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Preliminary FEMA flood zone maps add 35,000 NYC buildings to flood zones

Michael Heiman / Getty Images file

The corner of 34th Street and 1st Street in Manhattan floods during rains from Hurricane Sandy, Oct. 29, 2012 in New York City.

Some 35,000 buildings and homes have been added to flood zones in parts of New York City, according to preliminary maps released Monday by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. More of these maps will be released in late February for Manhattan and other parts of city where the data is still being analyzed. 

The numbers emerged after the release earlier in the day of FEMA’s advisory flood maps for parts of the city, increasing the areas falling into 100-year flood zones or areas with the potential for destructive high speed waves along coastlines, said agency spokesman Dan Watson. More maps will be released for other parts of the city, including Manhattan, in late February, he said. 

The official maps will be released in the summer, but the preliminary ones for hard-hit areas like Staten Island and Queens are intended to give those who are rebuilding a head start. Sandy struck Oct. 29, leaving about 20,000 residential buildings in the city with some damage or disruption to their utilities.

“It can inform building back stronger and smarter with the recovery,” Watson said. “And honestly it will also help save lives and property in the future … because we’ve seen areas where folks have elevated or used other forms of mitigation and … they got wet but there wasn’t as much damage as a result of it.” 

The maps reflect base flood elevations and will likely increase insurance rates for those who are newly included in the flood-prone zones. Those who are now in the “A Zones” -- or 100-year flood zones, where a flooding event has a one percent probability of occurring in any given year -- and who have a federally-backed mortgage will be required to get flood insurance once the flood maps are formally adopted, Watson said.

Some property owners may also have to elevate their buildings or homes, likely setting ground floors ground floors 3 to 6 feet higher than zoning rules previously required, according to The Associated Press. The maps have to be adopted by communities, which can appeal parts of them, Watson said.

Congress has already passed $9.7 billion in additional borrowing authority for the National Flood Insurance Program to help pay Sandy claims from homeowners in New York and New Jersey. The Senate on Monday night approved a $50.5 billion emergency spending bill to aid people in New York and New Jersey who are trying to rebuild their homes and businesses.

Hard-hit communities were just beginning to figure out what these initial maps mean for them. In Breezy Point, a private cooperative in the city’s southern Queens Borough heavily damaged by the storm, leaders said they needed to study the maps before offering guidance: “Keep in mind that the DOB (Department of Buildings) and City still need to make decisions regarding building criteria and if it will change.”