Archive for the tag 'floods'

Source: nasa.gov

Superstorm Sandy as seen from outer space. (Source: nasa.gov)

The New York City Council passed new building code laws last week in an effort to make structures more resilient should another natural catastrophe like Superstorm Sandy strike again.

The New York Times laid out the details of the new building code laws in their report:

One change requires residential buildings five stories or higher to add faucets in common areas like laundry rooms so that residents on higher floors have some access to water for drinking, flushing toilets and other uses. Upper floors lose water when electric pumps stop working during blackouts, a problem that worsened conditions and forced many people out of their buildings after the hurricane.

The requirement applies immediately to new residential construction, while existing buildings have eight years to add the fixtures…

Another piece of legislation requires new and existing hospitals and nursing homes in flood zones to install hookups that would enable quick connection to temporary generators and boilers so that such facilities can maintain electricity and heating when the power is out. The law requiring the hookups is effective immediately for new buildings, but gives existing buildings 20 years to comply.

Another new law makes it easier to install backup generators and generators that run on natural gas, which is considered a cleaner and more reliable source of power than diesel fuel. And a fourth law allows temporary flood barriers on sidewalks.

Russell Unger, who chaired the task force charged with providing the Council with recommendations, spoke to the overall singular goal of the new laws.

“It will make it much more possible to stay in a large building for an extended period without power,” Unger told the Times.

Source: FEMA via nytimes

Source: FEMA via nytimes

As the one year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy draws near, homeowners living along the shores are staring down another potential catastrophe, skyrocketing insurance rates. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that if coastal homeowners don’t begin the costly enterprise of elevating their homes, their coastal flood insurance premiums could increase by a whopping 500 percent.

We first reported on the possibly of drastically increased insurance rates in January when FEMA expanded the flood zone lines for the first time since 1983. According to estimates, a $250,000 home with a ground floor four feet below sea level will have to pay an eye-popping $9,500 a year in flood insurance. If the owners manage to (expensively) hoist that home three feet above the flood line will only have to pay $427 a year.

The Journal is reporting that approximately 30,000 homes, now located in the redrawn FEMA flood zone lines, could be faced with paying the high rates in two years time. Many of these homes are owned by middle-class residents and the new rates represent a punishing blow to people already hammered by the winds of Sandy last year.

For its part, FEMA declared that they will undertake an affordability study to measure the economic impact of their redrawn lines. The Journal is reporting that their study will take two years to complete and cost taxpayers $1.5 million to conduct.

In the meantime, senators in Washington are rallying for their constituents, calling for delays to the rate increases until the problem can be fairly addressed. The increased rates are the result of a law, called the Biggert-Waters Act, passed just months before Superstorm Sandy struck. The law renewed the federal flood insurance program, but sought to cut subsidies to the program and force homeowners to pay the rates that reflected the actual risk of living near the water. It was proposed in response to years of concern that the flood insurance program spent taxpayer’s dollars to rebuild vacation homes for the wealthy.

But in New York City, most of the homes in the flood zone were primary residences of middle-class families, unexpected victims of the new law, which passed with support from New York senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

Now Schumer and Gillibrand, as well as other supporters of the Biggert-Waters Act, are scrambling to delay the increases, and there appears to be some support from FEMA as well.

In an appearance before the Senate last month, FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate said the U.S. should stop subsidizing risk for new construction, businesses and secondary homes. “But I think we need to look at affordability people for who live there, look at how we can mitigate their risk,” he said.

Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, the Californian who co-sponsored the Biggert-Waters Act, was seeking to delay its implementation, saying in a news release that she didn’t intend for homeowners to face “outrageous” premiums.

Although FEMA says some property owners who lift structures above flood plains could see their insurance rates drop, the Biggert-Waters Act has sparked protests in at least nine states.

Source: Jacinta Quesada via Wikimedia

Source: Jacinta Quesada via Wikimedia

The following is a notice from the National Weather Service.

Notification issued on 7/1/13 at 10:18 AM. The National Weather Service has issued a Flash Flood Warning citywide until 1:00 PM. Excessive runoff from heavy rainfall will cause flooding of urban areas, highways, streets and underpasses as well as other drainage areas and low lying spots. Do not drive your vehicle into areas where the water covers the roadway. The water depth may be too great to allow your car to cross safely. Move to higher ground. For the latest information visit: http://www.weather.gov/nyc.

Stay safe and be smart everybody.

UPDATE (1:15 p.m.): The Flash Flood Warning has been extended until 3 p.m.

New evacuation map

New evacuation map

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration released a new evacuation map on Tuesday, creating a more zone system and adding 600,000 additional people to evacuation areas.

The new maps create zones numbered one through six, replacing Zones A, B and C, offering city officials more leeway in ordering specific areas to evacuate in the face of an oncoming storm and tidal surge. As many as 2,990,000 residents citywide now live in the zones – a number larger than the entire population of Brooklyn, the city’s largest borough.

Most notable, some parts of the zones extend further inland in Brooklyn and Queens, and sees areas like Gerritsen Beach – previously a secondary evacuation zone – bumped up to a primary area after it experienced extensive flooding during Superstorm Sandy.

In the new system, Zone 1 is the most vulnerable to flooding. In addition to Gerritsen Beach, Coney Island, the Rockaways, Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach and all of Sheepshead Bay south of the Belt Parkway are Zone 1.

Furthermore, the new zones include the addition of 26 Housing Authority developments, four hospitals and nine nursing homes. The administration was battered by critics after Sandy for not evacuating hospitals and nursing homes, and also for poorly responding to the needs of residents living in Housing Authority facilities.

Comparing it to the old map, it appears Zone 1, the primary evacuation zone, shrank in some areas compared to Zone A, and expanded in others. The old maps included a swath of Sheepshead Bay, from approximately Bedford Avenue to Ocean Parkway, up to Avenue X in the north, as Zone A. That’s been divided up between Zone 1 and 2. Elsewhere, including Gerritsen Beach, Mill Basin, parts of Bath Beach and the Canarsie coastline have been swapped from Zone B to Zone 1, reflecting the extent of Sandy’s flooding.

In fact, it appears that Zone 1 is based almost directly on the lines of where major flooding occurred during Sandy.

The new map and current evacuation orders can be seen here.

Do you live on a block that flooded during Sandy, but is not in Zone 1? Do you think you should be in Zone 1, or in a different zone than where you are? Let us know in the comments.

old-and-new-evacmap

Left: old map; Right: new map (Click to enlarge)

Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Some lame duck politicians go out on a whimper, defeated by gridlock, apathy and restlessness on part of the people. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is not one of those politicians. In just the past few months alone, Bloomberg has pushed a massive $20 billion storm protection plan and scored a victory when the New York State Supreme Court upheld his plan to expand taxi service across the city. He’s expanding recycling programs, banning styrofoam, and even pissing off Sarah Palin. The New York Times is now reporting that Bloomberg is seeking to make major changes to the city’s building code to increase the resiliency of buildings citywide in the event of more extreme weather incidents like Superstorm Sandy.

Needing only the approval of the City Council, Bloomberg’s plan to overhaul the building code would make New York City a national leader in making buildings more resilient in the face of hurricanes. For the time being, the new rules would mainly affect the construction of new buildings and big renovations on existing buildings in the flood areas, including much of Sheepshead Bay.

But some upgrades could also be required in existing larger buildings. The Times listed changes that would have to made to residential buildings, co-ops, condominiums, public housing and rental apartments:

For example, emergency lights will be required in hallways and stairwells in case of extended blackouts. Existing buildings will have to add faucets to a common area on lower floors, like a laundry room. That is intended to allow people on upper floors, which lose water pressure from electric pumps during blackouts, to obtain water.

Officials and experts estimated that a 20-story co-op could spend $16,000 for faucets in a laundry room, and more than $100,000 for backup lighting that could last many days. The lighting would be far cheaper if owners deployed battery-powered lights with a shorter life.

Bloomberg’s task force, which he set up with Council Speaker Christine Quinn, did not propose any new rules for existing single-family homes. Still, homeowners looking to make major renovations would have to conform to new regulations like using longer screws and nail fasteners on windows and doors so they can stand up to high winds. New sloped roofs would have to use reflective shingles to cut down on heat.

Hospitals would also have to protect their windows, potentially costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars per building. The city also wants to force businesses that store toxic chemicals to keep them in flood-proof areas. Resistance to the plan is expected to come from real estate developers who fear the overall increased costs they would incur.

In pushing the changes, Bloomberg cited the destruction of Sandy as an imperative.

“Sandy clearly underscored why we need to protect our buildings. We learned a lot, and we want to make sure we won’t forget those lessons,” the mayor said at a press conference.

Mayoral front-runner Christine Quinn stressed speed as being an important factor in executing Bloomberg’s plan.

“We plan to move as quickly as possible,” Quinn told the Times.

We received the above photo from Missy Haggerty, the Lake Avenue resident who helped lead dozens of neighbors to safety out of the flooded corridor during Superstorm Sandy.

Missy tells us the bungalow courts remain underwater even as most of the water from this morning’s flash floods have receded elsewhere. The courts are below street level, and the drains – which, we’re told, are not connected to city sewer lines – were still clogged from Sandy, causing all the water to back up.

Residents are using pumps to get the water out now, and we’re told by a rep in Councilman Lew Fidler’s office that they’re working to get the Department of Environmental Protection on scene to help pump the water out of the alleyways.

The National Weather Service issued a sudden Flash Flood Warning shortly before 8:30 a.m. and lasting until 9:15 a.m., as a torrent of rainfall came down on Brooklyn, flooding homes, highways and and streets.

There was major flooding on the Belt Parkway near Cropsey Avenue, and the highway ultimately shut down for short period because of it. Eventually one lane in each direction reopened. Also near Cropsey Avenue, there were reports on the police scanner that cars were submerged on Shore Parkway, and even drifting in the current.

We heard about flooding from Plumb Beach all the way to Dyker Heights. Now that it’s over, we’re still waiting to hear about conditions in certain parts of the neighborhood, like the Plumb Beach bungalow courts and areas around Cropsey Avenue. If you know how it is, please fill us in in the comments!

Readers have kept us updated so far, sending in the following photos.

This one’s from the entrance to the Belt Parkway at Bay Parkway, going west:

Photo by Regina Sorkin.

Things aren’t much better on the Belt Parkway, even now that the rain has stopped. Reader Rachel Tarantul sent us a photo taken just a few minutes after 10:00 a.m. that shows water sitting in two lanes of the highway, and only one lane is open in each direction. She says traffic is terrible.

And this was by the Cropsey bus depot:

Photo by Regina Sorkin.

Along the border of Coney Island and Brighton Beach, this is from the parking lot of 601 Surf Avenue:

Photo by Regina Sorkin.

We’re also hearing about homes and building basements flooding. A reader tweeted to us that a Sheepshead Bay apartment building on Homecrest Avenue near Avenue Z had several inches of water. Our own Elle Spektor is dealing with a flooded basement in her Bensonhurst home. Here’s what it looked like in the streets near her:

And here’s one of a flooded Sheepshead Bay garage, on Avenue W and East 26th Street, from reader Danil Rudoy:

Nearby, on Avenue V between Brigham Street and Brown Street, reader nolastname snapped this. There’s about two inches of water filling up the alleyway.

In Manhattan Beach – an area that has certainly seen more than enough water lately – Albert Hasson sent us this photo of a car trying to get through what appears to be at least a foot of water on Ocean Avenue:

Hopefully now that the rain stopped – and almost exactly at 9:15 a.m., as the National Weather Service predicted – the water is receding and things getting back to normal. Make sure to let us know if there’s any lasting damage or floodwater in your area, and send photos and other information to nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.

Updated (10:49 a.m.) to add the photo from nolastname.

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries

At a community press briefing, Congressional Representative Hakeem Jeffries expressed concern that FEMA was treating disaster-stricken areas in New York as generic disaster zones, inconsiderate of New York’s unique circumstances, according to a report by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

After Superstorm Sandy devastated much of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island late last October, FEMA distributed guidelines designed to prepare New Yorkers for future storms. According to Jeffries, many of these guidelines simply aren’t logical considering the reality of New York’s layout and community design. Jeffries argued that when it comes to legislating and preparing for future storms, that there would be a need for “New York solutions to New York problems.”

According to Jeffries, FEMA has recommended that homeowners in vulnerable areas elevate the foundations of their homes. This recommendation makes sense for houses located in areas where there is wide space between homes, but not for Brooklyn, where houses are crammed together. Jeffries argues that the foundation of one house cannot be altered without affecting the foundation of the houses next to it.

FEMA also recommended that homeowners in flood zones keep their basements unoccupied. Jeffries also slammed this recommendation as impractical.

“In New York, many homeowners either have relatives living in the basement, or rent out basement apartments so they can have more money to pay the mortgage,” the Daily Eagle reported Jeffries saying.

Instead of placing the burden entirely on homeowners to create costly protections for their homes, Jeffries called for new offshore barriers to prevent the flooding of beachfront lands. He also recommended that barriers be erected between separate bodies of water to limit the power of storm surges.

Helene Weinstein

Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein put forward a bill that would protect people from unfair insurance practices administered during a time when the governor has declared a disaster emergency, according to a report by Insurance Journal.

The language of the bill (A05780) states that it “would establish a private right of action for the insured for unfair insurance settlement practices when the claim relates to loss or injury in an area where the governor has declared a disaster emergency.”

The new legislation doesn’t prevent insurance companies from denying claims. Rather, it reintroduces an element of common sense and fairness in situations where disaster victims have lost everything and are left with the maddening process of fighting insurance companies over the technicalities of what they are owed.

The “private right of action” would grant insureds the power to fight their insurance companies over blatantly unfair practices in the face of a storm’s devastation.

The extra cherry on the bill allows for people to seek punitive damages from insurance companies that screw over their customers the next time a huge disaster like Superstorm Sandy comes and wipes them out.

Source: Wikimedia Commons via Wikipedia

Congressmen Michael Grimm and Gregory Meeks were joined by colleagues Charles Rangel, Jerrold Nadler and Eliot Engle to introduce the Flood Victim Premium Relief Act 2013 (H.R. 960), a bill which aims to delay flood insurance hikes for Superstorm Sandy victims, according to a report by SI Live.

In a release issued by Congressman Grimm, the bill extends “the premium increase timeline for primary residences in areas that have been declared a federal disaster area after July 6, 2012 from 5 years to 8 years.”

Grimm expressed the importance this bill will play in helping homeowners make it through these tough times.

“If we allow flood premiums to increase on their current schedule, based on the new maps, homeowners are going to be in an impossible position of trying to both pay their mortgage as well as increased flood premiums that may rise over $10,000 in some cases. This situation will almost certainly lead to a surge in defaults and foreclosures and cost the taxpayers vast sums via the government’s exposure to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the FHA. Allowing an extra three years to increase premiums will give both homeowners and localities time make smart, long term flood mitigation and rebuilding plans.”

The bill, a bipartisan effort, has received support from Congressman Hakeem Jeffries.

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