Beach houses in are being swallowed by the sea

THE NEW YORK TIMES – LIFE/STYLE – Like millions of others, Hien Pham marveled at the online video of the two-story pea-green beach house as it collapsed into a rising sea, bobbing in the choppy waves like a cork. giant.

This particular giant cork, formerly at Ocean Drive 24265, was from Pham. He had purchased the four-bedroom property in November 2020 for $275,000.

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“It’s definitely a feeling you can’t explain,” said Pham, 30, a real estate agent in Knoxville, Tennessee. “To see something that was once there, and then suddenly it’s not there anymore.”

The feeling, he added, “is one of emptiness”.

Three oceanfront lots are now vacant on Ocean Drive, a small stretch of a charmingly scruffy subdivision of the Outer Banks called Trade Winds Beaches that, much to the chagrin of its owners, it has become a sort of poster for sea level rise. – especially since the video of Pham’s house was widely shared on social media. The once generous stretch of beach in front of the homes has all but disappeared in recent months, leaving them vulnerable to the destructive power of the Atlantic Ocean.

Two houses collapsed off the coast of Rodanthe, North Carolina, USA, in May this year after a storm.
Two houses collapsed off the coast of Rodanthe, North Carolina, USA, in May this year after a storm. Photograph: Daniel Pullen/The New York Times

It was February 9th when the first house on the street floated away. A second house, a two-story building with double porches, owned by Ralph Patricelli of California, was washed ashore just hours before Pham’s.

“I spoke to a contractor who is helping us with the cleanup; he said there was nothing left of our house,” Patricelli said. “We don’t know where it went. But it ended completely.”

The gradual nature of sea level rise means that for many coastal communities this can seem like a distant threat. That’s not the case with the Outer Banks in North Carolina, the delicate chain of barrier islands facing the Atlantic. Federal officials say sea levels in the area have risen by about an inch every five years, with the climate change one of the main reasons. State officials say some Outer Banks beaches are shrinking by more than 4 meters a year in some areas.

“The water is already high and the waves are coming in much further in, eating away at the sand in a way that they wouldn’t if the seas were lower,” said William Sweet, an expert on sea level rise at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. .

Experts and locals alike note that in places like Hatteras Island, a narrow strip of land where Trade Winds Beaches is one of countless endangered neighborhoods, beach erosion is a natural and inevitable process. Barrier islands are hit by storms on the ocean side, with sands shifting westward, accumulating on the bay side.

All that remains of a house swallowed by the sea in North Carolina, in the United States.
All that remains of a house swallowed by the sea in North Carolina, in the United States. Photograph: Daniel Pullen/The New York Times

David Hallac, superintendent of Eastern North Carolina National Parks, said rising sea levels and increasing frequency and intensity of storms are likely intensifying erosion on Ocean Drive, which borders the Hatteras Island National Coast. . Patricelli, who never doubted climate change, said the disappearance of his home took the issue out of the realm of abstraction.

“I think I was naive to think it wouldn’t affect me to the degree that just happened,” he said. “Having experienced this, I have a whole new level in my head of how severe climate change is.”

The last two homes were destroyed amid a multi-day storm that pushed sand and wind onto North Carolina’s Highway 12, closing the essential two-lane route to Hatteras Island for more than a day. Ocean Drive was a post-storm mess. The pavement was buried under several feet of sand, as if in a snowstorm. Splintered wood and other debris from the two houses was scattered southward along the coast. The happy-named beach rentals (“Kai Surf House”) were practically unoccupied. TV news crews were struggling. Mark Gray, a worker at a cleaning company, was removing the remains of Patricelli’s house with an excavator.

“Mother Nature is angry,” he said, “or something.”

Hallac stood in front of where Patricelli’s house used to be, wrinkling his nose as the stench of the broken septic system wafted toward him. None of this, he said, was surprising. At the time the first house collapsed, he said, officials in Dare County, North Carolina, informed his office that eight houses on the street had been deemed unsafe for housing.

The vacation home neighborhood off the coast of North Carolina has become a symbol of the effects of rising oceans.
The vacation home neighborhood off the coast of North Carolina has become a symbol of the effects of rising oceans. Photograph: Daniel Pullen/The New York Times

“So I contacted the owners and said, ‘Hey, can you move your house or move it?’” Hallac said.

Both options have proved problematic for Ocean Drive homeowners in ways many other homeowners may experience over the next 30 years, a period when sea levels along US coasts are likely to rise by 30 cm on average, resulting in more coastal flooding, according to a multi-agency federal report released in February.

Patricelli said that two of his neighbors moved their homes inland. But he said it just seemed to be buying a little time. “Moving the house doesn’t mean you won’t have problems,” he said. “We can see what the ocean can do.”

Elsewhere on Hatteras Island, some communities have adopted a solution called beach nourishment, which involves replenishing the beach with sand pumped in from the sea. But this is expensive work, and Danny Couch, a member of the Dare County Commission, said he was skeptical that he could convince the park service that such a project was necessary to protect vital infrastructure, in part because a new elevated road will be opening soon next to a flood-prone section of Highway 12 near Ocean Drive.

For now, Patricelli’s dream of owning a rental investment property – where his family from both coasts could also get together and make memories – is lost. But some waterfront homes still attract visitors. On the beach on Patricelli’s lot, Stephanie Weyer, a truck dispatcher from Pennsylvania, was enjoying her family vacation as best she could due to the weather and drama. She said she planned on moving back to the same house next year – but 20 years later, she wondered if the neighborhood would disappear. / TRANSLATION LÍVIA BUELONI GONÇALVES

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About Abhishek Pratap

Food maven. Unapologetic travel fanatic. MCU's fan. Infuriatingly humble creator. Award-winning pop culture ninja.

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