New Maps and a New Plan for New York
On Wednesday, FEMA released new, preliminary flood insurance maps for New York City. The maps specify how likely areas are to flood, and the minimum elevation that structures must be to avoid higher insurance rates.The new maps, which replace maps that used data from 1983, double the number of structures in flood zones. Yesterday, the Bloomberg administration unveiled a $20 billion plan for protecting the city's waterfront. | Related story »
Sea Gate/Coney Island
The small community of Sea Gate on the Eastern edge of Coney Island was almost completely outside the flood hazard area in the 2007 FEMA maps. But Sandy ravaged the area, and in the new maps all of Coney Island is in an A- or V-Zone. Rachel Leibowicz, a Sea Gate resident who lives right on the ocean, didn't have flood insurance when seven feet of water rushed into her basement and cracked her house's foundation. With only two and a half years left on her mortgage, Leibowicz told ProPublica that she couldn't afford to elevate her property. "It'll be harder to sell in the future," she said. "If it's worthless, it won't matter. We don't plan to move." Bloomberg Plan: New York City's plan calls for an ongoing restoration of 1 million cubic yards of sand on Coney Island's beach, a dune project and a tidal barrier along Coney Island Creek to prevent erosion.
During Sandy, water filled Jolene Festa's basement and came up about a foot through the first floor unit of her brownstone. The storm tore through the neighborhood, crippling the nearby Fairway supermarket and inundating many of the businesses along Van Brunt St. While Zillow shows Red Hook real estate listing prices rising 103 percent in the past year, Festa worries what effect higher insurance rates could have on the neighborhood. "Two things end up happening in these situations, she said. "Rich people buy buildings and raise them up, or it goes back to being abandoned." Bloomberg Plan: Red Hook will be part of the "integrated flood protection" system or floodwalls that also includes Lower Manhattan.
This neighborhood, at the tip of the Rockaway peninsula, was one of the hardest hit during Sandy. When a fire broke out on the night of the storm, 111 houses burnt down because firefighters couldn't get to them in time. FEMA's new preliminary maps require homeowners to raise their houses over 10 feet high in most of the neighborhood. Bloomberg Plan: The proposed plan for Breezy Point includes a double dune system to repel floods.
"I see beautiful new gardens, I see a lot of new life. When people come here, it's a like a breath of fresh air," said Robin Shapiro, a realtor in the neighborhood, which now falls nearly entirely within new FEMA flood zones. In spite of that, she only knows of one house in the neighborhood that is elevated. Bloomberg Plan: The plans for the Rockaway peninsula include a system of dunes, bulkheads and a surge barrier at the Rockaway Inlet.
This square mile on Staten Island's east coast, where 11 people died during Sandy, was the most dangerous place to be in the city during the night of the storm. A topographical bowl, the entire neighborhood flooded. Bloomberg Plan: To protect Staten Island, New York City is proposing a levee and floodwall system as high as 15 to 20 feet as well as dunes and bulkheads to hold the shoreline in place.
Lower East Side
FEMA's new flood zones track closely to Sandy's path down Avenue C in this Lower Manhattan neighborhood. During the storm, a power substation at 14th Street and the East River exploded, causing a blackout that kept Lower Manhattan in the dark for much of the week. Bloomberg Plan: To protect this neighborhood in the future, the Bloomberg plan calls for an "adaptable floodwall" -- part of a system that will also protect Chinatown, the Financial District and Hospital Row north of 23rd St.
While ProPublica's offices on lower Broadway lost power for less than a week after Sandy, those on lower ground weren't as lucky. The Daily News building at 4 New York Plaza was inundated, and the paper still hasn't returned to its headquarters. Flood zones in the Financial District have encroached slightly from the 2007 maps, but still track closely to the original shape of the island. Bloomberg Plan: Bloomberg's plan calls for an "integrated flood protection system" of floodwalls to protect the Financial District.
Joanna S. Kao contributed code to this project.
Sources: Federal Emergency Management Agency, New York City Department of City Planning, New York City Department of Finance, New York City Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications, OpenStreetMap, and The National Elevation Dataset
Note: Building heights and ground elevations are estimated from available data.