Earth News Journal 25: Rebuilding After Hurricane Sandy

October 29, 2013 marked the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, a destructive natural disaster that ransacked the American east coast only a year previous.

With much of Jersey Shore and New York City ruined by intense flooding, this super-storm proved to be a climate warning for many policymakers across the nation.

“There is a reality that has existed for a long time that we have been blind to. And that is climate change, extreme weather…and our vulnerability to it,” petitioned New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, just days after the initial strike.

Environmental advocate groups from around the country echoed Cuomo’s assertion, including Brian Holland, Climate Program Director at ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability. “Sandy was a wake-up call, and not just for the eastern seaboard but for communities all over the country that we need to start preparing for climate change now,” remarked Holland.

Indeed, the federal government approached Sandy relief efforts with a new approach, urging local instead of national leaders to plan for climate changes in “very specific ways.” The Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force constructed 69 policy recommendations that would guide the country in recovery, but the overlying theme of the conference was eminent: “in an age of warmer temperatures and rising seas, plan for a future with stronger, more frequent storms.”

Robert Puentes of the Brookings Institute says that this bottom-up approach, as opposed to top-down managing, of Hurricane Sandy relief laid out by the task force is recognizing a different role for the federal government.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan agrees with Puentes, believing that this shift in leadership could change the fate of American coastal cities for the remainder of global climate impacts. “Local governments and community leaders are the front lines of disaster recovery, and it is the job of the Federal Government to have their back by supporting their efforts, providing guidance when necessary, and delivering resources to help them fulfill their needs,” wrote Donovan.

In Brick Township, New Jersey, officials are finalizing the plans to build a $40 million sand dune, after reviewing evidence from dune-enclosed towns during Sandy’s storm. In New York, Governor Cuomo has offered to buy flood-submerged properties from homeowners at pre-storm market prices. Once obtained, the properties, according to Cuomo, will be demolished and the land given back to Mother Nature.

Reflection

I remember the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in the autumn of 2012 – only 13 months ago. It was one of the most traumatizing, destructive forces that ravaged the country since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Being much more mature this time around, I was an honest witness, bearing truth to Mother Nature’s awesome fury, counting my lucky stars that Ohio was not one of the states wiped clean off the coastline. This article alluded to Hurricane Katrina, as well – how government plans to revitalize the storm-swept bayou has been largely left to languish.  I am encouraged by all of the local leaders taking the initiative to rebuild after Sandy, but I sincerely hope that the task force and federal encouragement remain long enough for the east coast to rebuild, and to prepare for another vengeful natural disaster.

Jervey, Ben. “Year After Sandy, Rebuilding for Storms and Rising Seas.” National Geographic. N.p., 26 Oct. 2013. Web. 28 Oct. 2013.

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