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Outdated maps of New York linked to surprise Hurricane Sandy devastation

Outdated maps of New York linked to surprise Hurricane Sandy devastation

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Outdated flood maps of New York City put in danger some 35,000 buildings, many of which later ended up being damaged in the wake of Hurricane Sandy last year, according to a new report. A new investigation by ProPublica says the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) ignored numerous pleas to update maps that dated back to the 1980s, resulting in surprise damage for city dwellers who unknowingly bought and lived in high risk flood areas that would have been identified using newer cartographic and scientific techniques.

The digital versions were scans of paper maps

The 2012 storm killed nearly 300 people in the US and racked up billions of dollars in damage. According to local officials, some of that could been avoided with newer maps, given that developers purposely designed structures in those areas using outdated information. The maps in question turned out to be 2003 digital scans of the 1980s paper maps that were cross-referenced with satellite imagery. Three years later, in 2006, the maps were updated once again, though reportedly did not take into account more modernized estimations on storm surges — the giant swells of water that led to catastrophic flooding in some areas. Those estimations made it into maps that FEMA began working on in 2009, though were not released when Sandy hit.

FEMA told ProPublica that maps of both New Jersey and New York were not updated in the middle part of the 2000s, adding that the agency has focused on "high risk coastal areas" since 2009. In the meantime, FEMA's put together draft versions of those maps, which are available now and set for a final release in 2015.