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A look at what's in store for U.S. coastal cities

September 23, 2007|From Associated Press

How would some of the best known U.S. cities look if seas rose by slightly more than three feet? It's a disturbing picture.

The projections are based on coastal maps created by scientists at the University of Arizona, who relied on data from the U.S. Geological Survey. Many scientists say sea rise of one meter will probably happen within 100 years. Here is a look at what that might do:

Boston

Fourth of July celebrations wouldn't be the same. The Esplanade, where fireworks watchers gather, would be submerged by a rising Charles River, along with the Hatch Memorial Shell where the Boston Pops stages its annual concert. Some runways at Logan International Airport would be partially covered, and the neighborhoods tourists know best would be smaller.

Planned waterfront development in South Boston would be old by 2100, but a lot of the land there would be underwater, along with parts of existing landmarks, such as the Boston Fish Pier. The restaurants and pastry shops in the Italian North End would be spared, but parks and condos on the waterfront would be in trouble.

"The areas that would be affected are not only industrial sites and attractions, but places people live," said Patrick B. Moscaritolo of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau. "It has ramifications that are pretty drastic and pretty frightful."

New York

At the southern tip of Manhattan, sea water would inundate Battery Park City, home to 9,000 people. Waves would lap near the base of the new Freedom Tower. Beachfront homes from the blue collar Rockaways to the mansions of the Hamptons could be swamped by advancing surf. Much of Hoboken, N.J. -- Frank Sinatra's hometown -- would become an island.

New Yorkers seeking a change of scene would find it tougher to get out of town, since both runways at LaGuardia Airport would be partly underwater. But all that would pale compared to what would happen during a bad storm. If giant storm walls were built across key waterways, that might protect parts of the city, "but that doesn't help anyone outside the gates," said Malcolm Bowman, who leads a storm surge research group at Stony Brook University.

"This is no joke," he said. With a three-foot head start, even a medium-sized storm surge could wipe out tens of thousands of homes in low-lying parts of Brooklyn and Long Island.

Miami

You can kiss goodbye the things that make South Florida read like an Elmore Leonard novel: the glitz of South Beach, the gator-infested Everglades, and the bustling terminals of Miami International Airport.

Many of the beach-side places where tourists flock and the rich and famous luxuriate would be under water. Spits of land would be left in fashionable South Beach and celebrity-studded Fisher Island.

Though the booming downtown would be mostly spared, inland areas near the airport and out to the low-lying Everglades would be submerged. Miami would resemble a cookie nibbled on from the south and east.

Stephen Sawitz, whose family has run Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach for four generations -- surviving hurricanes and floods -- looks at the maps and sees little hope for his restaurant or his home several decades from now: "I'm going to be thinking about it now for the rest of my life. And the generations after me, I'm going to be telling them about it."

New Orleans

If the levees break again and the nation gives up the fight to save the lowest parts of New Orleans, the Big Easy would be reduced to a sliver of land along the Mississippi River, leaving the French Quarter and the oldest neighborhoods as the only places on dry ground.

Gone would be the Dixie brewery, museums, countless neighborhood restaurants and bars, Louis Armstrong landmarks and Congo Square, the spot where jazz got its birth. Water would even cover the first few blocks of Bourbon Street. A trip to the tomb of voodoo priestess Marie Laveau would require a boat, or rubber hip boots.

"It would be to a large extent the city of the mid-19th Century," said Robert Tannen, an urban planner. "The original marsh and cypress groves of the city would perhaps prevail again."

Galveston, Texas

Galveston Island has been the home base for pirate Jean Lafitte and mobsters in its colorful past. Now it offers nothing more terrifying than beachgoers looking to escape Houston's brutal summers. It survived the 1900 hurricane, which killed 6,000 people and is the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. But a sea level rise of three feet could bring a new form of fear to this sturdy little beach city of 57,000.

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