for National Geographic News
Forecasters are warning that a hurricane making landfall at or near New York City could cause catastrophic damage in the U.S.'s largest urban center.
While a storm is unlikely to make direct landfall on Manhattan, a nearby storm would cause extensive flooding and heavy storm surges, experts say.
Even a minimal hurricane could put the runways at John F. Kennedy Airport underwater, and the battering action of wind-driven waves could cause significant damage to buildings, says Stephen Baig, a storm surge specialist with the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
A minor hurricane could also cause flooding throughout Lower Manhattan, depending on how the storm approached and whether it arrived at high or low tide.
Making matters worse, many New York residents may not realize how severely they could be affected by a hurricane.
Scott Mandia, a professor of physical sciences at Suffolk County Community College in Selden, says Long Island's 4 million residents could be surprised by the aftermath of a storm.
"What I think they don't understand is how many days and weeks after a hurricane that their lives will be completely changed," Mandia said.
"People who live away from the water think a hurricane will mean one day away from work, then back to normal."
"There will be an economic shutdown for a few weeks, if not a month," he said. "The economic standstill will be the biggest surprise for people."
Gregory Caronia, director of emergency preparedness for Nassau County on Long Island, said he tells Nassau County residents to be prepared to survive for at least four or five days on their own after a hurricane.
"We have so many people here and limited resources," Caronia said.
"Response within hours is not feasible. Within eight hours after a hurricane, we might be able to get some sort of reconnaissance [of the damage]. Beyond that, it might be a day or two or three before we can get help to them."
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