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Sunday, October 22, 2017

Goodbye boardwalk, rollercoaster, clam bars, stately old vacation homes, and bayside shacks. Goodbye hedge fund McMansions with stunning ocean views. Goodbye, Jersey Shore. The storm took out electrical power for millions, along with potable water, and passable roads. Hurricane Sandy did an estimated $50 billion in property damage, the second most destructive in U.S. history after Katrina.

The same was true for low-lying properties along Long Island, NY, and Staten Island in the mouth of New York harbor. A large proportion of the storm’s more than 100 deaths happened there in neighborhoods built on sandy marsh-land that likewise should never have been urbanized.

They will, however, be rebuilt, as New Orleans was rebuilt. Foolishly, perhaps, but as in Louisiana, the ruined neighborhoods are pretty much all the people who live there have.

Had it not been for NOAA weather satellite predictions, Sandy could have been far worse. Prayerfully, no future storms will rival the hurricane that struck the barrier island city of Galveston, TX without warning in September, 1900, killing an estimated 8,000 people.

For all that, maybe Hurricane Sandy can re-teach Americans a couple of things many of us have forgotten. First: whether it’s a Democratic campaign slogan or not, we ARE all in this together. Glib talk about states’ rights and privatization in a disaster of this magnitude is, frankly, childish. The kind of cooperation between political rivals like President Obama and New Jersey governor Chris Christie shouldn’t be remarkable; it should be normal.

Second, although we’ve always had our share of charlatans and religious cranks, Americans have been a practical-minded people, resistant to abstract ideology and respectful of scientific expertise. By now, it should be clear to all but the most purblind that global climate change constitutes a growing threat many times more dangerous, than say, Iran.

I’d liked to have talked these things over with Prof. Marcus, both as a man of science, and a connoisseur of human folly. Alas, a Rutgers colleague told me that he never did get to see his prediction to us Jersey kids fulfilled. After a distinguished academic career, Melvin Marcus died as he’d lived—suffering a fatal heart attack during a scientific expedition to a Colorado glacier.

Photo credit: AP/U.S. Air Force, Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen

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