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The Impact of Hurricane Sandy on New York City – October 2012

On the 29th October Hurricane Sandy crossed New York City. While there was high rainfall and the highest recorded wind gust in New York was 90 miles per hour (140 km/h) at much of the damage was caused by a storm surge which was approximately 14 feet above Mean Low Water, which flooded many road and subway tunnels and damaged electrical equipment. The surge level at Battery Park topped 13.88 feet at 21:24 on the 29th October. The death toll was 42 in New York. After the hurricane, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that Sandy caused $19 billion in losses in New York City.

New York City has long been seen as vulnerable to storm surges, compared to other major coastal cities, which raises questions about the city’s long term resilience planning. New York City also took a long time to deal with the aftermath of the event, FEMA in particular was criticised for its inadequate performance, whereas the National Guard and US Coast Guard performed well.  What was true that many people endured long periods of homelessness, or where they had homes these were often cold and damp during the New York winter.

The flooding of five key sub-stations (the 13th Street Con Edison substation and 4 LIPA substations) caused a significant and lengthy power outage from 20:00 hrs on the 29th October. It took New York utilities 13 days before power was restored power to approximately 95 percent of customers – the remainder endured further days in the cold and dark.

Following Hurricane Sandy New York City has launched a Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR) which will increase protection against tidal surges and rising sea-levels, taking into account recent climate change predictions, it will also strengthen its infrastructure. With an initial budget of $3.7 bn. New York City is undertaking “a resilient transformation”.

It is now acknowledged that the city’s vulnerability was greater than had previously been understood.

In March 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the establishment of the Office of Recovery and Resiliency (ORR). This Office leads the City’s efforts to build a stronger, more resilient New York. The City states that “ORR will guide the City’s work as we: strengthen coastal defenses, upgrade buildings, protect infrastructure and critical services, and make our homes, businesses, and neighborhoods safer and more vibrant.”

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