Hurricane Sandy Disaster Response And Aftermath

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Introduction

On October 22nd 2012, a hurricane out of season began to form south of Jamaica heading north. This was Hurricane Sandy, the 4th most costly hurricane ($65bn) to hit the USA (NOAA, 2018). Sandy made landfall as a Category-1 in Jamaica and upgraded to a Category-3 over eastern Cuba, but downsized to a Category-1 while passing through The Bahamas (Blake et al., 2013). Sandy remained a Category-1 finally moved parallel to the US east coast before making landfall near in Brigantine New Jersey (Blake et al., 2013). Furthermore, the storm surged affected areas of key infrastructure.

For example, there are 17 power plants and 13 wastewater treatments plants situated along the coast of New York City in which some were affected (Silverman, 2012). Having critical infrastructure so close to the water can lead to detrimental problems; as with hurricane Sandy, it caused power loss to more than 8.5 million customers (Clouse, 2017). In addition, the NYSE and the Nasdaq closed for two days, Amadeo, 2018). Both Governors of New York and New Jersey declared a state of emergency for the upcoming hurricane Sandy (New York State, 2012). Hurricane Sandy was an atypical event as it appeared not only out of season but originated from the south and headed north, opposed to the normal forming in the east and heading west.Figure 1 path taken by Hurricane Sandy (NOAA, n.d)

The Hazard

Hurricanes are a common occurrence in the Caribbean and the USA; on average, about 12 hurricanes hit the Atlantic basin per year (NOAA, 2015). They usually form between the months of June and November, as the conditions are ideal for a hurricane to form. Hurricanes form over oceans and typically start out as tropical waves, an area of low pressure that moves through an area of high humidity (NOAA, 2018). As the weather system moves across the tropics and warm ocean air is drawn up into the storm, which causes an area of low pressure at the base of the storm (NOAA, 2018), thus causing more warm air to be drawn in. As the air rises and cools, it forms the clouds and thunderstorms that are associated with hurricanes; however, these clouds allow for water to condense, which in turn release more heat to power the storm (NOAA, 2018).

This continuous convection current fuels the hurricane. The longer the hurricane can remain over warm waters, the larger and more destructive it will become when it makes landfall. Additionally, when the wind speed reaches 74mph, it is officially categorised as a hurricane. Not only does the winds cause damage to property, a hurricane causes storm surges. Storm surges are the level of seawater during a storm and how high they are above normal predicted tidal lines (NOAA, 2018). The combination of the high winds and storm surges is a concoction for devastation. In the case of Sandy, it gained and lost power as it went along, but when it made landfall in New Jersey, it brought in 80mph winds making it at least a Category-1; however, the pressure was that of a Category-3 hurricane (Blake et al., 2013).Figure 2 simple diagrams of the mechanics of a hurricane (REF)

Hurricanes are usually distributed in the northern hemisphere with a large number of hurricanes that make landfall in the USA originating from the west of Africa and travelling east while gaining energy and size.

Since 2000, USA have had 15 hurricanes that cost the government over a billion dollars. Sandy was the 4th costliest hurricane to hit USA, costing the government around $65 billion. The most expensive was Katrina costing $125 billion. Hurricanes hit USA roughly 12 times a year with at least one devastating hurricane which causes over a billion dollars worth of damage. Every year USA and the Caribbean islands are frequently struck by hurricanes of different magnitudes and intensities. There is no common distribution of hurricanes that form in the Atlantic basin; they will only occur when the favourable conditions are met.

However, Sandy fell out of the hurricane season and also outside of the ‘usual’ hurricane path. This makes hurricane Sandy an outlier when it comes to mapping the normal distribution of hurricanes in the region. However, hurricanes are constantly being researched and better systems are developed to detect when and where they form but also the likely path they will take. For example, a paper by Gladwin et al. (2009) identifies the need to have improved forecast and warning systems that meet the goals of protecting lives and properties from the dangers of hurricanes.

Since the event of Hurricane Sandy, scientists have tried to hypothesise why an event of this scale may have occurred. A number of scientists have hypothesised that warming temperatures and rising sea levels could be held accountable for Sandy to even occur in the first place (Cook, 2015). Moreover, scientists have discovered a ‘blockage’ effect that originates from Greenland, which then disrupts the weather systems over the east coast of North America causing the system to become ‘blocked’ and maintaining on the east coast of USA rather than following the Gulf Stream (Freedman, 2012).

Vulnerability

Due to the huge area of a hurricane, when it makes landfall it affects populated areas even though they could be miles away. Even though Sandy made landfall in New Jersey, the effects were felt in New York City too. The most harmful part of a hurricane to life and property is the storm surge.

As aforementioned, Sandy made landfall in Brigantine, New Jersey, causing vast amounts of destruction. Towns further north were worse affected than Brigantine. Mantoloking was hit especially hard, to the point where two new temporary inlets were created (Beachapedia, 2015). Sandy affected most of the coastal towns with strong winds and the subsequent storm surge. There is very little to no protection along the coast of New Jersey or New York, which in turn put all the property and life in danger in the affected areas.

Looking at New York, it has a number of vulnerabilities, which makes it a nightmare for the city planners to deal with hurricanes and the effects they bring. Firstly, the geography of New York, as it sits on a bight. A bight is a curve on an open shoreline (Silverman, 2012). This is a problem, as there are shallow waters around New York, so when Sandy arrived it brought tonnes of water from the ocean, which then accumulated. The accumulated water is trapped in the bight with nowhere to go, until it can then spill over onto the land, into New York City, in particular the financial district, the New York Stock Exchange, which is located along with some other neighborhoods closest to the ocean. Furthermore, the excess of water produced storm surges of 1 to 1.5 metres. In addition, the waters that reached the city’s financial district were recorded at 4.2 meters.

Secondly, due to New York City being on an island, it has a vast number of high buildings and numerous bridges connecting the island to the mainland. With the large number of high rise buildings, the wind was felt four days before Sandy even hit. An example of this was the JP Morgan office building where some of their windows were blown entirely off (Silverman, 2012). Moreover, city officials closed down certain bridges in case they were going to collapse due to high wind speed.

Moreover, with hurricanes comes a vast deposit of rainwater. New York and the surrounding areas are heavily urbanised causing increased amounts of surface runoff. This runoff flowed down into a number of metro stations and tunnels causing flooding. This flooding causes infrastructural damage as the saltwater erodes the tracks and piping (Silverman, 2012).

When looking at the susceptibility of New York, it is not very susceptible to hurricanes. Since 2010, there have only been six hurricanes that have come close or made landfall close to New York. Out of six hurricanes, there have only been two that have caused wide spread damage and destruction. However, there have been a number of tropical storm remnants that have caused minor problems.

Preparedness

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Prior to Sandy making landfall, the Governors of New York and New Jersey declared state of emergency. This sets in motion a series of events where governmental buildings like hospitals and care homes will be reinforced using active flood protection (FEMA, 2013) or they can, in the worst case, call for an evacuation if the situation proceeds to get worse.

There is very little that can be done to protect against the hazards of hurricanes; however, you can actively prepare and protect against the subsequent storm surge. Storm surges are not just a coastal threat; they have impacts that reach further inland. Solutions to stop storm surges could be sea walls or elevated land. However, in the case of New Jersey and New York, there is very little to no protection against storm surges. Yet, due to USA encountering a number of hurricanes yearly, they have established the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which aids in the detecting, tracking and forecasting weather systems heading to any USA territory. With the NOAA being able to track hurricanes, they can deliver out alerts to states that are likely to be affected by the hurricane.

Even though there were defensive measures in place, the damage was detrimental. In New Jersey, much of the oceanfront properties were destroyed or completely removed from the foundations. Furthermore, Sandy and the storm surges destroyed iconic landmarks like the Belmar boardwalk and Casino Pier. Moreover, the storm surges deposited four feet of sand on the streets making it impassable, creating problems for the clean up process. On the other hand, the effects on New York were different due to the highly urbanised area and below sea-level infrastructure. The New York City subway system and road tunnels flooded. ConEd supplies the electricity to New York City and the surrounding areas, when Sandy passed through, roughly 750,000 citizens in the city lost electrical power for several days. New Jersey and Pennsylvania had over 3 million without power (Huffington, 2017).

In the aftermath of Sandy, the American Red Cross deployed 4000 disaster workers with thousands more coming from other states (Beachapedia, 2015). In addition, FEMA deployed over 7000 people to aid in the disaster relief by setting up recovery centres, providing bottles of water, meals and generators (Beachapedia, 2015).

Impacts

Hurricane Sandy impacted a large population and area, not only just physically but also economically, socially and even psychologically. Economically, hurricane Sandy caused a storm surge to hit the financial district in New York that subsequently closed the New York Stock Exchange and the technology market, Nasdaq, for two consecutive days, the first time since 1888 (Amadeo, 2018).

As a direct result of Sandy, critical infrastructure was damaged, slowing down all business activities, for example, large banking corporation told their employees not to come into work and the food industry had a problem with rotting food due to not having a place to store it or it being unable to sell it. Furthermore, the experts have predicted that 60% of lost business came from New Jersey and New York City areas (Argosy, 2019). In addition, not only did Sandy affect businesses, it also affected the livelihood of people in the affected area. Not only was personal property damaged or destroyed but also state buildings, like hospitals were.

A number of hospitals received flood defense measures (sandbagging), however, this was not enough as multiple hospitals experienced flooding on the lower levels of the building, damaging generator rooms and hospital supplies (FEMA, 2013). As aforementioned, millions of people were affected by wide spread power cuts, which caused panic and in some cases people were evacuated. The power cuts also had a direct effect on businesses, as they would not be able keep food chilled or use chip and pin machines. Overall, the estimated economical loss to New York as a direct result of hurricane Sandy was reported to be $18 billion (Russ and Hay, 2012).Figure 5 Effects of Hurricane Sandy (Milman, 2017)

The physical effects of hurricane Sandy were unprecedented as it was only a category-1 hurricane. The force that came along with Sandy made it seem like a category-3 hurricane, dragging tonnes of sand and driving gallons of water inland, destroying houses and leaving a path of destruction in its wake. Unfortunately, Sandy caused the deaths of 286 people, out of which 117 were U.S. citizens (Carbone and Wright, 2015). In USA, Sandy caused damage to around 200,000 homes and even to present day some still need repairs. As mentioned earlier, iconic areas like the Belmar boardwalk were completely destroyed as well as many of the piers along the coast broke due to strong waves degrading the wood and causing them to collapse, an example of this is the Casino Pier in Atlantic City.

Even to this day, the impacts of Sandy can be seen as well as felt. Many of the remnants can still be seen, not just in the Caribbean but also in USA. Although many reparations have been completed certain places still show the scars of the hurricane Sandy.

Going through a hurricane or an event similar has been known to potentially cause psychological difficulties. In all cases, the poorest section of the population is the hardest hit. A study was conducted after hurricane Sandy by Abramson (2015), which discovered that families that had an annual income of $20,000 or less were the most severely affected. Furthermore, they also saw a drop in their income after the events of Sandy, due to job loss or property reparations. Moreover, the paper also looked into the effect of Sandy on school children and how the event could have brought on depression. In the paper, it was found that 18% of the children affected by Sandy had experienced sadness or depression.

Resilience

Hurricane Sandy was one of the worst hurricanes to hit New York and the surrounding areas; however, with government funding and the correct use of resources, the communities affected were grouped together and became more resilient. Only 3 months after the event, the US government passed a relief bill worth $50.5 billion where at least $3.4 billion was allocated explicitly for construction (Beachapedia, 2015). NOAA released figures on the most costly hurricanes to hit USA and listed Sandy costing $65 billion (NOAA, 2018), roughly 15 billion more than the signed relief bill.

This lack of money from the relief bill can be seen in certain areas. An article by Milman (2017) interviewed a victim of hurricane Sandy, saying that even after 5 years they are still unable to return to their family home. Their house is still boarded up and no repairs have been carried out since the event. They have been shuttled between hotels and relatives. The program ‘Build It Back’ was started to repair and restore homes in New York City by the end of 2016, however only 1 in 5 people whom are eligible had their homes repaired (Milman, 2017).

The storm surge from hurricane Sandy caused vast amounts of damage. Since the event, there have been a number of proposals developed to mitigate the effects of storm surges. One example is the New York Harbor Storm-Surge Barrier, which was proposed to help manage risk of coastal storm damage from Sandy Hook to Rockaway (Riverkeeper, 2018). The barrier would help mitigate against storm surges, however, it has been criticised about how much it would affect the ecosystem, tidal flow and contaminant and sediment transport in the Hudson river and New York Harbor area (Riverkeeper, 2018). Furthermore, the price to build a barrier of this magnitude would cost somewhere between $10 to $50 billion with an annual maintenance cost of $100 million to $2.5 billion (Riverkeeper, 2018). A barrier like this does not only cause harm to the local ecosystems but also such a proposal is not feasible.

There is an increasing need to develop the necessary tools to help track and forecast weather systems that have the potential to develop into hurricanes. In addition, being able to mitigate the problem of storm surges is essential to protecting and maintaining the population, infrastructure and businesses. In the case of Sandy there was no protection against the storm surge, which is what caused the majority of the damage.

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