It occured to me last night that the city and the surrounding region was about two hours from a Katrina-level event.
The projected storm surge plus tide was around eleven feet, closing in on a record for our region. The storm surge was almost 14 feet, and was short of high tide by about two hours.
Sandy showed mercy and sped up, in other words. Easily, we could have had a surge + tide of closer to twenty feet.
A twenty foot surge would normally have triggered an evacuation of Zone B, as it would equal or exceed a Cat 2 hurricane surge.
Not only would that have swamped areas that weren't even ordered to evacuate, it would have come without warning, much as it did in parts of Manhattan that weren't already evacuated, specifically, the 14th Street/Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village sections. This, above anything else, is what is delaying so much of the reboot of the city.
See, lower Manhattan, south of Canal Street, is serviced by two power plants that were taken offline ahead of Sandy, which is one big reason the evacuation order was given. The water would recede, but it would take days to bring the power back online.
However, the 14th Street plant was deemed safe (they might have sandbagged it) but the surge was higher than projected and it became swamped, as well. That was actually online when the storm hit. The machinery in there was running. That's a monster of a hit.
Similarly, if you click the link I referenced earlier, you'll see that about half of Brooklyn would be affected. How do you move 500,000 people, or more, at the height of a storm?
You can't. We would have had death tolls in the hundreds, and even with the storm as "mild" as Sandy was-- comparatively speaking-- we're approaching 100 dead in the region.
Millions of New Yorkers are without heat or power or water. In Hoboken, NJ, people are actually out of food, and stores can't be stocked up because, well, they're closed still. That's 50,000 people with water still flowing into their basements, freezing, getting ill, and starving.
Entire swaths of homes were destroyed, surprisingly, by fire. The gas lines into homes were severed when the homes were lifted off their foundations, even if they dropped right back down. Pull down a power line, get a spark, and ballgame over. And with the flooding and broken water mains, firefighters could only stand and watch.
Some even watched their own homes burn to the ground.
Raw sewage is flowing in the streets and into the basements of homes on the barrier islands. Those homes will probably be condemned until a full cleaning can begin, including the land, which is effectively one big septic tank right now. That's millions of dollars, perhaps tens of millions of dollars, lost.
And we're not even considering the health issues of the mold and the bacteria floating in the waters and evaporating into the air. That may end up being the lasting legacy of Sandy.