Hurricane Sandy, 10 Years Later: Are We Learning From Past Mistakes?
October 29th marked the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Sandy’s initial impact on the New Jersey shore, drenching the East Coast in rain, wind, and a record-setting storm surge. By the time Sandy had reached landfall, it had been downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm – but the effect that it had was on a far larger magnitude than the name change suggests.
The storm left lingering scars on the area, and even a decade after it hit we are still feeling the impacts. Nearly a fifth of New York City’s landmass was affected by the storm, causing 43 deaths and around $19 billion in damages as millions of people were plunged into power blackouts, found flooded subway tunnels, and left with thousands of wrecked homes. In New Jersey, 38 people died in the storm, with two million households losing power and more than 300,000 homes damaged or destroyed. Some of the repairs from Sandy have taken years to complete. In one instance, a subway tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan was not fully restored from salt water corrosion until 2020.
The impacts of climate change are creating a situation where these events are in the same league as Sandy’s. While some cities have taken measures to prepare for another similar event – a series of flooding protections in Manhattan, fortified boardwalks and seawalls in Atlantic City, new building codes in both New York and New Jersey – we see that with the more recent Hurricane Ida, many of these rebuilt protections along the tri-state area seemed to not alleviate the effects. These storms also hold the largest impact on those in affordable housing, with millions of people unprotected by any of these climate-conscious measures.
This is why talking about climate change in relation to our everyday lives is so important. Most people tend to think about ecosystems and animals when climate change is mentioned, which while this is absolutely important as well, we also need to keep in mind just how big of an impact this issue can have on us and our communities. Hurricane Sandy was already a once in a lifetime event, but with climate change completely reshaping the way our world as we know it works, with rising sea levels and intensifying downpours, Sandy may only become the predecessor to a long line of increasingly common destructive natural disasters.
However, crucial work has been done to both protect communities against the wrath of destructive natural disasters and curb the effects of climate change. In addition to building flood protection and fortifying existing infrastructure, community-based solutions are also being sought as an underused answer. Community organizations, like for example the Coney Island Beautification Project, which has since broadened its range after Hurricane Sandy to include local environmental advocacy and flood resilience, help to create social resilience to prepare communities for the next natural disaster. While there is still a long way to go in improving resiliency and curbing climate change’s effects on these extreme weather events, we can look to communities to highlight the vulnerabilities in our responses and create better solutions for both us and our environment.