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NYC eyes changes for future natural disasters

Water floods down the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel in

Water floods down the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel in lower Manhattan as Hurricane Sandy pounds New York City. (Oct. 30, 2012) Photo Credit: CS Muncy

New York City will expand evacuation zones, revise building codes and shore up crucial infrastructure -- such as transportation and power networks -- to be ready for any future natural disasters, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Thursday.

"We may or may not see another storm like Sandy in our lifetimes, but I don't think it's fair to say that we should leave it to our children to prepare for the possibility," Bloomberg said at a breakfast in lower Manhattan.

Former Vice President Al Gore, now an environmental activist, made a surprise appearance Thursday and praised the mayor as a leader in combating climate change.

In his speech, Bloomberg pledged to restore the city's hard-hit waterfront communities, including the Rockaways in Queens, Coney Island in Brooklyn and Staten Island's south shore, but the mayor reiterated his opposition to building expensive sea walls.

"It would be nice if we could stop the tide from coming in, but King Canute couldn't do it -- and neither can we, especially if, as many scientists project, sea levels continue rising," Bloomberg said.

The city, the mayor said, would consider building dunes, jetties, levees and berms along coastal areas to reduce the effect of future storm surges; relax height restrictions on some residential homes so owners can elevate their houses above the flood plain; and require more stringent building codes to protect against floods.

Two-thirds of city homes damaged by Sandy are outside the Federal Emergency Management Agency's existing 100-year flood zone, the mayor said. FEMA is updating its flood zone map, last revised in 1983.

In 2011, after Tropical Storm Irene struck, the Bloomberg administration expanded the so-called Zone A to include all of the Rockaways, City Island and Hamilton Beach. The administration will again update flood maps and extend the Zone A evacuation area to include Howard Beach, Queens, and the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Gerritsen Beach and East Williamsburg, neighborhoods unexpectedly damaged by flooding from superstorm Sandy.

While Bloomberg is preparing the city for future storms, he has directed his deputies to review its response to Sandy as well as recovery efforts.

"They'll focus on how we can improve the way we mobilize and deploy resources and essential services before, during and after a major disaster," Bloomberg said.

Regardless of how much preparation is done, the mayor said the city would remain vulnerable to extreme weather.

"No matter how much we do to make homes and businesses more resilient, the fact of the matter is we live next to the ocean, and the ocean comes with risks that we just cannot eliminate," Bloomberg said.

With John Valenti

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