City flood zones may be updated, Bloomberg says

City flood zones may be updated, Bloomberg says
Map courtesy Michael Bloomberg
By Karen Frantz

Mayor Michael Bloomberg indicated that Howard Beach and other neighborhoods that were not told to evacuate before Hurricane Sandy but experienced devastating flooding might be among the first ordered to evacuate in the future in advance of potentially damaging storms.

The mayor made the remarks at a panel on the city’s future post-Hurricane Sandy sponsored by the Regional Plan Association in Manhattan last Thursday, laying out a number of proposals to help the city adapt to climate change and rising sea levels and to protect critical city infrastructure in the face of increasing severe weather events.

“We have to be able to better defend ourselves against extreme weather and natural disasters,” Bloomberg said. “We don’t know whether the next emergency will be a storm, a drought, a tornado, a blizzard. But we do know that we have to be better prepared for all of them.”

The mayor said areas of the city that had been considered at low risk were swamped by severe flooding during Sandy. For example, about two-thirds of all homes damaged by Sandy were outside the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s 100-year flood map, Bloomberg said.

“The yardstick has changed and so must we,” he said.

FEMA is in the process of revising its 100-year and 500-year flood maps, which have not been updated since 1983. The city will use the new FEMA flood maps as a guide in setting new construction and structural requirements that will help buildings withstand intense winds and waves in the future, Bloomberg said.

Howard Beach, along with Gerritsen Beach and East Williamsburg in Brooklyn, all had heavy flooding during Sandy but none were in Hurricane Evacuation Zone A, which the city had deemed to be at high risk of coastal flooding.

The city bases its hurricane contingency plans on three evacuation zones from A to C, which indicate high to low risk of flooding due to storm surges. Howard Beach is currently in Zone B, which indicates a moderate level of threat from flooding.

But that may change, according to Bloomberg.

“We’ve got to re-examine the evacuation zones and update them to reflect the new reality that we face,” Bloomberg said, specifically mentioning Howard Beach as an area that experienced devastating floods although it was not in the highest risk Zone A.

Howard Beach residents said floodwaters reached several feet high in some parts of the neighborhood during the storm and many people’s homes were severely damaged. It is considered one of the more hard-hit neighborhoods in the city.

It would not be the first time the city revised the hurricane evacuation zone boundaries. After Hurricane Irene in 2011, parts of the Rockaways, Hamilton Beach and City Island in the Bronx were added to Zone A, Bloomberg said.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.