For some of us, Hurricane Sandy is already subsiding into a distant, traumatic memory. Our residences are intact, power has returned and our loved ones are safe and sound. For the inhabitants of ravaged areas such as Staten Island, the Jersey coastline, and the shores of Long Island, however, the “superstorm” is a continuing nightmare. Even as we return to our daily routines in the Flatiron District, Chelsea, and all around NYC, it is important for us to keep in mind communities that still haven’t recovered from Sandy’s onslaught.
Flatiron Hot! had a chance to visit one such impacted community. Many residents of Northport, located on the North Shore of Long Island in Suffolk County, built their homes atop cliffs overlooking the Sound.
To some, beachfront properties might imply wealth. In fact, Northport’s residents hail from a diverse range of socioeconomic backgrounds. Some are middle-aged or elderly and constructed their houses when the shores of Long Island were largely undeveloped and thus relatively inexpensive to build on. Therefore, they may not possess the resources to repair the damage caused by Sandy’s powerful waves.
That being said, Northport’s residents were far from negligent in preparing for the hurricane. Having witnessed first-hand the destructive potential of lesser storms, many went to great lengths to protect the fragile cliffs from erosion by surging waves.
Some paid work crews thousands to construct sea walls, reinforced by sandbags and concrete cylinders. Others attempted the back-breaking work themselves, constructing barriers that would impress professional engineers.
Their efforts were no match for the devastation of Superstorm Sandy. The resulting damage to the cliffs, which could very well collapse with sufficient erosion, was in many cases considerable. The seawalls that demanded so much labor and resources lie in ruins. Staircases leading down to the beach were decimated, if not washed away completely.
Eugene Kaplan, an 80-year-old author and marine biologist, lost his seawall, kayaks, motorboat and, worst of all, his lavish, painstakingly-constructed Zen garden (equipped with Buddhist statues and a path he laid with bricks gathered from along the shoreline).
Kaplan estimates that it will cost the community hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair the damage wrought by Sandy and to prepare for the superstorm’s inevitable successor. Alas, insurance companies will not be on hand to help shoulder the financial burden; seawalls and easily-eroded cliffs are considered too risky to cover.
Thus, Northport’s residents will have to confront the arduous task on their own. Repairing the damage will require bringing in bulldozers to reinforce the badly-eroded cliffs with new soil. Afterwards, tress and bushes must be planted to replace the vegetation swept away by the waves.
And then there’s the matter of reconstructing new, stronger seawalls that are better equipped to contend with a new breed of storm rendered all the more powerful by the effects of climate change.