Inside Look: AIR Surveys Areas Hit Hardest by Sandy -- Slideshow

Earlier this month, AIR teams were deployed to survey damage in Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. The commentary in this report provides an initial glimpse into the kinds of damage patterns caused by Hurricane Sandy.

Affected areas that AIR surveyed include Staten Island, Manhattan, Coney Island, and Queens, N.Y.; Toms River, Point Pleasant Beach, Sea Bright, Keyport, Union Beach, Keansburg, Atlantic City, Long Beach Island and Ocean City, N.J.; and parts of Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Long Island.

Click "next" to see pictures of the damage sustained in these hard-hit areas as well as observations reported by AIR Principal Engineer of Research, Cagdas Kafali.

Staten Island, New York

Stapleton is a neighborhood located in the northeastern part of Staten Island along the waterfront. AIR observed wind damage to property and uprooted trees along the coast. In residential and commercial sectors, evidence of extensive flooding at street level was observed—for nearly two blocks inland there were reports of flooding four feet above street level.

Fort Wadsworth is a former U.S. military installation on the Narrows, which divides New York Bay into Upper and Lower halves. AIR surveyed residential properties that were uphill and found moderate levels of wind damage, including loss of roof covering and damage to wall siding.

In many instances, the garages of homes close to the coast were not flooded, as they seem to have been built above the base flood elevation.

Homes surveyed on Father Capodanno Boulevard from the coast to about 500 feet inland experienced significant flooding. A group of 28 seemingly identical houses was completely destroyed by the flooding.

AIR observed significant storm surge damage in Midland Beach. As far as 16 blocks from the coast, garages, basements, and ground floors were still under water.

Of the four Staten Island neighborhoods surveyed, New Dorp Beach suffered the most severe storm surge damage that the AIR New York Team observed.

New Jersey

AIR attempted to survey damage in Seaside Heights, but access to the area was restricted to residents only. AIR surveyed the area around Seaside Heights, which sustained extensive surge damage.

Most residential structures were rendered uninhabitable due to contamination caused by flooding. Almost all houses experienced contents damage; there was a great deal of debris in the road.

Sea Bright has a land area of less than 1 square mile and is long and narrow with water on both sides. Residential structures, hotels, and beach clubs line either side of Route 36, which passes through the center of the borough. This area had the most damage observed by the AIR New Jersey Team. Because of the borough’s shape, most of the houses on the coast were significantly damaged by the surge. Surge damage ranged from wall damage to foundation damage to complete building collapse. The entire neighborhood experienced significant contents damage. In addition, five to 10 houses that were still standing were sealed off because of safety concerns.

Extensive storm surge damage and minor wind damage to roofs was observed in Keyport, Union Beach, and Keansburg areas of New Jersey.  

Both Union Beach and Keansburg have a mix of residential, commercial, and recreational properties that showed catastrophic damage for five to six blocks starting from the oceanfront. AIR and the general public were prohibited from entering certain areas of Union Beach due to heavy contamination caused by oil, sewage, and other possibly toxic materials. The National Guard is helping with the cleanup process.  

Atlantic City

“The team has measured flood depths of six to eight feet in portions of Atlantic City, causing significant damage to commercial and residential structures located along the coast,” says Kafali. “Older buildings generally experienced higher wind damage than did newer buildings—typically to roof coverings, siding, and flashing, in comparison to newer buildings.”

Retail stores on Atlantic City’s iconic boardwalk were still closed this week due to significant flooding and wind damage. The ground floor and basements of virtually all of the retail stores here, as well as large commercial structures, were flooded; mold was observed in a few small retail stores.

The boardwalk had been cleaned up a few days earlier, and repair work to ground floors was already in progress in most structures. The amusement park sustained moderate damage. In addition, there was evidence of significant storm damage on the northern side of Atlantic City.

Long Beach Island, New Jersey

“Long Beach Island is a barrier island that runs along the coast of Ocean County, N.J.,” says Kafali. “Homes here suffered significant surge damage to both their structure and contents. A few houses with low first floor elevation and weak foundation connections were completely displaced from their foundations.”

New York

AIR surveyed several different areas in Manhattan including the Battery, Meatpacking District, Tomkins Square Park, and the neighborhood around FDR Drive.

A record storm tide of 11.28 feet North American Vertical Datum (NAVD) was recorded at the Battery NOAA gauge in lower Manhattan and produced significant flooding, particularly in low-lying areas.

On Jane Street in lower Manhattan, an apartment building’s garage, about five feet below street level, was inundated with 7.5 feet of water, causing damage to cars. The garage is again open for business after being pumped and freshly painted, but many cars are still parked there waiting to be towed away.

West and Horatio Streets

According to AIR, on West and Horatio streets many buildings were inundated. The team surveyed the basement of a restaurant, whose compressors were completely destroyed, as was dry food. The basement roof collapsed, likely due to moisture ingress, and all contents of the freezer had to be discarded. The restaurant was out of business for two weeks, opening again only on November 10.

Coney Island, Brooklyn

In Coney Island, most single-family and multi-family residences have basements—and most basements flooded. The ground floors were also flooded up to three blocks from the ocean. Debris lined the streets. The residential neighborhoods were protected by the police against looters, so the survey team could not assess the damage in detail in some of these neighborhoods.

Rockaway, Queens

Of the areas surveyed by AIR thus far, Rockaway seemed to be the worst affected. However, given that the team was not allowed to survey the residential areas of Coney Island, this may not in fact be the case. Streets in Rockaway had debris everywhere, and the National Guard was helping with the cleanup.

 “Wall foundations performed very poorly here,” says Kafali. “All houses surveyed that had wall foundations sustained severe damage. Uplifting was seen in the case of houses sitting on wooden columns.”

AIR did not observe any houses on stilts, which are the recommended foundation types in high-velocity flood zones (closest to the ocean), as defined by FEMA.

Rhode Island

Of 11 structures closest to the beachfront at Roy Carpenter’s Beach, three floated away and four others were taken off of their foundations due to a combination of surge and beach erosion.

There was a significant cleanup effort in progress in Misquamicut. A large amount of sand had been carried ashore. Most structures were boarded up, and wind damage was limited to some roof flashing or siding. The street closest to the coast—Atlantic Avenue—was lined with commercial properties, some of which suffered severe surge damage. Residential structures were more common a few blocks in. There was evidence of surge waters (in the form of sand left behind) having reached more than 600 feet inland.

Connecticut

In New London, sustained wind speeds of 45 mph were recorded, and the AIR team saw the most widespread (if not the most severe) damage of the day here. On Pequot and Montauk Avenues, which border the harbor, roof damage was seen on approximately 10 percent of homes. The only case of severe damage, however, was due to a tree falling on a house. In addition, some boats had been damaged, including one that had sunk (likely due to smashing into the dock).

In Cosey Beach, some homes immediately next to the coast experienced severe surge-related damage (entire walls and decks missing, foundations eroded), but wind damage was sparse in general. There were examples of roof damage in these areas, but they were the exceptions. Local residents in Cosey Beach told the team that two homes had been destroyed by surge, with four others possibly compromised. The AIR team could not visit this area to verify, as it was cordoned off by police. According to residents, all six of these homes had been damaged by Irene (2011) and had since been repaired.

Long Island

Little East Neck is very close to the coast. At this location, AIR saw some of the most severe damage of the day, driven by storm surge flooding. Of the homes closest to the coast, it appeared that about 20 percent had some visible roof damage, but water-related impacts were truly devastating. One homeowner told us that her house had flooded, with water rising to 55 inches inside the home.

Residents reported the surge reached as much as a half mile inland, likely damaging any homes that were not appropriately raised.

The area of Long Beach was slightly different than the other coastal towns surveyed. There were many more apartment buildings and hotels, with residential structures located a few blocks inland. Most of the apartment structures nearest the coast had brick or concrete walls that fared well, but large amounts of contents had been discarded and lay in piles along the sidewalks. Wind damage was observed on about five percent of houses closest to coast, and many vehicles seemed to have been left exposed or abandoned during the event.

Sustained winds of 45 mph and a gust of 71 mph were recorded in the Farmingdale Airport area. Like the area around MacArthur airport, this is an inland location, so the AIR team was looking for wind damage only. About five percent of structures near this wind measurement had experienced some wind damage. With one exception of siding damage, all instances seen were roof related.

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