A year ago Tuesday evening, Hurricane Sandy slammed into the Eastern Seaboard, destroying lives and homes and entire neighborhoods. On the first anniversary of the storm, politicians are busily touting what they’ve done since, while, at the same time, assiduously dodging legitimate complaints from people who are still suffering.
The delays have been excruciating for many. Although the federal government approved almost $60 billion in aid for the region, thousands of homeowners have seen barely a trickle. In New Jersey, more than 26,000 people are still out of their homes a year later, and, in New York City, at least 20,000 households still need help rebuilding and returning to functioning homes.
On the plus side, and despite all the unfinished business, Sandy has forced people to reimagine the future. Because the storm was just a taste of what’s coming as the earth’s temperatures rise and oceans expand into human territory, many politicians and private citizens have realized the folly of rebuilding what was there before.
The federal flood insurance program, for instance, has been re-evaluated and revised. The government is mapping out new flood-prone areas and reducing subsidies for second homes or other properties in areas that have been flooded repeatedly. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City has argued that flood insurance for homeowners of modest means should not skyrocket to the point where it becomes unaffordable, but, in the long run, it makes sense to demand that insured properties be made more resilient.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, meanwhile, has offered a promising program to buyout damaged or destroyed homes. But it is proceeding slowly. Of more than 500 properties in a particularly devastated section of Staten Island — mostly the Oakwood Beach area — there are fewer than a dozen buyouts so far. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey has offered $300 million in buyouts.
Other sensible proposals would reinforce the shoreline with dunes and wetlands, oyster beds and rock berns — all designed to allow nature to help absorb the shock of a future Sandy. And we can be fairly certain that another one will occur.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported in September that the odds of a Sandy-like disaster happening again in New York City have increased 50 percent; the predictions for the end of the century are even more dire.