A decade after Hurricane Sandy, a new report by researchers from the Center for Public Health Disaster Science at NYU’s School of Global Public Health describes the storm’s long-term impact on 18 counties in New York and New Jersey.
The analysis reveals a history of short-term destruction and hardship followed by robust recovery by many measures, suggesting that the lasting effect of Superstorm Sandy on the region and its population was muted.
The immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy was dramatic: the storm damaged or destroyed 650,000 homes, claimed more than 150 lives, and caused nearly $82 billion in damage. The new report, “Ten Years After Superstorm Sandy: Charting the Region’s Recovery,” examines the extent to which systems in the nation’s largest metropolitan area have been disrupted with lasting effects over the next decade.
“The areas of New York and New Jersey most affected by Hurricane Sandy were remarkably resilient, likely due to their substantial resources, effective governments, and strong critical infrastructure. We found that even a massive storm like Sandy did not fundamentally disrupt systems for more than a year,” said David Abramson, clinical associate professor at NYU’s School of Global Public Health and lead author of the report.
“But just because there were minimal impacts at the system level doesn’t mean there were minimal effects at a smaller scale. The effects of a storm like Sandy can vary greatly from house to house, leading to uneven recovery,” added Abramson, who was the principal investigator of the Sandy Child and Family Health Study, which documented the well-being and recovery of New Jersey residents in the years following the storm. .
“This work highlights the importance of social structures in people’s lives, especially after a disaster,” said Alexis Merjanoff, a clinical assistant professor at NYU’s School of Global Public Health and an author of the new report. “This framework includes strong economic and housing markets, as well as an effective government response. We saw in our studies of residents affected by Katrina and Sandy how variable that was, but overall the New York-New Jersey area showed a robust recovery.” Merdjanoff was also a researcher on the Sandy Child and Family Health Study and has continued to study post-disaster resilience of elderly people in high-risk coastal areas.
Using publicly available data, the researchers examined critical dimensions of disaster recovery, such as population health, the regional economy, housing, education, and civic and social engagement. They include 20 years of data — the decade before and after Superstorm Sandy — to examine long-term trends.
Their analysis focused on 18 counties in New Jersey and New York as the areas most affected by Superstorm Sandy: Atlantic, Bergen, Cape May, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean and Union in New Jersey; and the Bronx, Kings (Brooklyn), New York (Manhattan), Nassau, Queens, Richmond (Staten Island), Suffolk, Westchester, and Rockland in New York.
Their main findings:
- New York—especially Manhattan—provided considerable financial stability to the region, thanks to high-skilled industries (eg, Wall Street, media) that grew rapidly after the disaster. The hurricane had only a small and short-lived effect on employment trends in the affected counties. The 2008-2009 recession and the COVID-19 pandemic had far more pronounced economic impacts than the storm.
- The hurricane had no measurable effect on measures of social and civic engagement, including crime and voting.
- Hurricane Sandy had a mixed effect on housing in the region. Foreclosures increased in the year after the storm; most homeowners were unprepared and underinsured for the flood that occurred. However, in the decade that followed, home values in coastal and urban areas affected by Sandy actually increased by 50%, a higher rate than in counties less affected by the storm.
- The storm did not affect health measures, including preventable hospitalizations for conditions such as asthma and pneumonia, nor deaths due to drugs, alcohol use and suicide.
The researchers also compared the long-term outcomes of Hurricane Sandy to those of Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, revealing more prolonged disruption, hardship, and poor health outcomes in post-Katrina Louisiana and Mississippi.
“The fact that metropolitan New York’s economy was strong enough to withstand the worst systemic effects of a storm like Sandy should not lull us into complacency,” Abramson said. “Sandy’s mental health impacts persist among a number of people who were exposed to Sandy, critical infrastructure is still not sufficiently resilient, and social vulnerability and inequality persist. This report shows what luck looks like, not good planning.
“Ten Years After Superstorm Sandy” is the first report in a larger initiative by New York University’s Center for Disaster Science in Public Health to measure the long-term recovery of populations and geographic areas after storms and other disasters using publicly available data.
About the New York University School of Global Public Health
At the NYU School of Global Public Health (NYU GPH), we prepare the next generation of public health pioneers with the critical thinking skills, insight, and entrepreneurial approaches needed to reinvent the public health paradigm. Dedicated to utilizing a non-traditional, interdisciplinary model, NYU GPH aims to improve global health through a unique combination of global public health research, research and practice. The school is located in the heart of New York and extends to NYU’s global network on six continents. Innovation is at the heart of our ambitious approach, thinking and teaching. For more information, visit: publichealth.nyu.edu