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DISAPPEARING BEACHESA Line in the SandBy MEGHAN KENEALLY and EVAN SIMON
"The forces chewing away at the nation’s beaches are only getting worse as climate change fuels rising seas — not just in Nantucket but also in the Rockaways of New York and other oceanfront communities all along the East Coast of the United States that are being held together through a patchwork of federally funded programs that are inherently temporary."
Tom and Jennifer Erichsen bought their family an oceanfront home on Nantucket, Massachusetts, 34 years ago.
They were charmed by the sense of community on the small island — and because they loved raising their kids amid so much nature. A decade later, the whole family permanently moved into the gray-shingled 1 1/2 story house that they had named Sea Shell.
The whole family would gather at the home, at 34 Rhode Island Avenue, after work and school to head out on adventures along the beach. They’d take their boat out to check on lobster traps and spend all afternoon outdoors.
In the evenings, the family would watch the sunset. The house was right on the western edge of the island, and the vibrant blend of orange and pink light would envelope their home.
“It was very nice to raise them in such a natural place,” Tom Erichsen said.
But nature is what ultimately forced them from their idyllic home.
In 2008, after a series of storms battered the land that held up the home, the family was forced to move out.
When the Erichsens bought the house in 1982, it was situated behind a dune and about 500 feet from the water’s edge. There was always erosion, but Erichsen said, that increased ferociously over the past 10 years.
By the time the family fled the home, it was perched precariously above the crashing waves. The water that had been nearly two football fields away was now tearing through the first floor of their home.
Erichsen, 65, said he knew the situation had become dire "when you see waves that are 20 or 30 feet tall breaking on the beach and you’re standing on your deck about to evacuate, hoping your house will be there the next day."
"I left at 10 at night, and we thought when I returned in the morning, our home may not even be there," he said of that storm that forced him to pack it in.
The forces chewing away at the nation’s beaches are only getting worse as climate change fuels rising seas — not just in Nantucket but also in the Rockaways of New York and other oceanfront communities all along the East Coast of the United States that are being held together through a patchwork of federally funded programs that are inherently temporary.
It’s why places like Nantucket and the Rockaways — two very different communities facing different socioeconomic realities — have become battlegrounds for opposing views on how to stem the erosion: fighting nature head-on or trying to buy some time. And it’s why many of the beaches Americans will be flocking to this summer are disappearing under their feet.
Rob Young, a coastal geologist from the program for the study of developed shorelines at Western Carolina University, said "Coastal communities have to understand that any of the solutions that they’re thinking of to hold the beach in place for a little while are all temporary solutions."
Winter storms are always a threat for Nantucket, but more deadly storms like Superstorm Sandy present bigger problems for other coastal communities like the working-class New York City neighborhood of the Rockaways, which is also grappling with the same double-pronged problem of sea level rise and erosion.
The long peninsula was a popular resort destination back in the late 1800s, and although it is having a resurgence with a strong surfing community, it is also home to a range of lower- to middle-class homes, with brick high-rise public housing units mixed in with bungalows and stand-alone multifamily homes.
In the Rockaways, it’s hard to say exactly how quickly the beaches are being eroded, because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been replenishing the sand there for about 80 years. The most recent figures, from the Army Corps for 1966 to 1988, estimated erosion rates along the western Rockaway Peninsula of about 2 feet per year and about 5 feet per year along the eastern peninsula.
Kathy Richardson is a 32-year-old single mother whose family home was lost in Hurricane Katrina a few years before she made the decision to move to New York. When Superstorm Sandy arrived, she was there waiting for it in the Rockaway home her mother inherited.
"I started hearing people say, 'Here comes the water, here comes the water.' It started rolling up the street," Richardson told ABC News.
When she started smelling the fires triggered by Sandy, she recalled thinking, "Here we go again. Fires and destruction. Water and destruction."
In the years since, Richardson and later her daughter, who was born in 2014, had all their belongings crammed into the second floor of the house as the whole first floor was ruined from the storm water.
It took three years and the help of charitable organizations to make the first floor habitable again.
The biggest reason she says she won’t be leaving the Rockaways anytime soon is her daughter Charleigh Jolene, who is nearly 2 years old and was born with a heart defect. Richardson wants to remain close to Charleigh Jolene’s doctors at New York University. Also, she says, this is home.
"Katrina prepared me for Sandy. Katrina made me a stronger person. Slowly, in time, I’ve started [realizing] that I don’t have control — to just go with the flow," she said.
Her family lived in a FEMA trailer after Hurricane Katrina, and her grandmother died from complications due to a stroke that she had when they were evacuating during that storm. Richardson is well aware of the risks.
"You have to be afraid of it," she said of the ocean, "because if you’re not afraid of it, you don’t have respect for it."
Read more here: http://abcnews.go.com/US/deepdive/disappearing-beaches-sea-level-rise-39427567