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Life after Sandy: 18 months after the super storm, the rebuild continues

Hurricane Sandy, unofficially dubbed “Superstorm Sandy,” was the deadliest and most destructive category-three hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, as well as the second most costly hurricane in U.S. history, just behind Hurricane Katrina. While most hurricanes go out to sea upon reaching the Mid-Atlantic, Sandy, however, set a course for devastation.

From Oct. 22, 2012, through Oct. 31, the storm tore through the Caribbean, hitting Cuba, Jamaica and the Bahamas before curving north, heading straight for the Eastern Seaboard. On Oct. 29, Sandy moved onshore in Brigantine, N.J., just northeast of Atlantic City. Superstorm Sandy ripped through the New York metropolitan area and onto New Jersey’s densely populated coast.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Weather Service (NWS), Sandy damaged or destroyed at least 650,000 homes and left approximately 8.5 million customers without power during the storm and its aftermath.

Hitting home

“The level of devastation at the Jersey Shore is unthinkable,” said New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in a news conference post-Sandy. Christie commented on the irreparable loss of life in one of the worst storms the East Coast has seen. “When you look around you and see all of the destruction that’s fine –all of that stuff can be replaced,” he said. “When you look to your right and to your left and see your husband or wife, your son or daughter –those are the things that cannot be replaced.” Sandy killed an estimated 285 individuals.

Well after Sandy dissipated, the storm surge, which reached record levels, was accompanied by powerful, damaging waves. As NOAA reports, in many of these locations, especially along the coast of central and northern New Jersey, Staten Island and the southward-facing shores of Long Island, the storm surge caused eight-foot flooding and outages that left some communities without power for months.

Learning a hard lesson and ramping up standards

A year-and-a-half later, many communities are still trying to pick up the pieces and the slow, but steady recovery continues as coastal towns near the second summer season after the storm. As CBS-Philly reports, many local contractors on the Jersey Shore are ramping up their building efforts –rehabbing, tearing down and rebuilding to a new tune in the post-Sandy world.

In an effort to make enhancements to existing disaster preparation, area homeowners and construction companies are subject to recent changes in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood maps and considerable behind-the-scenes research before rebuilding. Most of the work involves lifting grounded homes to handle flooding, including flood-base elevation standards, as well as new home insurance guidelines.

“After Sandy, we saw very unique damage patterns from northern Ocean county to Mantoloking north across Manasquan Inlet and into Sea Girt, N.J.,” explains Dr. Thomas Herrington of the Stevens Institute of Technology. “What we’re learning is, in Sea Girt, there is a large beach and dune system which limited the amount of water that was able to penetrate homes and in Bay Head, there was a relic seawall from a past storm that occurred in the 1960s. Mantoloking unfortunately had neither and the storm system was allowed to just propagate right through the community as if nothing was there.”

As a result, FEMA has released a series of new preliminary flood insurance rate maps, now available for New York City and Cumberland, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean and Salem counties.

Room for improvement

While timber pilings have long been a go-to method for raising homes, there is also room for improved technologies, such as helical piers and anchors, offering a deep foundation system and the ability to increase elevation without lifting homes off the foundation. “Sandy has exposed a wider audience to this technology and is forcing builders to rise to meet FEMA standards,” says Pat Haffert, marketing director of Danbro Distributors, a provider of certified helical piers and installers.

While the mid-Atlantic has certainly learned its lesson the hard way, the rebuild moves forward as builders do their best to meet new safety codes and guidelines to construction a more prepared coastline. But according to a study by Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics, more than two-thirds of New Jerseyans agree, almost 18 months after Sandy wreaked havoc, the state is not yet “back to normal. In fact, 58 percent of residents think it could be up to five years down the line before things return to pre-Sandy conditions.

Yet the walls keep going up, the hammers keep pounding and the reconstruction continues as the importance of community planning, flood control and better building rises to the forefront of the construction arena as the region attempts to make one of the biggest comebacks in history.

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