Prior to Hurricane Sandy, life-long East Atlantic Beach (Long Island) resident Thomas O’Grady had not been at all happy that building and construction code requirements regarding flood mitigation had forced him to elevate his house to base area flood elevation levels (BFE).
Indeed, he was ropeable, especially as this meant he was unable to build his main floor.
“My parents lived next door. They’d lived here since 1967 and we’d never had an inch of ocean water on our street” O’Grady says. “At that time, I felt like I could have a main floor.”
All that changed, however, on the day the hurricane struck. Even as Sandy wrought destruction on other Long Island homes, O’Grady’s house remained unscathed. As it turns out, the house had been built four feet over the required BFE – the elevation of surface water resulting from a flood that has a one per cent chance of equalling or exceeding that level in any given year – and had complied with other state and local codes requiring the structure to be able to withstand hurricane force winds.
While surrounding neighbourhood houses received at least three feet of water in their living areas, his house received none.
“The water went through the crawl space, through the flood vents and out the flood vents, so once the tide subsided, the water was gone,” O’Grady says.
In addition, though the O’Gradys were upstairs during the storm, they were confident their home would withstand the horrendous winds outside.
US Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA) mitigation specialist David Passey says O’Grady’s house presents a case in point with regard to the importance of effective mitigation strategies when building homes in areas subject to flood or high winds.
Passey says historic evidence shows homes which are elevated and tied together in a wind area with proper hardening measures outperform others when disaster strikes.
Since the disaster, FEMA has been engaging in extensive efforts to educate home owners about how to build more resilient dwellings.
O’Grady says he is now thankful for the extra steps he took to build a stronger house.
“They [local building officials] all know how upset I was in the beginning that I could not build that main floor. Now they are all laughing at me saying ‘Aren’t you thankful now you elevated your home?’” he says. “I sure am.”