Flood threat, not snow, concerns New York, New Jersey coastal cities

Winter Storm Jonas Coastal Flooding Danger
Winter Storm Jonas Coastal Flooding Danger

NEW YORK, Jan 22 (Reuters) - For coastal communities in New York and New Jersey, the powerful snowstorm menacing the East Coast this weekend brings an added danger beyond freezing temperatures, power outages and slippery roads.

More than three years after Superstorm Sandy caused massive flooding damage in the region, officials said they were not expecting that level of storm surge but were nevertheless prepared for anything.

"Between the snow and the flooding, personally, I'm more worried about the flooding," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a press conference on Friday afternoon.

The storm's arrival coincides with a full moon, ensuring that strong winds will combine with a high tide to produce significant flooding. The threat comes as many communities are still struggling to recover following Sandy's devastation.

See images of the storm as it moves in:

The beach resort town of Seaside Heights in New Jersey currently has a population of about 1,000, a far cry from the 3,000 year-round residents it had before Sandy, according to borough administrator Christopher Vaz. Many residents are still unable to return to homes destroyed by the floodwater.

Vaz said officials have encouraged elderly and sick residents to consider leaving low-lying areas. The flooding is "absolutely" more of a concern than the snow, Vaz said.

"We can handle six or 12 inches of snow," he said.

SEE ALSO: Mid-Atlantic storm could make history

In Ocean City, just south of Atlantic City, crews have used bulldozers to block beach access points with sand in an effort to slow down any storm surge. A number of vehicles, including repurposed military trucks, were available in case evacuations are needed.

Frank Donato, who heads the Ocean City's emergency management office, said the latest forecasts were calling for as much as an eight-foot tide on Saturday night. While that represents a significant storm surge, it is still two feet short of the level reached during Sandy.

"This is pretty typical for a strong nor'easter," Donato said.

The looming storm prompted New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who had initially said he would continue to campaign in New Hampshire for the Republican presidential nomination, to reverse course and head back to his state on Friday evening.

Christie made headlines in 2012 when he toured communities devastated by Sandy with President Barack Obama. While he drew praise for his response from many state residents, he also endured criticism from conservatives when he commended Obama's response, just days before the Democratic president was reelected for a second term.

Americans Big Snowstorm
Americans Big Snowstorm

Officials said the years since Sandy had seen infrastructure improvements and hundreds of homes elevated above flood levels, though much of the work remains unfinished.

"Not everyone is raised," said Paul Daley, the emergency management coordinator for the New Jersey shore community Toms River. "Some are still destroyed. Some are still in the design phase."

Daley said crews have been out for days shoring up dunes on the beach using bulldozers.

"We're expecting the worst and hoping for the best," Daley said.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city has "high-axle vehicles" and "swift water rescue teams" ready to go and has designated 16 potential shelter sites if evacuations are ordered.

Data curated by WeatherDB

On Long Island, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano said public works employees had been out for days clearing stormwater drains to ensure maximum capacity.

The county has acquired a lot of equipment since Sandy to respond to flooding, including inflatable rescue boats.

"Our residents post-Hurricane Sandy are more aware of the devastation a storm can bring," he said. "Most of our residents are better prepared should they be asked to leave their home." (Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty and Diane Craft)

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