ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New Yorkers on Tuesday cheered the extraordinary rescues that saved hundreds of lives in and around New York City in the midst of Superstorm Sandy, but New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it's time to brace for more of the same havoc which he blames on climate change.
About a dozen New Yorkers died in the raging floods, collapsing structures and fast-spreading fires Monday night leading to 156 rescues by New York City and state police, Cuomo said.
"That number would be much, much larger if it were not for the truly historic and courageous activities of our first responders all across the state," Cuomo said. "I saw people put themselves in the way of danger that was really very inspirational."
"These first responders were running right into the face of danger," Cuomo said. "It was frightening, it was truly frightening."
Cuomo was the first official to say the long recovery must include an eye to a new reality of violent storms. Just over a year ago, central and eastern upstate New York was ravaged by tropical storms Irene and Lee causing historic damage, and Sandy, which focused on New York City and Long Island, was by many measures worse.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, busy with getting the city back on its feet, said it's too early to debate the future of bracing New York for the next storms and such suggestions as walls to keep water out of subways.
"I'm hopeful that not only will we rebuild this city and metropolitan area, but that we use this as an opportunity to build it back smarter," Cuomo said.
"There has been a series of extreme weather incidents. That is not a political statement, that is a factual statement ... Anyone who says there's not a dramatic change in weather patterns, I think is denying reality," Cuomo said.
He noted that salt water quickly corrodes signals and switches underground that operate the subway and that hospital's emergency generator was sapped because it was located on a low floor, which was flooded. He said other states more accustomed to flooding already have use more effective measures that New York can duplicate.
A 2010 report titled "New York State Sea Level Rise Task Force Report to the Legislature" by a task force created in 2007 includes the same warning and some recommendations. It states New York Harbor's level has increased 15 inches in the past 150 years, with harbor tide gauges showing a rise of between 4 and 6 inches since 1960.
"Sea level rise and coastal flooding from storm surge are already affecting and will increasingly affect New York's entire ocean and estuarine coastline from Montauk Point to the Battery and up the Hudson River to the federal dam at Troy," the report stated. "The likelihood that powerful storms will hit New York State's coastline is very high, as is the associated threat to human life and coastal infrastructure. This vulnerability will increase in area and magnitude over time."
Few recommendations of the little noticed report appear to have been enacted.
"We have a new reality when it comes to these weather patterns. We have an old infrastructure and we have old systems, and that is not a good combination. And that's one of the lessons I'm going to take from this, personally."
Associated Press writer Michael Virtanen contributed to this report from Albany.