm J. Bowman, professor of oceanography at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences—to ensure that the infrastructure is in place to weather the next big storm.

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