Nova – Megastorm Aftermath (PBS Documentary)

It is a city’s worst nightmare. Megastorm Sandy delivers a wall of water 14 feet high

Marc Mende (Metropolitan Transit Authority): There was no way to stop it.

Flowing into New York.

Marc Mende: You needed Superman, I guess.

And across the region. Crucial services collapse.

David Holland (New York University): This is Manhattan, and it was just chaos.

Miles of coastline are devastated.

Daniel F. Mundy, SR (Broad Channel, New York): Whatever anybody could do, it was not enough. And who’s to say it ain’t going to happen again?

But there is little doubt it will. The planet is heating up, glaciers are melting, sea level is rising.

David Holland: Should warm ocean currents reach these glaciers, all hell could break loose.

How do we protect ourselves? Can we wall off our cities from the sea? Are some places destined to disappear?

Klaus Jacob (Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory): Florida is doomed.

In the wake of Sandy, how will we respond?

Steven Flynn (Northeastern University): This is screaming at us that we need to be better prepared.

New Yorkers pride themselves on being tough.

Man on boardwalk: We’ll ride it out like we ride all of them out, you know?

Resilient, nonplussed, and maybe a little cocky in the face of adversity.

Street Performer: It’s raining here, but, whatever. It’s a little rain. What are you going to do?

But on October 29th, 2012..

Sam Champion (ABC News): This is a record surge of water, rushing over the edge of lower Manhattan.

They and their city met their match.

Mike Herzog: My god, it’s washing everything away!

That was the day Megastorm Sandy came rolling into town.

Ginger Lee (ABC News): The storm is on top of us right now.

It was the biggest, most devastating storm to hit the city in recorded history.

Strong winds pushed a huge wall of ocean water, 14 feet higher than sea level, onto the coast, covering 51 square miles of the city. Seventy-thousand homes and apartments were damaged; an entire neighborhood burned to the ground; utilities failed in spectacular, massive fashion, and 43 people died here, most of them drowned.

Sandy brought mighty Gotham and much of New Jersey to their knees.

As soon as the waters recede, unsettling questions begin to roll in: Was Sandy a freak event or a window into our future?

We live in a new era. Greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, generated by burning fossil fuels, are building up in our atmosphere, insulating our planet, holding in more of the sun’s heat and driving the temperature up. The earth’s climate is changing.

No one knows exactly how that will affect our weather day-to-day, but there’s one thing scientists agree on, as the earth and its oceans heat up, warm water takes up more volume than cold; at the same time, glaciers are melting. The result? Sea level around the world is rising.

And that means, as the storms come, coastal cities are more and more at risk.

Klaus Jacob: Climate change will raise the sea level, and sea level will contribute to the power of flooding.

It’s not only New York and New Jersey that are in the crosshairs, but Miami, New Orleans, Charleston.

J. Marshall Shepherd (University of Georgia): As our sea level continues to rise, it won’t take a Hurricane Andrew- or Katrina-sized storm to create flooding hazards along our coastlines.

Thousands of miles of coastline, all around the world—China, India, Japan.

Steve Flynn: We live increasingly in coastal areas. This is screaming at us that we need to be better prepared.

But what can coastal cities do to prepare and protect themselves? Can we engineer a solution and wall off our cities from the sea, or are some areas just too hard to protect? And, eventually, should they be abandoned?

Klaus Jacob: We have to start to retreat from the most exposed waterfront.

Michael Bloomberg (Mayor, New York City 2001-2013): As New Yorkers, we cannot and will not abandon our waterfront. It’s one of our greatest assets.

Or is there another way, a way to embrace nature’s defenses and the water, even as we try to keep it at bay?