Northeast
Barriers made up of large sandbags, like this one in Brooklyn, will installed along the East River esplanade in Manhattan, from Wall Street to just north of the Brooklyn Bridge.CreditCreditNicole Craine for The New York Times

6 Years After Hurricane Sandy, Here’s What They Came Up With: Really Big Sandbags

City officials will install the sandbags as the first line of defense against storm surges in part of Lower Manhattan.

After Hurricane Sandy devastated New York in 2012, city officials considered some drastic responses to storm surges, like long concrete sea walls and tall earthen berms.

But as the seventh hurricane season since then approaches, the city is relying on something more modest as the first line of defense against another inundation of Manhattan: a row of glorified sandbags.

In the next few months, the city’s Office of Emergency Management plans to oversee the installation of four-foot-tall sacks of soil along the East River esplanade, from Wall Street to just north of the Brooklyn Bridge.

For up to five years, they essentially would form the only barrier to keep water from again rushing into the low-lying neighborhoods around the South Street Seaport.

City officials say they are a temporary step while permanent solutions to New York’s vulnerability to big storms are still being planned and debated.

But the barriers have already provoked derision.

“Six years of studying it and you come up with sandbags? Really?” said Marco Pasanella, whose family owns a 180-year-old building with a wine shop that faces the river on South Street. He said he felt no less vulnerable than he did on the night that Sandy flooded his shop and left the district without power for two weeks.

Along with the doubts about their effectiveness, the barriers have also been panned as unsightly interlopers along a stretch of waterfront popular with pedestrians and bicyclists — one woman called them “atrocities.”

They will cover only about one mile of the waterfront, leaving the area below Wall Street unprotected, possibly for another decade or longer.

Officials have admitted that they do not have a plan for protecting much of the financial district, which is home to about 100,000 people and accounts for one of every 10 jobs in the city.

They have concluded that Lower Manhattan is simply too congested, with 18 subway lines and a tangle of utilities running beneath its warren of narrow streets, for land-based defenses like fences that flip up from the ground.

Instead, they have a more ambitious vision and have begun planning to extend the shoreline of the island into the water to serve as a bulwark against rising sea levels and storm surges.

But making more of Manhattan will take a lot of time and money. In the meantime, the financial district will rely on a combination of commercial products that are typically used as temporary protections against flooding that look like they come from Home Depot: Hesco barriers and plastic tubes known as Tiger Dams.

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