Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Want to Stay on the Coast? Homeowners Weigh Post-Sandy Elevation

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Want to Stay on the Coast? Homeowners Weigh Post-Sandy Elevation

Article excerpt

A year ago August, the storm surge from tropical storm Irene pushed six inches of water through Fred and Lisa Clarke's two-story beach cottage on the banks of the Norwalk River in Connecticut.

Just after the Clarkes completed getting the house back the way they wanted it, superstorm Sandy pushed 18 inches of water through their living room.

For the Clarkes, it's been two floods and lots of dirty work and tears.

"I think we're going to elevate the house," says Ms. Clarke, as she looks at the bare planking on the great room floor. "We just don't know how high we will have to go."

The Clarkes are among tens of thousands of homeowners whose abodes were flooded by Sandy and who are now trying to figure out a long-term solution.

Do they rebuild thinking the storm was just a freak of nature and not likely to happen again? Do they reach deep into their pockets to hire architects and contractors who can try to stormproof their homes? Or do they throw in the towel, allowing Mother Nature to take over their property?

The answer is a complex mix.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is likely to review where the floodwaters ended up to see if it needs to change the agency's approximation of the boundaries of a 100-year flood. Local officials will wait until that FEMA verdict comes in before looking at zoning. Still, in any event, local officials are likely to give some kind of green light for those homeowners who decide they want to rebuild.

"Barring imminent health and welfare issues, no one will prevent them from rebuilding," says Marc Roy, a former FEMA official who is now an adjunct professor of disaster management at Tulane University in New Orleans.

But should they?

Some experts in flooding say residents in low-lying coastal areas that flood should consider moving to higher ground.

"After a couple of floods, if people used common sense, they would just get out of there," says Orrin Pilkey, a professor emeritus at Duke University in Durham, N.C., and an expert on coastal sea-level rise. "I would not just patch up the holes and go back."

But people are often driven by the love of their homes or communities and want to return.

In New Orleans following hurricane Katrina, for example, some residents in areas that were under 18 to 20 feet of water, such as the Lower Ninth Ward, have rebuilt. In some cases, they are now protected by higher and better levees, which held when hurricane Isaac came through this August.

Clarke also has strong links to the area where her home flooded. In a brief drive around the neighborhood, she stops to say hello to a distant relative, who is cleaning up after the storm. She remembers her grandmother's home a short distance away in Harbor View a community also flooded by the storm. And she and her husband often launch kayaks from their backyard and paddle around the harbor. …

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