Special Coverage

  • Read more on Sandy’s Aftermath

When a disastrous weather event strikes a fragile portion of the coast, resident responses vary. Some shrug their shoulders. Others vow to rebuild, stronger than before. And some decide to leave. In a recent report in the New Republic, Elizabeth Rush, a fellow at Bates College in Maine, took a look at the view in the rear-view mirror (see: "As the Seas Rise: Managing retreat along New York City's coasts," by Elizabeth Rush).

Rush, who is working on a book about coastal responses to climate change, interviewed geology professor Alan Benimoff at the College of Staten Island. Benimoff's detailed computer maps and visualizations help him communicate the shoreline's history of occupation and development, as buildings and filled lots replaced wetlands over the decades, click by computer click.

"I've plotted every single Sandy-related death as well," Benimoff tells Rush. "The important thing to realize is this: over half of the people who died in the storm were standing atop land that once was a marsh. If you ask me ... none of those homes should have been built in the first place."

But they were built — and the question facing policymakers is what to do next. After Sandy, local people in neighborhood meetings discovered that they shared a widespread opinion: they were ready to leave. Facing a popular groundswell, New York state officials organized extensive buyouts.

Most of Staten Island's blue-collar population, however, didn't leave. And those who remain in flood-prone areas now face an economic pressure: the rise of flood insurance premiums. Writes Rush: "In New York City, the reforms have already gone into effect. On April 1st homeowners saw the beginnings of standardized incremental policy increases. In a recent report, The Center for Catastrophic Risk Management and Compensation predicted that the rise in premiums will effectively price out many low- to middle-income homeowners. On the coasts, many of them will soon face the choice that Oakwood Beach residents considered after the storm: should they move inland?"

Many have already left. But state and local statistics show that even more have decided to rebuild, according to a report in the Staten Island Advance (see: "Hurricane Sandy: Recovery by the numbers, three years later," by Steve White). According to figures compiled by the paper, 399 state buyouts have been closed. But 2,201 Staten Island residents have applied for help from the city's Build it Back program, 551 projects have started, and 331 have been completed, the paper reports.

Still, for families in the most exposed areas, the ones badly flooded by Sandy's storm surge, the decision to leave is an easy one. The Advance reports here on the example of Fox Beach, which was devastated in the storm (see: "Three years after Hurricane Sandy, Fox Beach inches toward desolation," by Zak Koeske).

"Nearly three years after Sandy wreaked havoc on the low-lying beachfront community, only a handful of homes on each street are still inhabited," the paper reports. "The majority are boarded up, their yards overgrown and swept with debris, their doors padlocked and affixed with signs that read, 'No trespassing,' 'Unsafe Area and 'Warning! Rat Poison.' Some homes have already been demolished, leaving behind empty lots that are in the process of returning to nature."