Hurricane Andrew to ensure that structures could withstand more intense wind
speeds. They were also built using updated FEMA maps that had raised the base
flood elevations for structures along shorelines.
Building codes are likely to change again. The state Department of Community Affairs has created a working group that includes engineers, zoning officials, builders and architects who will analyze Sandy's impact and suggest code changes. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency is issuing interim updated flood-zone maps for coastal New Jersey counties this month that will show the 100-year storm flood levels at the Jersey Shore. The new maps will reflect data from more recent storms and show that the likely flood height for a 100-year storm -- the type of powerful storm that has a 1 percent chance of occurring in any given year -- would be 1 to 4 feet higher than the old maps had predicted. The new maps will help homeowners and communities figure out how high off the ground to build new shoreline structures.
As Jersey Shore rebuilding gets under way, more homes will be elevated on pilings. The cost varies, Kelly said, depending on the home's size and location.
FEMA requires elevation for new structures in coastal zones and those being rebuilt after major damage. The street level of homes can be enclosed, but they must have breakaway walls so the force of the storm surge doesn't radiate through the rest of the house. And the street level can't include essential living quarters.
The state DEP goes even further, requiring elevations to be a foot above the FEMA standard.
"We encourage communities to think of FEMA requirements as just a minimum and not reflective of possible future conditions, like the effect of sea level rise and higher storm surges," Auermuller said.
Yet even elevated homes face threats from storm surge. Those built in the highest-risk coastal zones must have pilings that extend 10 feet into the ground below sea level, Kelly said. But some areas along the Jersey Shore lost 4 to 6 feet of sand depth during Sandy.
"So you can end up with a two-story home being buffeted by storm surge with pilings sunk only six feet down -- I don't know anything that can hold a house up in a situation like that," Kelly said.
In North Jersey towns that have suffered repeated storm flooding, many consider buyouts to be a better option than trying to build a house that will survive a surge of water.
Since 2005, New Jersey has received more than $100 million from the federal government to buy out or elevate homes statewide, including more than $40 million for the Passaic River basin after Hurricane Irene. Wayne received $20 million to buy 72 homes, the largest such award in state history. Little Falls targeted 78 homes.
"Buying out homes from voluntary sellers helps families in New Jersey's most flood-prone communities move out of harm's way and prevents future damage," said U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, vice chairman of the Senate subcommittee that funds the buyout program.
Buyouts to cover the 9,500 structures in the Passaic River basin that are in the flood footprint of a 25-year storm would cost about $4.7 billion. It would cost $7.4 billion to buy the roughly 13,300 structures in the flood footprint of a 100-year storm, the Army Corps of Engineers has estimated.
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