They were communities that had withstood the force of nature for decades; sometimes a century or more. People lived in the quaint homes for generations. The towns were a real life Mayberry; complete with a Sheriff Andy; Deputy Barney; Aunt Bee; Floyd the Barber; Opie and yes… maybe even a town drunk like Otis. And a filling station with bottles of pop and free air.
Storms were a part of life in these towns along the Jersey Shore, Long Beach, The Rockaways, and Breezy Point in the borough of Queens, New York. And these storms did damage. The 1938 “Long Island Express” hurricane took 600 lives and did about $308 million in damage to insured property, the equivalent of $4.1 billion today, according to the Insurance Information Institute, a trade group.
And there was hurricane Donna in 1960 and most recently hurricane Irene. But nothing these sturdy homes and their inhabitants couldn’t handle with a visit to the local hardware store. Yep. They still had those. Or maybe Home Depot or Lowe’s if the local guy was out of something. That all changed when Hurricane Sandy made landfall in the United States about 8 p.m. EDT Oct. 29, striking near Atlantic City, N.J., with winds of 80 mph. At one point, Sandy’s hurricane-force winds (at least 74 mph) extended up to 175 miles from its center and tropical storm-force winds (39 mph) out to 485 miles. According to the National Hurricane Center, Sandy was the second-largest Atlantic tropical cyclone on record. Hurricane Olga set the record in 2001, with tropical-force winds extending 600 miles.
The only ‘shore’ thing in New Jersey was damage. Madam Marie’s, the fortune teller made famous in Bruce Springsteen’s “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” is still on the boardwalk. The Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove, a 118-year-old wooden structure, had some roof damage, but survived. In Seaside Heights, the iconic Jet Star roller coaster is doing loops in the Atlantic Ocean, along with several other rides. A car from the Stillwalk Manor, a haunted mansion ride, washed up 10 miles north in Point Pleasant. The Rockaways suffered major damage and Breezy Point basically burned to ground. Fire; not water, being the culprit.
Hurricane Sandy was record breaking in many ways. It featured the lowest barometric pressure ever record for an Atlantic Hurricane in the northeast, 940 millibars – 27.76 inches. The previous record holder was the 1938 Hurricane, which saw readings as low as 946 millibars. Sandy combined to produce a record storm surge of water into New York City. The surge level at Battery Park topped 13.88 feet; surpassing the 10.02 feet record water level set by Hurricane Donna in 1960. New York Harbor’s surf also reached a record level when a buoy measured a 32.5-foot wave; 6.5 feet taller than a 25-foot wave churned up by Hurricane Irene in 2011.
For Evan Bloom, Long Beach was a natural fit. The owner of a Sir Speedy Printing franchise in Westbury, Bloom grew up in nearby Douglastown, Queens and lived for a time in California. “The beach was a part of my life and my wife attended high school in Long Beach,” Bloom told Total Mortgage. “People know the dangers of the storms in Long Beach but I don’t believe most thought anything really significant could happen. As bad as Irene was, folks got through it. Before Sandy, I never had my house flooded. But we evacuated as Sandy approached. Part of the reason is that we have two young children. Many people in Long Beach stayed as Sandy approached.”
In a chilling reminder, an article from the August 28, 2005 New York Times spoke about the next ‘superstorm’ and focused on Long Beach. In part, the article said, “Based on National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration Slosh maps (an acronym for “sea, lake and overland surges from hurricanes”), the map showed the entire city of Long Beach under more than eight feet of water, enough to obliterate houses and put oceanfront high rises at imminent peril of being undermined and toppled. A tidal surge running up to 21 feet above normal high tide would flood low-lying communities all along the South Shore and as far as five miles inland.”
For Bob Fusco, a vice-president at Long Island-based, OceanSafe Building Systems, a manufacturer of steel structural insulated panels, there are differences between the work the firm did after Katrina and what they face in the aftermath of Sandy. “In the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, the Make it Right project financed much of the rebuilding. With Sandy, there are insurance issues,” he explained. “Many homeowners have not yet received settlements and in some cases, the settlements are much lower than expected. The major problem with Sandy was the flooding. There is a tipping point where you have to ask yourself if it’s worth repairing your home or build a new home that is raised in preparation for the next event. And there will be another event. We all agree with that.”
Recently, the Bloomberg administration in New York City, issued an executive order suspending certain zoning restrictions, such as building heights, which might hinder property owners in their rebuilding efforts. Homeowners wishing to rebuild would have to take actions like raising their first floors, which could push up the entire building’s height a few feet. If the area has a height restriction, it would cost the homeowner. Thanks to the executive order, that will not be the case. As an example, If a home was 30 feet high before and now must be raised six feet, the home would be allowed to rise to 36 feet.
And New York state is proposing to spend as much as $400 million to purchase homes impacted by Sandy; have them demolished and preserve the flood-prone land permanently, as undeveloped coastline. Residents living in flood plains would be offered the pre-storm value of their houses to relocate; those in even more vulnerable areas would be offered a bonus to sell; and in a small number of highly flood-prone areas, the state would double the bonus if an entire block of homeowners agreed to leave. The proposal has received a luke-warm response from affected homeowners. Many prefer to stay and rebuild.
Next: Building for the future or not …..
Steve Viuker is a Brooklyn, New York business journalist.
He has covered real estate, small business and banking for numerous national online and print media.