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New York is building a wall to hold back the ocean

Climate change is leading to increasingly violent storms. Can sea walls hold back the floodwaters?

Kimberly Mas/Vox

When Superstorm Sandy slammed into the East Coast in 2012, New York City was devastated. Winds blew in at 80 mph, and storm surges pushed the ocean more than 9 feet above normal levels in Staten Island. Homes were leveled, subways flooded, and coastlines destroyed; 2 million people were left without power. Of the 43 lives lost in New York, more than half were residents of Staten Island.

Seven years later, many of the homes destroyed by the storm on Staten Island still sit empty. Government buyouts were able to relocate many people, but another major storm could bring the same or worse levels of devastation. With superstorms only becoming more common and sea levels rising faster each year, it’s likely to happen again. It’s too late to stop the storms, but can we design away future damage?

Maybe. Staten Island recently received funding to build a sea wall. It will span a little under 5 miles, from Fort Wadsworth to Oakwood Beach, and stand 20 feet above sea level. It could potentially save the island $30 million a year in flood-related damages.

We talked to Vox sister site Curbed about the importance of resiliency in our changing world. A wall on its own isn’t enough to stop the ocean, but it could be one part of a larger plan. Check out the video above to learn more.

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