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Science & Environment

After Hurricane Sandy, N.J. Cities Rethink Proximity To The Water

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Now to the NPR Cities Project.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We have to make sure that our cities are safe.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: How are we going to maintain a city?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Location, location, location.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Location, location, location.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: If other cities can do it, we can do it.

BLOCK: It's been nearly two years since hurricane Sandy crashed ashore in New Jersey, devastating cities throughout the region.

(SOUNDBITE OF VARIOUS NEWS REPORTS)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: The wind has picked up, the rain us really coming down now. It feels like the storm is definitely closing in.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: I'm never seen it like this. It's terrible. The whole area was actually flooded.

BLOCK: Today, we'll hear how people hope to avert future disasters like that one. Two basic approaches - one, resist, armor the coast, or retreat, move away from the water. In Woodbridge, New Jersey, Monique Coleman and her family opted to leave. We talked to her as her family was moving out of their house earlier this month and she told us it wasn't just because of Sandy. They got slammed by nor'easter in 2010.

MONIQUE COLEMAN: We got hit pretty bad with that. In a matter of maybe 15 minutes my whole basement filled up.

BLOCK: And then.

COLEMAN: Hurricane Irene, yeah.

BLOCK: That was in 2011.

COLEMAN: Sure enough the water filled up my basement again (laughter).

BLOCK: That was with two sump pumps working overtime. And then the so called super storm, Sandy in 2012.

COLEMAN: Yeah, we were seasoned by that point.

BLOCK: So, Monique Coleman began advocating that the state buy her out, buy out her neighborhood, give the land back to nature. Even though it meant she'd take a loss on her house. Well, that's now happening. New Jersey is using federal money to buy more than 1,000 homes.

COLEMAN: You know, it's definitely bittersweet. I was talking to my neighbors all this week about that and, you know, just the realization of - that we're here at this point, it's pretty tough because we have grown very close, especially through the whole flood experience. So now the fact is that we're all separating. That's tough, but believe me, I'm not too sad about leaving because of the fact that we've been so devastated so many times, that I'm really ready to have a fresh start.

BLOCK: So you'll be turning your house keys over to the town administrator, you said and what's your understanding of what happens then? What happens your house?

COLEMAN: Well we just wait. It takes a while from the time that you close on your property to the time were it actually gets demolished. That will occur, you will start to see my home and a few of my neighbors who've already closed will see those homes coming down, which I think is great. I mean, it's all about returning the land back to what it probably should've been.

BLOCK: So you think maybe - you think the houses shouldn't have been put there in the first place?

COLEMAN: No way. We are literally sandwiched in between, you know, wetlands. So it was an eye-opener when I found out that we are literally at six feet altitude.

BLOCK: What would you say to folks who would tell you it shouldn't be up to taxpayers to buy out people whose homes were built in places where they shouldn't have been built in the first place and you should have known what you're getting into?

COLEMAN: Right I know. It's tough because I do understand that thought and that feeling, but you know, I'm a taxpayer to, you know, we've paid a lot of money in flood insurance here. We've paid into the system and I do think that it does get to a point though where there really is no more money to kind of recover from this annually, So I think it's less costly in the long run to get people out of harm's way, than to have to repeatedly recover every year.

BLOCK: Well, Ms. Coleman thanks for talking with us and best of luck with the move.

COLEMAN: Thank you so much. Take care.

BLOCK: Monique Coleman and her family have now moved to higher ground in Highland Park, New Jersey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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