In the wake of superstorms like Katrina and Sandy that have, in recent years, devastated swathes of the United States, the country is struggling to decide not only how to rebuild and heal, but also how to mitigate the losses -- both personal and national -- borne as a result of such disasters.
In the months following Hurricane Sandy's ravishment of communities in the Northeast, scientists vocally predicted the beginning of a "superstorm era" in the U.S., as "bigger storms and higher sea levels" are expected to "pile on to create a growing threat in the coming decades," CNN reports.
Perhaps more crucially, experts have warned that the country will suffer even more storm-related tragedies in the years ahead unless some sort of preventive action is taken immediately. But the question now remains: will the country rally together to make this possible?
That difficult question is being tackled in CNN's new documentary "The Coming Storms," which will debut Sunday, Jan. 6 at 8 p.m. ET.
"[Storms like Sandy] are coming more frequently and more powerfully than they have in the past. We know that," CNN national correspondent David Mattingly, a storm reporter who was on the ground when Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in 2005, told The Huffington post over the phone on Friday.
The question, he said, is not whether these storms will happen, but rather how often. And when they do hit, will we be ready?
"Anyone who's been hit by a storm like this [knows that] it turns your life upside down," he said. "As a country, are we willing to invest to protect these areas, to make them more resilient? There are plans right now -- [experts have been] promoting them for years… causeways and barriers that are flood-proof, projects that would cost tens of billions of dollars."
But despite the high cost, Mattingly says that these options would be less expensive in the long run.
"These are all difficult decisions and they're all costly," he said. "But it's cheaper to invest in protecting what we have, rather than to fix it after the storm."
Other than the immeasurable cost of the loss of lives and the displacement of families, as well as the destruction of property and other critical infrastructure, the damage borne by the survivors of such disasters is beyond imagination, Mattingly said.
In this clip, taken from the upcoming documentary, Professor Malcolm Bowman of the Stony Brook Storm Surge Research Group, explains to Mattingly that if sand dunes, 30 foot high, had been constructed prior to Sandy's arrival in the New York area, Breezy Point -- a neighborhood in Queens that was decimated during the storm -- may very well have been spared.
After Hurricane Katrina, Bowman recommended that a surge protection barrier (referred to as the outer harbor gateway project) be constructed to protect New York City from a superstorm. Such a project would cost up to $20 billion, says Mattingly, but as a November 2012 Bloomberg report notes, Bowman and other experts in the field believe that such a barrier would have "mitigated much of Manhattan's flooding and lessened it in many other hard-hit areas."
While New York City is undoubtedly in danger of being deluged by other storms in the future, Mattingly says that it's not the only area in the northeast that is under threat.
"Anyone who can see the ocean is vulnerable," he said. "Places like Philadelphia, places like Stamford, Connecticut, Providence, Rhode Island, Boston, Baltimore, Washington D.C... The city of Norfolk in Virginia is considered one of the most vulnerable because of its low elevation... As a country, we have to decide. Are we going to spend money -- tax money -- to invest in these [long-term projects]?"
Mattingly concedes that it won't be easy.
"How do you explain [this] to someone who lives in Nebraska? Or someone who lives up in the Rocky Mountains? This is going to take political will. It's going to have to be worked hard for in the future," he said.
For more, catch "The Coming Storms" on CNN this Sunday at 8 p.m. ET.
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