News from the Ground: Diversity of Sandy's Coastal Damage

News from the Ground: Diversity of Sandy's Coastal Damage

  • by Architecture for Humanity
  • Nov 11, 2012
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Last week the Disaster Team and New York City Chapter toured nearly 140 miles of the New Jersey and New York coastlines to get a firsthand sense of the damage wrought late last month by Hurricane Sandy, and assessing the highest priorities in long-term reconstruction.

The overall impression: recovery will be complex. Damage along the coast is pocketed, with separate conditions from neighborhood to neighborhood, or even house to house. This condition sets the Eastern Seaboard apart from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, which was vast and total.

Working class communities were the hardest hit, and will have the most trouble recovering. The Wall Street Journal reports that, with a couple exceptions, at least half of damaged residences in most towns are uninsured against floods, and only 1% of damaged homes in New York are insured against flood damage.

This update highlights four different circumstances of damage that last week's tour helped uncover.

In the next few weeks, the New York City Chapter of Architecture for Humanity will conduct further assessments and mapping.


The barrier islands of New York and New Jersey took the brunt of Sandy's impact. On top of some of the most extensive damage, the very nature of these islands makes them difficult to rebuild. Yet towns have populated these scenic destination spots, and the local economy depends on tourism to survive.

In Seaside Heights, 3000 people constitute the town's permanent population, but the seasonal number swells to 100,000 – especially during holiday weekends and over the Summer.

The Seaside Heights boardwalk - the town's economic engine - was completely destroyed by the storm. Most businesses along the boardwalk were also damaged or destroyed. The surge essentially pushed all the way across the barrier island, leaving an inundation of water and sand. One resident told our Team that 200 feet inland, he and his neighbors were digging out from beneath five feet of displaced sand. Only half the residents of Seaside Heights have flood insurance.

The residents of Seaside Heights are anxious, and hope for a rapid recovery. The absence of one season of business along the Boardwalk could mean bankruptcy for the town.


Red Hook experienced an inundation of several feet of water that in some places stayed put for 24 hours. Buildings in the part of town our team surveyed had been based down through generations to their current owners. Many of these "Mom and Pop" landlords depend on renters as their primary source of income, and do not have the capital or liquidity to rebuild. However such actions are mandatory.

While buildings are being "green tagged" in the neighborhood, this indication of structural stability does not mean all repairs have been made, or that the building is fully inhabitable. Flooded basements mean the replacement of mechanical systems, boilers and HVAC, as well as attention paid to demolding.


A lot of residential streets got hit by the surge; water (and boats) came onto the island. Damage here was particularly sporadic, and the topography of island left standing water inland for close to a week.


Similar conditions to Staten Island, with a notable exception that the sandier soil conditions here led to unsettled buildings. The implications here are that buildings that avoided damage by fire or flood may have to be demolished all the same. The mix of housing types leads to further complication – in certain parts of the Rockaways, houses had their basements that were flooded, including mechanical systems. Other houses built at-grade had their foundations broken.


The diversity of the circumstances for recovery means that different neighborhoods are going to recover at different rates. The priorities the Disaster Team has identified at this point:

• Repair of structurally sound intact houses and businesses so they can regain full functionality and habitability. $20,000 grants can get MEP needs for many of these buildings solved, for instance.
• Reconstruction of destroyed homes.
• Building back green: helping people identify sustainable strategies for coastal living, and developing strategies to mitigate or circumvent future destruction from severe weather events.


View Schools affected by Sandy in a larger map