Before and After: A Satellite Captures Damage and Recovery from Superstorm Sandy

A look from above reveals the long road to full recovery in New York and New Jersey.

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For most of the Mid-Atlantic coastline on Oct. 29, 2012, the wind came first, then the water. The boardwalk in Seaside Heights was so overcome by Superstorm Sandy that part of its Casino Pier collapsed, dropping a famed rollercoaster into the ocean like a tablecloth had been pulled beneath it.

In Ortley Beach and Mantoloking, two quaint shore communities just north of there, beach cottages and multimillion-dollar houses were thrown around like Monopoly pieces. So, too, were the vessels docked at Richmond Yacht Club on Staten Island. And in Breezy Point, on the edge of the Rockaways in Queens, a fire scorched more than 100 homes. A charred and unrecognizable graveyard was left behind.

Satellite Image of Breezy Point, New York, United States
Satellite Image of Breezy Point, New York, United States
DigitalGlobe / Getty Images
Satellite Image of Hurricane Sandy, Mantoloking Beach, New Jersey, United States
Satellite Image of Hurricane Sandy, Mantoloking Beach, New Jersey, United States
DigitalGlobe / Getty Images

Stunned homeowners roamed the rubble, looking for any belongings that might have survived. Now and then, they would take a photograph, both to document the damage for their insurance companies and to capture a keepsake of what was left when the water receded.

Hundreds of miles above them, in space, a high-resolution satellite was doing the same thing. It first documented the storm brewing in the Caribbean days earlier and followed its path up the U.S., watching the high winds and relentless currents tear into New Jersey and New York with unprecedented intensity.

Satellite Image of Hurricane Sandy, Richmond Yacht Club, New York, United States
Satellite Image of Hurricane Sandy, Richmond Yacht Club, New York, United States
DigitalGlobe / Getty Images
Satellite Image of Hurricane Sandy, Ortley Beach, New Jersey, United States
Satellite Image of Hurricane Sandy, Ortley Beach, New Jersey, United States
DigitalGlobe / Getty Images

Owned by DigitalGlobe, an earth imaging company, the satellite is one of its five that orbit the planet, producing detailed snapshots and embedding geographical information in every pixel. The unclassified data can be used by first-responders to dispatch teams to assist with search-and-rescue or triage in the immediate aftermath of a storm. The archives can later be compiled into before-and-after comparisons, like those below, which can aid coastal planners who are figuring out how best to rebuild.

Despite uncertainty about reconstruction, insurance policies and millions of dollars in undispersed aid, one fact is evident in these images: summer has arrived. The fire-wrecked homes in Breezy Point have been razed and cleared away. In Seaside Heights, a new boardwalk was erected in time for Memorial Day, though it has fewer rides. And in Ortley Beach and Mantoloking, the two towns most devastated by the storm, unsalvageable structures are being demolished. For the areas hit hardest by Sandy, recovery is evident from the ground—and the sky.

Satellite Image of Seaside Heights, New Jersey, United States
Satellite Image of Seaside Heights, New Jersey, United States
DigitalGlobe / Getty Images

Nate Rawlings contributed reporting.

3 comments
ChristieLey
ChristieLey like.author.displayName 1 Like

We need to build a buffer zone along the coast, and not rebuild houses and businesses to close to the water.

rpearlston
rpearlston like.author.displayName 1 Like

@ChristieLey Long Island IS a barrier island, a long, narrow island that just about hugs a coast, absorbing the power of storms.  The same is true of Galveston Island and of the barrier islands off the coast of the Carolinas.  What's needed is zoning and building code amendments that prevent anything from being built on barrier islands as well as along any shoreline that is not protected by a barrier island.


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