Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Scientists Long Warned of Storm Risks for City

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Scientists Long Warned of Storm Risks for City

Article excerpt

Faced with the devastating consequences of Sandy's sweep through the region, city and state officials are talking about levees, storm surge barriers and other measures to prevent future disasters.

The warnings came, again and again.

For nearly a decade, scientists have told city and state officials that New York faces certain peril: rising sea levels, more frequent flooding and extreme weather patterns. The alarm bells grew louder last year after Hurricane Irene, when the city shut down its subway system and water rushed into the Rockaway Peninsula and Lower Manhattan.

Now, with New Yorkers confronted by submerged neighborhoods and water-soaked electrical equipment, officials are taking their first tentative steps toward considering major infrastructure changes that could protect the city's fragile shores and eight million residents from repeated disastrous damage.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said on Tuesday that the state should consider a levee system or storm surge barriers and face up to the inadequacy of the existing protections.

"The construction of this city did not anticipate these kinds of situations," Mr. Cuomo said during a radio interview. "We are only a few feet above sea level. As soon as you breach the sides of Manhattan, you now have a whole infrastructure under the city that fills -- the subway system, the foundations for buildings" and the World Trade Center site.

Accidents related to the storm claimed 22 lives in New York.

The Cuomo administration plans talks with city and U.S. officials about how to proceed. The task could be daunting, given fiscal realities: Storm surge barriers, the huge sea gates that some scientists say would be the best protection against floods, could cost as much as $10 billion.

But many experts say, given what happened with the latest storm, that inertia could be more expensive.

After rising roughly an inch, or about 2.5 centimeters, per decade in the past century, coastal waters in New York are expected to climb as fast as six inches per decade, according to a city- appointed scientific panel.

That much more water means the city's flood-risk zones could expand.

"Look, the city is extremely vulnerable to damaging storm surges just for its geography, and climate change is increasing that risk," said Ben Strauss, director of the sea level rise program at the research group Climate Central in Princeton, New Jersey. "Three of the top 10 highest floods at the Battery since 1900 happened in the last two and a half years," he said, referring to the southern tip of Manhattan. "If that's not a wake-up call to take this seriously, I don't know what is."

With an almost eerie foreshadowing, the dangers laid out by scientists as they tried to press public officials for change in recent years describes what happened this week: Subway tunnels filled with water, just as they had warned. …

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