Diane Sawyer and ABC News report as Hurricane Sandy hits the eastern coast of the United States.
For the last 30 years New York officials were warned of a storm of historic proportions that could flood the subways, create widespread power outages, and hit the Rockaways peninsula especially hard. A 2006 report read: “It’s not a question of whether a strong hurricane will hit New York City. It’s just a question of when.” But tight budgets meant the warnings went unheeded—and when Hurricane Sandy hit, many of the problems were dealt with on the fly. “I don’t know that anyone believed it,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told the Associated Press. “We had never seen a storm like this. So it is very hard to anticipate something that you have never experienced.”
"It wasn't as if the legislative actions over the years were subtle. They all had a common, emphatic theme: Act immediately before it's too late.
The 1978 executive law required a standing state Disaster Preparedness Commission to meet at least twice a year to create and update disaster plans. It mandated the state to address temporary housing needs after a disaster, create a detailed plan to restore services, maintain sewage treatment, prevent fires, assure generators "sufficient to supply" nursing homes and other health facilities, and "protect and assure uninterrupted delivery of services, medicines, water, food, energy and fuel."
Reports in 2005, 2006 and 2010 added urgency. "It's not a question of whether a strong hurricane will hit New York City," the 2006 Assembly report warned. "It's just a question of when."
A 2010 task force report to the Legislature concluded: "The combination of rising sea level, continuing climate change, and more development in high-risk areas has raised the level of New York's vulnerability to coast storms. ... The challenge is real, and sea level rise will progress regardless of New York's response."'
New York City had taken some concrete steps, such as requiring some new developments in flood zones to be elevated, eliminating roadblocks to putting boilers and electrical equipment above the ground and restoring wetlands as natural storm-surge barriers.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a recent speech that the city wasn't expecting Sandy, and that FEMA (The Federal Emergency Management Agency) had estimated only a one percent chance that NYC would see the water levels that came in with the storm. NYC is now reassessing safety measures, including an engineering analysis to determine if levees or other structures are needed to prevent flooding in the future.