We just lived through “the big one.” Hurricane Sandy was a more dangerous and destructive storm than 1962’s Hurricane Donna, and in terms of property damage, it far eclipsed the deadly 1938 Long Island Express, which catapulted a 30-foot-high wave over parts of the Jersey Shore. The most destructive storm to which we can compare Sandy is the late 1890s weather event that decimated Hog Island, an inhabited sand bar in Reynolds Channel (from Beach 17 to Beach 20 Streets). That storm also widened Norton’s Creek, the body of water that used to connect the ocean and the bay at Beach 35 Street, and undermined the grand, oceanfront Edgemere Hotel and all the structures around it, plus the iconic Iron Pier at Beach 105 Street in Seaside. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers arrived on the peninsula thereafter by popular demand, although reports show that the Corps had conducted dredging in Jamaica Bay even before that time. The Corps bulkheaded and filled Norton’s Creek after the storm, forever connecting to the rest of the peninsula the island that then included Edgemere, Arverne, Rockaway Beach and points west. By 1902, about 100 “cottages” were constructed west of Beach 116 Street, and the development of the west end began to accelerate.
We’ve seen first-hand what a really nasty hurricane can do to a developed barrier island/peninsula. Do we now explore every measure devised by man to protect our beaches and make our homes safer from the invasion of water? Methods that worked to safeguard individual homeowners and communities along the coast during Hurricane Sandy included a system of dunes anchored by discarded Christmas trees (in Bradley Beach, Monmouth County, NJ), and homes constructed on high concrete pillars (also in Monmouth County and in the Long Island Sound communities of Westchester County). In the Netherlands, experimental structures called amphibious homes look just like houseboats sitting directly on the water, except that they are supported by a stable platform fitted with a hydraulic lift that rises with the tide.
The carefully designed infrastructure of the new Arverne by the Sea community held up quite well against the ravages of the sea. Homeowners in other areas of the Rockaways should be watching for the new flood maps that should be issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency soon, to see how the elevations on their blocks compare to those at ABTS. Word is that nobody in that development needed to move a car from its normal parking spot or evacuate. Compare this to the residents who endured the storm in Breezy Point, Broad Channel and Rockaway Park, watching 6 feet of water climb the sides of their houses and set their vehicles afloat. If you’d like to keep up-to-date on local storm-related issues, I’d recommend visiting the Hurricane Sandy webpage of Region 2 FEMA, at http://www.region2coastal.com/sandy. There is a wealth of information explaining map terminology like FIRMs and ABFEs. You can enter your address and download the map for your area, or sign up for an email newsletter, Twitter feed or RSS feed.
I think we need to take heed of these instructive examples. Alternatively, we could just spray sand on the beaches as we’ve done in the past, and stick our heads in it.
Text and photos copyright Vivian R. Carter 2012. Note: all images in this post, including header photo, were taken at the 7 a.m. high tide during the no-name Nor’easter storm on Thur. Dec. 27, 2012, NOT during Hurricane Sandy.