fourteen-foot storm surge that dumped the Atlantic Ocean into
thousands of homes, decommissioned trains, caused a Con
Edison power station to explode, plummeted tracts of the city
into darkness and others into fire, and took forty-three lives.
The storm cost an estimated $19 billion in damage and an un-quantifiable amount of grief.
The street ends in a ramp that leads to an elevated board-
walk, rising a dozen feet above street level. In 1992, George
tells me, you could walk right under the boardwalk with room
to spare. Now, as we walk up the ramp to get to the length of the
boardwalk, which was untouched by Sandy, we are surrounded
on both sides by a dune so high that it’s packed against the bot-
tom of the boards. It’s thick with plants, a seaside forest filled
with bayberry, beach plum, autumn olive, wild rose, and Japa-
nese black pine fifteen feet tall. The first fiery hints of poison
ivy inch out of the sand at toe level. This beach forest is what
is considered a secondary dune; on the other side of the board-
walk, waves of beach grass cover the primary dune before sand
takes over. The water appears so innocent, softly lapping onto
the beach, sparkling in the sun.
“At first, we just planted tiny little beach grass,” George tells
me. He gathered up thirty-five volunteers, and they spent a cou-
ple of weekends planting the starts. “One blade, one blade, one
blade,” he explains, his fingers poking into the air. Later, they
In 1994, they got another fifteen thousand dollars and
planted more. This time they rented a machine to dig the holes,
and a neighbor cooked the volunteers lunch. Once the plants
became established—NYC GreenThumb, which supports the
city’s network of community gardens, helped keep them wa-
tered through that first vulnerable summer—residents and
beach bums could sit back and watch the sand grow. And grow.
sand dunes strengthened by beach grass are proving to be an effective front-line defense against storm surges.