Hurricane Sandy slammed into the New Jersey shore and New York City seven months ago on Saturday. It is currently the second largest storm in history with Hurricane Katrina still holding on to first place. Now that the dust has settled mostly, let’s take a look at what happened, what we learned, and what are the long term implications from this super storm.
What Happened: Sandy was a huge storm. At its widest, it was 932 miles across and would have covered about 1/3 of the United States. Its impact was felt in over 20 states with high winds, rain, snow, and large waves. Not since 1888 has the New York Stock Exchange been shut down for two consecutive days due to weather. The early numbers were surpassed in the days, weeks and months following the storm’s arrival,
- The initial death toll was 111. This grew to 146 people in the U.S. and another 71 in the Caribbean.
- In the early days, no count or estimate existed on the number of lost homes. The final count is Sandy destroyed or damaged 305,000 homes in New York and 346,000 homes in New Jersey.
- Businesses were heavily affected as well. 265,000 New York businesses and 190,000 New Jersey businesses were disrupted and affected by the storm.
- Initial damage estimates were pegged at $50 billion. State governments reported damages and other losses of $62 billion in late December
Lessons Learned: I watched the news as Sandy stuck. The impact of such as storm is both incredible and far reaching. Even the best contingency planning can be laid waste by a storm of this magnitude. Recovery is not instantaneous and is usually slower than most people have patience for. Infrastructure has to be inspected, repaired, and in some cases replaced in order to bring services back up to pre-storm levels.
- Electrical service was restored to 95% of all people that lost power in just 11 days in New Jersey and 13 days for New Yorkers. It took weeks longer to fully restore power to homes and businesses in more remote areas of New Jersey and New York. This was on par with other post hurricane recovery efforts and faster than efforts following hurricanes Ike, Rita, Wilma and Katrina.
- Subway service was 80% restored one week after Sandy struck. That percentage grew in the following two weeks and appears to be normal now. The biggest challenge at this point is replacing rail that is failing due to corrosion from the salt water flooding the tunnels. There is no estimate on how long this will take.
- Water treatment facilities failed in New Jersey and New York due to power losses that knocked out pumps, as well as rising waters. 11 billion gallons of raw and partially treated sewage was released and ended in various bodies of water throughout the area. Repair work is still ongoing for the hardest hit facilities.
- Mold continues to be a problem in homes and buildings that were flooded with water and never properly dried out. It’s popped up in floors, in basements, on walls and around window and door frames. Coverage for mold damage is not included by FEMA or most home policies. Texas home policies that include mold coverage typically cap the amount of coverage included in the policy to $5,000. Those affected by mold in New York may be able to get help from a public / private partnership that raised $15 million. A typical mold remediation can cost as much as $15,000.
Long Term Implications: Solutions to avoid experiencing the same type of future damage in a storm similar to Sandy have been popping up the moment the storm passed. Some began to be implemented as a part of the repair and restoration effort while others may be implemented over time in the coming months and years.
Keeping storm surge out of coastal cities and towns will be one of the key efforts going forward. City workers attempted to keep flood waters from overtaking the subway system by covering grates and drains before Sandy struck. That did not work. There needs to be a better solution of protecting the transportation systems from being flooded in the future.
Keeping storm surge from easily entering coastal cities and towns encompasses the core solution for many of the lessons learned.
- Water treatment facilities are looking into raising pumps off the ground to keep them from failing due to a similar storm surge.
- New Yorkers are looking a fortifying sea walls and raising them in areas where they were over run and adding them to areas where they didn’t exist.
- Providing enhanced protection to electrical service and public transportation will also help reduce that should the sea walls prove ineffective.
- Keeping trees properly trimmed away from power lines will help in some, but not all cases. Falling trees, one of the leading causes of death, are still hard to defend.
- Encouraging FEMA to add an option for mold coverage would help people buy coverage that could come in very handy.
- Determining how much coastal property should be rebuilt and how close it can be to the water will continue to be discussed and argued.
FEMA flood maps are being redrawn and flood coverage is expected to jump significantly in the coming months and years. In some cases, people will pay a hefty premium to live on the beach and it could be as high as $31,000 a year.
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