Raising the Bar: Flood-Prone Communities Prepare for Hurricane Season

May 29, 2013 at 3:13 pm

South Shore homeowners weigh the pros and costs of raising their homes in preparation for hurricane season.

“The new normal.” It’s a phrase I’ve heard used over and over again to describe the current state of neighborhoods devastated by Hurricane Sandy. While turning onto South 9th Street in Lindenhurst, Long Island in April it almost seemed as if everything was back to normal, until I caught a glimpse of four homes sitting on pilings five feet off the ground.

It was there I met Tim C. Smith, a Lindenhurst native, outside of his canal front home.  Smith spent the immediate days after the hurricane towing his neighbors up and down South 9th Street in his motorboat, until the floodwaters receded. By then, the full impact of the storm was impossible to ignore.

“As devastating as that was to see,” Smith said, “I knew it was only going to get harder from there because the hard part is going to be putting it back together again.”

Smith, a videographer by profession, started a website called the South Shore Lift Project shortly after Sandy caused some of the worst flooding in Lindenhurst history.  Smith wanted to provide information for people hoping to raise their homes to protect themselves from future flooding. Besides preserving vulnerable property, it raises the property value and lowers flood insurance premiums—something concerning almost everyone living in a coastal area.

“If we don’t raise our houses, we’re being threatened with up to 31 thousand dollars a year in flood insurance,” said Sophia Vailakis-DeVirgilio of Broad Channel, Queens. “Who could afford that?”

The National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration is predicting an extremely active hurricane season for 2013—estimating there’s a 70 percent chance of having three to six major storms. The thought of another looming hurricane season is a rational fear for most I’ve spoken with. Others are optimistic that Hurricane Sandy really was a once in a lifetime “perfect storm.”

“I don’t think it’s going to happen again,” said Bill Sims, owner of Sims Steel. “I mean we’re going to get flooded but not to that extent. If we do get flooded to that extent again, no question about it, everybody is going to have to raise his or her home. Or not live here…but it’d be a terrible community not to have.”

Sims has raised more than a dozen homes on the South Shore of Long Island so far. It’s not just business as usual for the Lindenhurst native. Before Sandy, the majority of the properties he raised were commercial buildings—not residential.

“I think that this process is going to take a good five to ten years to play out,” said Sims, looking on as his crew preps to raise another home.