On Wednesday, a Hurricane Sandy Symposium was held in the Wang Center, where a variety of speakers discussed the causes and impacts of Hurricane Sandy and ideas that could help avoid damage from future natural disasters.
Charles Flagg, a research professor at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said his participation in the symposium was because of a new breach in Fire Island. He said it was the “first serious breach there to happen in the last 115 years.” Flagg, through the use of charts and a video of a computer-simulated wind pattern, went on to explain how Sandy developed.
Michael E. White, Esq., who is Of Counsel at Anthony E. Core, P.C., talked about the impact of Sandy in terms of debris and waste the storm left behind.
“The fact is, Superstorm Sandy generated an enormous volume of debris and garbage,” he said. “The questions we are looking at are what was that debris, how was it collected, where did it go, where is it still and how did it get there?”
He said the problem was that there already was not enough space on Long Island for the usual amount of trash that residents leave for garbage men to pick up, so a lot of it needed to be moved to places like upstate New York via trucks.
According to White, the destruction brought on by the wind, flooding and tidal surge generated “tens of thousands of additional tons of waste” into a system that could not handle such amounts.
“I’ve seen some of the state reports that estimate the debris generated was something on the order of 6,000,000 cubic yards of debris,” he said. “I’m not at all sure if that is the whole number. That may even just be the tree debris that was created.”
Among the approximately 50 people that were there, Daniel Jogijose, a junior environmental design, policy, and planning major, expressed concern over the power outages caused by the impact of Sandy. “In Rockland County, some families, including my own, lost power for about a week,” he said.
A post doctoral research scholar with the Columbia Center for Climate Change Law, Anne Siders and New York State Assemblyman Steven Englebright spoke about the issue in regard to Long Island and New York City.
Siders said her office at Columbia University sent a petition to the New York Public Service Commission stating it should, at the very least, require utility companies to make climate adaptation plans.
“Con Edison filed for a rate increase with the PSC,” she said. “They are asking for a lot of money in order to protect against future events.”
Englebright gave a political perspective on the issue.
“It’s a real political issue,” he continued. “I’ve seen great resistance if it’s going to raise rates. That’s something that we’re going to have to find a way to deal with.”
“We’ll send you the bill,” he said in regard to the money that would be needed to put the power lines underground.
Bowman presented structures that other countries currently use as a means of preparation for natural disasters to come. He mentioned how St. Petersburg, Russia, has elevated highways. He then talked about an idea “that he’s been promoting a lot” — a system of barriers around Sandy Hook, New Jersey as well as the Breezy Point area, the Rockaways and John F. Kennedy International Airport.
“This is a very ambitious project that’s not going to happen over night,” Bowman said. But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been given $20,000,000 to see how we can rebuild and straighten the areas affected by Sandy, he added.
Michael Sperazza, an assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences, said it was time to start asking, should we be in the way?
Nancy O’Brien, 70, a resident of Rockaway who experienced firsthand the damage wrought by Sandy, agreed and said she would definitely evacuate if something like that were to happen again.
“The only preparation that can be done is to warn people,” she said. “Next time, more people will listen.”