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Snow removal continues in the Northeast after a weekend blizzard

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Up and down the East Coast, people are digging out after a powerful blizzard hit over the weekend. Massachusetts saw the worst of it. Boston got two feet of snow, tying its own record snowfall for a single day. Eve Zuckoff, with member station WCAI, covers Cape Cod, where communities are now concerned about flooding and erosion. Good morning, Eve.

EVE ZUCKOFF, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So communities all along the East Coast were dealing with high winds and the bitter cold, not to mention massive snowfall in some places. How are people holding up?

ZUCKOFF: Well, cleanup of snow, downed trees and power lines is underway. And so far, it's moving quickly. But during the storm, at one point, 41% of Cape Cod was without power.

FADEL: Wow.

ZUCKOFF: And that's as temperatures dropped into the tens and low 20s. In one town, a conservation manager told me people who didn't have heat at home got in their cars just to drive around so they could try to stay warm. They ended up getting rescued after their car got stuck in a snow bank. But by lunchtime today, county officials are hoping power gets returned to nearly everyone on the Cape.

FADEL: So not only are people dealing with the bitter cold, the wind, the snow, but the storm's caused flooding in some places too, right?

ZUCKOFF: Absolutely. There were a number of low-lying coastal areas that were just completely underwater around high tide during the worst of the storm. I think the most notable flooding was probably in the island of Nantucket. Several of the main downtown roads were covered in a foot of seawater. There are videos where it's really hard to tell where the ocean ends and roads begin in front of, you know, the local movie theater. And at one point, a group of high school students were even paddling the streets in a canoe.

FADEL: So what about for people who live really close to the ocean? They must be concerned about the long-term impact of storms like this one on their homes.

ZUCKOFF: Oh, absolutely. Beyond flooding, beach erosion is a really big problem for a number of those homes. And a lot of attention right now is specifically on the sand dunes across the region because they're incredible. They provide this service to the coast. Every time big waves come, they act like this cushion. But the problem comes when people build their homes on top of the dunes because they're eroding also. So in this one town called Sandwich, there are several dozen homes built on top of a dune. And we don't yet know exactly how much erosion the storm caused. But a state official who monitors coastal damage told me the dune has definitely changed. Before the storm, there was this kind of healthy slope down to the beach below. Now it's a steep, eight-foot drop.

FADEL: Wow.

ZUCKOFF: And Sandwich isn't alone. There are other towns across the region where you can clearly see this storm has damaged the dunes.

FADEL: OK. So given that, what's top of mind for officials in these towns as they start to think about the reality of climate change? There are likely more severe storms like this one in the future.

ZUCKOFF: Absolutely. I think that preparation is key for coastal towns generally. One Sandwich town official named Dave DeConto said he's focused on cleaning up what's just come through, of course. But his mind is also on potential storms of 2023 already.

DAVE DECONTO: It's a long-term process. And the planning has to go so far ahead. We should be planning for storms now for next winter.

ZUCKOFF: You know, storms like this underscore that. Sea level rise, more frequent and intense storms, all these impacts of climate change are forcing some in these towns to ask whether we need to rethink where we're building and, perhaps, whether we need to retreat altogether in some areas.

FADEL: Eve Zuckoff with member station WCAI. Thank you, Eve.

ZUCKOFF: Thank you, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Eve Zuckoff is WCAI's Report for America reporter, covering the human impacts of climate change.