Hurricane Sandy Causes ’Unthinkable’ Damage

Fri November 02, 2012 - National Edition
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(AP) Gov. Chris Christie said Oct. 30 that the devastation on the New Jersey shore is “unthinkable” and that the state will likely take months to recover from a massive storm that cut off barrier islands, swept houses from their foundations, washed amusement pier rides into the ocean, closed transportation systems and knocked out power to more than 2 million customers.

“To prepare the public for what they’re going to see is beyond anything I thought I would ever see,” Christie said at a news briefing.

Officials’ top priority, Christie said, was trying to rescue people stranded on barrier islands.

The governor said two-dozen small train freight cars were swept by a tidal surge off their tracks and onto an elevated section of the New Jersey Turnpike in Carteret.

All the New Jersey Transit rail lines were damaged, he said. Bridges were battered and tracks on the North Jersey Coast Line were washed out.

Christie also said attractions at amusement piers in Seaside Heights washed into the Atlantic Ocean.

Authorities in Moonachie launched a rescue effort after a huge tidal surge sent water over a natural berm in the town of 2,700 about 10 mi. northwest of Manhattan. Police Sgt. Tom Schmidt said the rush of water put about 5 ft. of water in the streets within 45 minutes. Hundreds of stranded people were rescued by boats and trucks.

Bergen County Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Dwane Razzetti said people were clinging to rooftops after the first and second floors of their homes flooded.

In Moonachie, N.J., 10 mi. north of Manhattan, water rose to 5 ft. within 45 minutes and trapped residents who thought the worst of the storm had passed. Moonachie resident Juan Allen said he watched a dramatic creek overflow near his home. “I saw trees not just knocked down but ripped right out of the ground,” he said. “I watched a tree crush a guy’s house like a wet sponge.”

Power outages stretched across the state. Christie said there were about twice as many homes and businesses without power as there were at the peak of the outages from Tropical Storm Irene, which came ashore near Atlantic City in August 2011.

In Atlantic City, several blocks of the first-in-the-nation boardwalk were destroyed by the storm. But a majority of it remained intact. Mayor Lorenzo Langford said floodwaters reached 8 ft. in some spots.

The Garden State Parkway reopened to traffic Oct. 30, but more than 200 other state roads remained closed, many of them inaccessible because of fallen trees and downed power wires.

Major flooding had hit Toms River, and several people were trapped on upper floors of their homes near Barnegat Bay.

The barrier island of Ocean City was cut off from the mainland by the storm; an estimated 2,000 people had no way on or off the island during the storm.

The pounding surf also caused erosion along New Jersey’s 127-mi. coast. Beach-related tourism is a major part of the state’s $35.5 billion tourism industry. Some tourism spots won’t be the same. Boardwalks in Belmar and Sea Girt were almost completely wrecked.

“Nature,” said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, assessing the damage to his city, “is an awful lot more powerful than we are.”

More than 8.2 million households were without power in 17 states as far west as Michigan. Nearly 2 million of those were in New York, where large swaths of lower Manhattan lost electricity and entire streets ended up underwater — as did seven subway tunnels between Manhattan and Brooklyn at one point, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said.

The New York Stock Exchange was closed for two days from weather, marking the first time that has happened since a blizzard in 1888. The shutdown of mass transit crippled a city where more than 8.3 million bus, subway and local rail trips are taken each day, and 800,000 vehicles cross bridges run by the transit agency.

Parts of the West Virginia mountains were blanketed with 2 ft. of snow and drifts 4 ft. deep were reported at Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee-North Carolina border.

Economic Consequences

Superstorm Sandy will end up causing about $20 billion in property damages and $10 billion to $30 billion more in lost business, according to IHS Global Insight, a forecasting firm.

In the long run, the devastation the storm inflicted on New York City and other parts of the northeast will barely nick the U.S. economy. That’s the view of economists who say a slightly slower economy in coming weeks will likely be matched by reconstruction and repairs that will contribute to growth over time.

The short-term blow to the economy, though, could subtract about 0.6 percentage point from U.S. economic growth in the October-December quarter, IHS said. Retailers, airlines and home construction firms will likely lose some business.

Most homeowners who suffered losses from flooding won’t be able to benefit from their insurance policies. Standard homeowner policies don’t cover flood damage, and few homeowners have flood insurance.

“The biggest problem is not the first few days but the coming months,” said Alan Rubin, an expert in nature disaster recovery.

Economists noted that the short-term hit to the economy was worsened by the size of the population centers the storm hit.

“Sandy hit a high-population-density area with a lot of expensive homes,” said Beata Caranci, deputy chief economist at TD Bank.

Hurricane damage to homes, businesses and roads reduces U.S. wealth. But it doesn’t subtract from the government’s calculation of economic activity.

By contrast, rebuilding and restocking by businesses and consumers add to the nation’s gross domestic product — the broadest gauge of economic production. GDP measures all goods and services produced in the United States.

Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, expects the storm to shave 0.1 to 0.2 percentage point from annual economic growth in the October-December quarter. He thinks the economy will grow at an annual rate of 1.5 percent to 2 percent in the fourth quarter. It grew at a 2 percent annual rate last quarter.

In the short run, Caranci said the economic damage could be worst for small businesses that lack the money and other resources to withstand lost sales.

She added the storm should help the construction industry, which shed millions of workers after the housing bust.

Insured losses from the superstorm will likely total $5 billion to $10 billion, the forecasting firm Eqecat estimated. Insurance losses are typically a fraction of the overall cost.

But “as an insurance event, Sandy is going to be a blip on the balance sheet,” said Duncan Ellis, U.S. property practice leader at Marsh, the insurance broker. “2012 has been a relatively catastrophe-free year.”

Sandy will likely be among the 10 costliest hurricanes in U.S. history. It would still be far below the worst — Hurricane Katrina, which cost $108 billion in 2005.

But “there is every reason to believe that the hurricane won’t kick the legs out of an already-fragile U.S. economy,” Caranci said.

Wind Likely Big Factor in N.Y. Crane Damage in Storm

A strong wind gust fed by Hurricane Sandy likely was a major factor in the collapse of a construction crane boom at 74-story luxury skyscraper One57, forcing evacuations in the thick of the storm, a city official said Oct. 30.

The city buildings department was just starting to investigate what made the crane’s arm swoop backward and dangle precariously, but engineers believe wind gusts estimated at 80 to 100 mph played a big role, chief spokesman Tony Sclafani said. The engineers also will look at how the crane was positioned and other issues.

Engineers scaled 74 stories during the storm to inspect the rig and concluded it wasn’t in danger of falling.

Many Associated Press writers contributed to this story.