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NY - As storms become more frequent and volatile, some ports plan for the risk — but most do not

The interconnectedness of ports leave assets such as warehouses, trucking networks and railroads vulnerable to disruptions from climate change and rising sea levels.

This article is part of a series on the impacts climate change and severe weather have on supply chains. View the entire series here.

When Superstorm Sandy swept its way onto the shores of New York in 2012, it brought all the wind, water and fury that is typically associated with a hurricane. The region's supply chain infrastructure was not spared.

The Port of New York and New Jersey's largest terminal, Red Hook Container Terminal, did not receive any cargo until eight days after Sandy made landfall. Tenants of the terminal reported they had up to five feet of water in their warehouse, according to a paper published last year by two University of Rhode Island researchers, John Ryan-Henry and Austin Becker.

"Hurricane Sandy was obviously a wake-up call for the region," Joshua DeFlorio, the chief of resilience and sustainability for The Port of New York and New Jersey, said in an interview. "It was for the Port Authority. It certainly was for the ports and its tenants as well."

That wake-up call led to a 2016 study of the port's preparedness for future events of coastal flooding, which is expected to become more common as the planet warms. (The Port Authority declined to share the report; a request for the document through the New York freedom of information law is still pending.) And the impact doesn't end at the port. The maritime supply chain is highly interconnected with rail networks, roadways, nearby warehousing space and electrical infrastructure all linked to ensure smooth operations.

This interconnection was seen rather clearly during Katrina when a 28-foot storm surge hit a refrigerated warehouse.

"That refrigerated warehouse was filled with chicken and pork bellies," Becker, a professor in The University of Rhode Island's Department of Marine Affairs, said. "And those frozen meat products, which were all in plastic bags, those got washed inland with that 28-foot storm surge and ... were distributed across the city. And so then, they rotted."

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