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Dolman: Lower Manhattan will rebuild, but what was Hurricane Sandy trying to tell us?

Water and debris blocks a section of South

Water and debris blocks a section of South Street in lower Manhattan, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, in New York. Sandy, the storm that made landfall Monday, caused multiple fatalities, halted mass transit and cut power to more than 6 million homes and businesses. (AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano) Credit: AP

This is what I can tell you as a resident of Lower Manhattan, where the sea pushed back hard Monday night against 400 years' worth of landfill, flooding parts of the World Trade Center construction site, the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, the Battery Park City Esplanade and—yes—Water Street itself.

Downtown will mop up, dry out and build back better than ever. I can say that with utter confidence because that is what it always does. Throughout its first 2½ centuries, Lower Manhattan kept burning down, getting rebuilt, and burning down again. And of course, it’s still rebuilding from the unthinkable, which took place there on 9/11/2001.

Hurricane Sandy was hellish, giving us all a night of rain, wind, flooding, fires, explosions and darkness. But as a city and a region, we’ve seen worse.

“We expected an unprecedented storm in New York City, and that’s what we got,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Tuesday morning.

The citywide death toll reached 10 on Tuesday and is expected to go higher. At least 80 houses had burned or were burning near the ocean in Breezy Point, Queens. The New York Stock Exchange remained closed. Some hospitals were running on emergency power and others were evacuated. Meanwhile, at the height of the maelstrom, a Con Ed power plant explosion knocked out electricity to neighborhoods below Midtown that weren’t already in the dark.

But even if New Yorkers have seen more than their share of chaos and destruction in recent centuries, something is happening with the weather that we don’t fully understand. On Monday, we saw a 21st century storm lay asunder the engineering marvels of the 19th and 20th centuries. Within a few hours, Sandy brought America's most complex system of bridges, tunnels, streets and railroads right to its knees.

“The storms are much more severe than before,” Bloomberg said on Tuesday. Whether that’s because of global warming or something else, who knows? I’m certainly not qualified to say.

But I think we had better find out.