Could Hurricane Irene Destroy the Statue of Liberty?

Meteorologists have been warning about the catastrophic event of a hurricane hitting New York for years. With New York being directly in the path of major Hurricane Irene, many wonder if the state and the famous landmark, the Statue of Liberty, will be able to survive.

The city, which hasn’t experienced a major hurricane in more than 300 years, would not know how to react. Many people would ignore evacuation orders, similar to how those living in New Orleans failed to respond to the warnings before Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Even those who do listen to the evacuation orders likely won’t be able to escape the city soon enough. Without a strong hurricane evacuation plan, many will be left stranded in traffic as the storm approached.

As the hurricane heads closer to New York, storm surges will begin to spawn walls of water up to 30 feet high that quickly floods the streets. Those who failed to leave soon enough will become trapped in flooded roads, unable to move their vehicles. As the water level rises, cars and people will be swept out to sea. Most will die in a matter of minutes.

Many people will flee their vehicles and seek shelter in nearby high rises. This will only be a temporary solution however. As hail begins to fall, windows will shatter and roofing will be torn apart. The winds will soon pick up, slamming additional debris into the glass buildings. Those who are left on the flooded streets will now have to avoid being cut to pieces as they’re forced to dodge shards of falling glass.

Inside the buildings, the wind will have created a vacuum like effect due to the shattered windows. Those who remain inside and don’t seek additional shelter run the risk of being sucked out of the windows. Unfortunately, at this point help is usually not available. Even if the phone lines were still open, 911 Rescue doesn’t run during the heart of the storm.

But where does this leave the Statue of Liberty? Could a major hurricane destroy the statue that has become an icon of freedom to the American people for their entire lives?

Construction began on the Statue of Liberty in 1875. Ten years later, in 1885, the statue was finished and sent to the United States.

While being built, constructors took hurricanes into consideration and built the built the statue to withstand hurricane-force winds. This was of course, many, many years ago.

In fact, in 1885, meteorologists knew very little about hurricanes. There were no hurricane names and no hurricane categories. The only way to track a hurricane was by using ships who had observed the hurricane at sea. Because there was no wireless telegraphy, this couldn’t even be done until the ship reached the harbor.

With a Category 5 hurricane reaching winds of 156 mph or more, they’re described as nothing short of catastrophic. According to Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale:

“Complete roof failure on many residences and industrial buildings. Some complete building failures blown over or away. All shrubs, trees, and signs blown down. Complete destruction of mobile homes. Severe and extensive window and door damage. Low-lying escape routes are cut by rising water 3-5 hours before arrival of the hurricane center. Major damage to lower floors of all structures located less than 15 feet above sea level and within 500 yards of the shoreline.”

Hurricane Irene is only expected to reach Category 3 strength, and will likely be down to a Category 1 by the time it hits New York. Even if the storm remains a major hurricane at Category 3, this is still significantly less than a 5. While winds up to 130 mph could definitely damage a structure severely, destroying it all together seems unlikely.

The statue may be safe from Hurricane Irene for now, but it’s only a matter of time before another, stronger hurricane threatens it. This raises the question of, if the statue of Liberty was destroyed… what would the United States do?

Hopefully we’ll never have to find out.

Sources: “What If A Major hurricane Hit New York?” “What is a Category 5 Hurricane?” “Statue of Liberty” “Hurricane Irene”

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