Case study: Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy, a tropical cyclone occurring in October 2012, started life off the coast of West Africa. It travelled north-west across the Atlantic Ocean through countries such as Cuba, Haiti and The Bahamas in the Caribbean before hitting the east coast of the USA. It had a wide range of effects. The USA is a more economically developed country (MEDC). This meant it had the resources to prepare for and respond to the tropical cyclone quickly and effectively.

Hurricane Sandy started over Jamaica at a speed of 95 km/h, continuing to Cuba (180 km/h), Bermuda (140 km/h) and Northern USA (95 km/h)

Impacts

Economic impacts

  • Hurricane Sandy was the second most costly hurricane on record, causing $71 billion in damages. In New York City, economic losses are estimated at exceeding $18 billion.
  • Buildings, cars, people's possessions and business stock were lost.
  • More than 18,000 flights were cancelled leading to disruptions in business, tourism and trade.
  • Crops were lost resulting in loss of earnings for farmers.

Social impacts

  • At least 286 people were killed either directly or indirectly by Hurricane Sandy. There were 147 direct deaths: 72 in the USA and the rest mainly in the Caribbean, including 54 in Haiti and 11 in Cuba.
  • Power failure at New York University Langone Medical Centre led to the evacuation of all 215 patients to other hospitals.
  • People were highly stressed and anxious. In the longer term, many people could be affected psychologically by the loss of family and friends.
  • More than 8.5 million homes and businesses were left without power.
  • In Washington DC and other cities, many supermarkets ran out of essentials such as bottled water and batteries as people prepared for the worst.
  • The New York City marathon was cancelled resulting in a loss of income for many businesses.

Environmental impacts

  • 346,000 houses were damaged or destroyed in New Jersey and 305,000 damaged or destroyed in New York.
  • Makeshift shanty towns in Haiti were washed away.
  • Fallen trees and flooded vegetation affected animals' habitats.
  • In areas such as New York and New Jersey, untreated sewage was washed into public drinking water, threatening human health.
  • More than 70 per cent of crops, including bananas and maize, were destroyed in the south of Haiti.
  • Roads, train lines and other transport infrastructure became unusable due to flooding, resulting in disruptions to travel and trade.
  • Approximately 10 metres of beach was lost in some parts of New Jersey (making it narrower), exposing the coast to further erosion and impacting wildlife.
Cars sit submerged in water on a flooded street in Hoboken, New Jersey
Cars sit submerged in water on a flooded street in Hoboken, New Jersey

Responses

The responses to Hurricane Sandy were very varied. In poorer countries like Haiti there was insufficient prediction, planning or protection and at the time the country was still trying to recover from an earthquake in 2010. This tropical cyclone set the country back further in terms of its development.

In contrast to this, the USA, a richer country, invested more in tropical cyclone prediction, planning and protection. By using satellite images and other weather instruments The National Hurricane Centre in Miami predicted and monitored the path of Hurricane Sandy. The Centre was able to issue warnings to the local authorities and general public and this helped reduce the impact of Hurricane Sandy.

Steps taken to minimise damage:

  • the President of the USA, Barack Obama, and the authorities appealed to people to stay calm and out of harm's way
  • the police evacuated hundreds of thousands of people from low-lying coastal areas most vulnerable to Hurricane Sandy
  • schools and public transport services closed down and many flights were cancelled
  • people temporarily relocated to evacuation centres such as schools and community centres

In the long term, governments will need to develop strategic plans to prepare for tropical cyclones. Investments made in flood prevention and coastal protection schemes such as sea walls will be essential. Careful consideration needs to be given to the use of land particularly in low-lying areas. Local people and emergency service teams will need training in how to respond to tropical cyclone events, ensuring a coordinated and planned response. This should reduce the impact of tropical cyclones on people and the environment.

Hurricane Sandy aid workers unload supplies
Hurricane Sandy aid workers unload supplies
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