Samples of the Story
Note: Text extracts are from un-copyedited manuscript and may differ slightly from the printed version.
Preface and Author’s Note
1. Minus one hundred, twenty-two meters
and climbing . . .
3. Euxine and Ta-mehu
4. “Marduk laid a reed on the face of the waters”
5. “Men were swept away by waves”
6. “The whole shoreline filled”
7. “The abyss of the depths was uncovered”
8. “The whole is now one festering mess”
9. The Golden Waterway
10. “Wave in the harbor”
11. A right to subsistence
12. The dilemma of islands
13. “The crookedest river in the world”
14. “Here the tide is ruled, by the wind, the moon, and us”
Book Extracts and Table of Contents
From Chapter 1: Minus one hundred, twenty-two meters
and climbing . . .
On October 28, 2012, Sandy, the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, came ashore in New Jersey. Sandy’s assault and sea surge brought the ocean into neighborhoods and houses, inundated parking lots and tunnels, turned parks into lakes. When it was all over and the water receded a huge swath of the Northeast American coast looked like a battered moonscape. Only Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005, was more costly. Katrina with its gigantic sea surge had been a wake-up call for people lying on low-lying coasts, but the disaster soon receded in public consciousness. Sandy struck in the heart of the densely populated Northeastern Corridor of the United States seven years later and impacted the lives of millions of people. The storm was an epochal demonstration of the power of an attacking ocean to destroy and kill in a world where tens of millions of people live on coastlines close to sea level. This time, people really sat up and took notice in the face of an extreme weather event of a type likely to be more commonplace in a warmer future. As this book goes to press, a serious debate about rising sea levels and the hazards they pose for humanity may have finally begun—perhaps not.
Sandy developed out of a tropical depression south of Kingston, Jamaica, on October 22. Two days later it passed over Jamaica, then over Cuba and Haiti, killing 71 people, before traversing the Bahamas. Come October 28, Sandy strengthened again, eventually making landfall about 8 kilometers southwest of Atlantic City, New Jersey, with winds of 150 kilometers/hour. By then, Sandy was not just an unusually large hurricane but also a hybrid storm. A strong Arctic air pattern to the north forced Sandy to take a sharp left into the heavy populated Northeast when normally it would have veered into the open Atlantic and dissipated there. The blend produced a super storm with a wind diameter of 1,850 kilometers, said to be the largest since 1888, when far fewer people lived along the coast and in New York. Unfortunately, the tempest also arrived at full moon with its astronomical high tides. Sandy was only a Category 1 hurricane, but it triggered a major natural disaster partly because it descended on a densely populated seaboard where thousands of houses and other property lie within a few meters of sea level. Imagine the destruction a Category 5 storm would have wrought—something that could happen in the future.
The scale of destruction was mind-boggling. Sandy brought torrential downpours, heavy snowfall, and exceptionally high winds to an area of the eastern United States larger than Europe. Over one hundred people died in the affected states, 40 of them in New York City. The storm cut off electricity for days for over 4.8 million customers in 15 states and the District of Columbia, 1,514,147 of them in New York. Most destructive of all, a powerful, record-breaking 4.26-meter sea surge swept into New York Harbor on the evening of October 29 The rising waters inundated streets, tunnels, and subways in Lower Manhattan, Staten Island, and elsewhere. Fires caused by electrical explosions and downed power wires destroyed homes and businesses, over 100 residences in the Breezy Point area of Queens alone. Even the Ground Zero construction site was flooded. Fortunately, the authorities had advance warning. In advance of the storm, all public transit systems were shut down, ferry services were suspended, and airports closed until it was safe to fly. All major bridges and tunnels into the city were closed. The New York Stock Exchange shut down for two days. Initial recovery was slow, with shortages of gasoline causing long lines. Rapid transit systems slowly restored service, but the damage caused by the storm surge in lower Manhattan delayed reopening of critical links for days.
The New Jersey Shore, an iconic vacation area in the Northeast, suffered worst of all. For almost a hundred and fifty years, people from hot, crowded cites have flocked to the Shore to lie on its beaches, families often going to the same place for generations. They eat ice creams and pizza, play in arcades once used by their grandparents, drink in bars, and go to church. The Shore was sometimes a seedy place, thwart with racial tensions, sometimes crime and violence, but there was always something for everybody, be they a wealthy resident of a mansion, a contestant in a Miss American pageant, a reality TV actor, a skinny dipper, or a musician. Bruce Springsteen grew up along the Shore and his second album, featured “4th of July, Ashbury Park (Sandy)”, an ode to a girl of that name and the Shore. “Sandy, the aurora is rising behind us; the pier lights our carnival life forever,” he sang. The words have taken on new meaning since the hurricane came.
Fortunately, the residents had advance warning. They were advised to evacuate their homes as early as October 26. Two days later, the order became mandatory. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie also ordered the closure of Atlantic City’s casinos, a decision proved wise when Sandy swept ashore with brutal force, pulverizing long-established businesses, boardwalks, and homes. Atlantic City started a trend when it built its first boardwalk in 1870 to stop visitors from tracking sand into hotels. Boardwalk amusements are big business today, many of them faced by boardwalks that are as much as a 0.8-kilometer from the waves. Now many of the Shore’s iconic boardwalks are history. The waves and storm surge destroyed a Seaside Heights roller coaster in Seaside Heights, which lay half submerged in the breakers. Seaside Heights itself was evacuated because of gas leaks and other dangers. Piers and carousels vanished, bars and restaurants reduced to rubble. Bridges to barrier islands buckled, leaving residents unable to return home. The Shore may be rebuilt, but it will never be the same. A long-lived tradition has been interrupted, perhaps never to return. For all the fervent vows that the Shore will rise again, no one knows what will come back in its place along a coastline where the ocean, not humanity, is master.
As the waters of destruction receded, they left $60 billion dollars of damage behind them, and a sobering reminder of the hazards millions of people face along the densely populated eastern coast of the Untied States. Like Hurricanes Katrina (2005) and Irene (2011), Sandy showed us in no uncertain terms that a higher incidence of extreme weather events with their attendant sea surges threaten low-lying communities along much of the East Coast—from Rhode Island and Delaware to the Chesapeake and parts of Washington DC, and far south along the Carolina coasts, and into Florida, which escaped the full brunt of Sandy’s fury. There, high winds and waves washed sand onto coastal roads and there was some coastal flooding, a warning of what would certainly occur should a major hurricane come ashore in Central or Southern Florida—and the question is not if such an event will occur, but when.