TODAY   |  November 03, 2012

Experts mull seawall protection for New York

Experts say flooding in the Big Apple can be prevented in the future by building seawalls, levees or gigantic surge barriers. NBC’s Richard Engel reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> back now to the aftermath of hurricane sandy. new york city still under water. how can it be prevented from happening again? richard engel has that story. good morning.

>> reporter: this could be a wake-up call for people to start seeing that infrastructure is national security . for the last ten years, the united states has made its national security priority spreading democracy to towns most people have never heard of in iraq and afghanistan. we've spent over a trillion dollars. we're still spending about 3$300 million a day to do that project. as new yorkers are finding themselves without a home and infrastructure is taking such a beating, maybe people are going to start to ask, is there a better way? new york city , surrounded by water. and now partly under water. the perspective you get from up here is that this is going to take weeks, maybe months. it isn't over yet by a long shot. there's still water down there now?

>> yes. we have water almost up to the mezzanine here.

>> reporter: at the tip of manhattan, the south ferry subway station is simply out of commission. from where we are at the top of this water, the top of the flooding, to the very bottom, how deep is this?

>> i would say we have about 20 feet to get to the platform.

>> reporter: 20 feet. and the tunnel connecting manhattan and brooklyn now holds 40 million gallons of water. blame it on a freak storm, climate change, or both, these are problems new york has never had before. some say they can be prevented from happening again by building sea walls , levees or gigantic surge barriers. oceanography professor malcolm bowman. in the netherlands, following a storm in 1953 , the government built an extensive series of storm surge barriers.

>> if we had such barriers in place during hurricane sandy, there would have been no damage at all.

>> reporter: this animation show what is a barrier in new york harbor might look like. if a surge was coming, 25-foot-high gates would drop, and then swing shut to block the water until the danger had passed.

>> the surge is completely blocked by the system.

>> reporter: but boman's idea would take years of study and cost about a third of the estimated cost of rebuilding after sandy. and lester, other countries are doing major infrastructure projects as part of national security . china is putting in about 10,000 miles of high speed railway . turkey and istanbul are building new tunnels and airports. it is potential the united states can do this. we're just spending our money on other things.

>> this is going to spark the conversation, though.

>> hopefully this will be part of the debate.