Pre-Sandy: We Told You So

People who study such risks have sent out warnings for years

   Please forgive us for saying we told you so, but having reread the following, which was in an editorial here in September on the anniversary of the great 1938 Hurricane, we have to say it: We told you so.
    “If a storm of comparable power arrived here tomorrow, the damage would be orders of magnitude greater because of the sharp, if ill-considered, increase in shoreline construction since the 1930s. Though the loss of life would be far less, thanks to improved weather forecasts, the cost to insurers, utility companies, and governments responsible for cleaning up and repairing infrastructure would be astronomical.”
    “Disruption of everyday life would drag on for weeks. Then would come the debate about whether to allow property owners to return to harm’s way, rebuilding (or not) billions of dollars in lost waterfront real estate.”
    The foregoing passage was hardly prescience; it stated the obvious. People who study such risks have sent out warnings for years. Still, although Hurricane Sandy, or Superstorm Sandy, or whatever you want to call it, was cataclysmic — with at least 100 people killed, an estimated $80 billion in damage, untold sums more in lost economic activity, and long-term environmental costs —  it seems that out here at least there were few lessons learned, not from 1938 or Oct. 29, 2012, or from any of the storms in between.
    Instead of initiating a sensible review of coastline policy and emergency preparation, the Town of East Hampton named a charade committee. In the Town of Southampton, some officials’ top priority appears to be how to siphon off federal restoration dollars to pay to permanently elevate perennially threatened Dune Road so that wealthy vacation-house owners can continue to get to their doomed properties. To call both towns’ responses shortsighted and tone-deaf would be polite.
    Meanwhile, it has been left to the heroic efforts of ordinary citizens — many from our South Fork communities — to provide basic human necessities, in an ongoing and essential effort, for our neighbors in the Rockaways and elsewhere on this vulnerable island. We cannot forget, too, that our local libraries had to pick up the slack left by East Hampton Town Hall’s it-can’t-happen-here myopia, providing places of refuge for those left without heat, light, or a connection to the outside world for up to two weeks in some cases. (Kudos to the actor Alec Baldwin for recognizing this and saying thank-you with generous grants from his philanthropic foundation.)
    The pages of this newspaper are often filled with matters having to do with storms, hurricanes, and the like. This makes sense considering where we live and the region we cover — a sandy, rapidly eroding spit of land stuck out in the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean. Yes, back in September we may have struck our usual Chicken Little chords, but we underestimated how bad that next one would turn out to be for so many people — and how poorly our elected representatives had prepared for it and now continue to avoid the obvious.
    There were lessons to be learned after Sandy all right, but it is unclear if anyone of authority here was even in the classroom.