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Hurricane Sandy aftermath: New York mayor rules out flood barrier to protect against future storms

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has ruled out the construction of a flood barrier to protect the city from future storms like Hurricane Sandy.

Bloomberg said he was unconvinced that any attempt at flood prevention would be value for money. Instead he urged building owners to do more to build in flood resilience such as by not putting backup generators in basements.

“In terms of [what can be done to better protect] infrastructure – some of it is practical reality,” said Bloomberg. “We live on an island; we are very concentrated; there are economics involved. There are risks when you have those factors,” he said, adding that the energy and transport infrastructure knocked out by Sandy was too widespread to be defended by engineered structures.

“I don’t know if there are any practical ways to build barriers in oceans when you have an enormous harbour like we do, as well as Long Island Sound,” said Bloomberg. “Even if you spend a fortune I am not sure you would get value for it.

“What we have to do is learn,” he said. “It would help if you didn’t put generators in the basement, and it would help if you tested them more. There is work do on those kinds of things,” he said.

However New York Governor Andrew Cuomo did not rule out some form of engineered solution, and said “a lot of money” would need to be spent looking at options.

“We should learn from this disaster,” said Cuomo. “These are going to happen more often,” he warned. “These 100 year storms, given the climate change, are going to happen maybe every four or five years. So we have to learn, as there will be a storm of this magnitude again.

“This city grew up because of its harbour; its location. We have to now protect ourself from it. We are going to have to study very carefully how to in effect fortify this city for the future; how to make sure that next time there is a 14 foot (4m) surge that Manhattan is not flooded; that the subways are not flooded; that a Con Ed substation can be a fortress.

“It’s going to cost money, a lot of money, but less than disasters like this in the future,” he said. Best estimates put the total cost of the damage to New York’s economy at up to $50bn (£31bn).

Earlier Bloomberg confirmed that Sandy had taken the lives of at least 37 New Yorkers, and that more deaths were likely.

He said that in getting the city back on its feet there were “two paramount challenges”: restoring power and restoring mass transit.

Many subway lines remain closed (see right), and Bloomberg was yesterday forced to impose heavy restrictions on the use of the city’s four East River bridges to tackle massive traffic congestion as New Yorkers attempted to get back to work.

“There is no question travel into the city yesterday was extremely difficult; so clogged were the roads that we did worry about getting emergency services through,” said Bloomberg.

To tackle congestion the bridges are now off limits to vehicles with three or less passengers. Temporary bus lanes are also being introduced on key transport corridors and special ferry services introduced. Subway, bus and commuter rail services will be free until the weekend, to encourage the use of mass transit.

“The gridlock we experienced yesterday shows that the New York metropolitan region is in a transportation emergency,” Cuomo said. “To get people out of their cars and onto mass transit, I immediately authorised the MTA to suspend transit fares through the end of the work week.”

Workers from New York’s power company Con Ed meanwhile are working round the clock to restore power: 534,000 customers in the New York area remain without power, an improvement on 676,000 yesterday.

Bloomberg also warned that New York’s beaches not safe due to sewer discharges during the storm.

Bloomberg praised contractors in New York City for, in almost all cases, securing the construction sites around the city against the storm. There were very few instances of construction materials blowing around and causing damage, he reported. A ban on exterior construction has been lifted, he said, allowing outdoor construction in the city to resume.

Readers' comments (1)

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  • My practice has developed automatic Float Up Flood Barriers that can support heavy goods vehicles when down and defend against depths of 2m or more when automatically raised. The designs are site specific. They require no power. They are available through a leading UK supplier. Patents are pending. These barriers are able to protect tunnel entrances, such as for subways and underpasses, as well as surface infrastructure as part of a flood defence scheme into which access is normally required. Please contact me for more information. Geoff. Evans, 2gh Water. geoff@2gh.co.uk.

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