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Maryland To Face Major Problems From Rising Sea Levels

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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — One year ago, millions were waking up to the devastating damage from Superstorm Sandy. Nearly 160 people were killed in the storm.

New York and New Jersey flooded out and Maryland’s Eastern Shore waited for waters to recede.

Candles and flashlights lit up the shore along the East Coast Tuesday night as survivors of Superstorm Sandy paid respects to what was lost a year ago.

It doesn’t take storms as strong as Sandy to endanger Maryland’s coastline. Rising waters have homeowners worried they’ll be under the water in a few decades.

Meteorologist Tim Williams shows us why Maryland’s shore is especially vulnerable.

Maryland’s fragile coastline is vanishing. Each wave and each high tide carries a little more land back into the water.

“There are fewer and fewer days that we have much of a beach at all,” said Denise Haas, a homeowner in Millers Island.

Place the blame on climate change. WJZ First Warning Weather found its ripple effects cause the sea level to rise in Maryland at an alarming rate–more than three and a half feet by the end of this century.

“What’s interesting about Maryland is that sea level rise is occurring three times faster than that of other locations,” said Meteorologist Chelsea Ingram.

Haas is watching her property at the tip of Millers Island disappear before her eyes. Hurricane Isabel 10 years ago broke apart her bulkhead and now every storm steals more of her land.

“Without a bulkhead, this is the type of erosion we would get,” she said. “It started as a small area and is gradually working its way back.”

Maryland has the fourth longest coastline in the continental United States. That adds up to more than 3,000 miles that’s vulnerable to rising water.

“Here in Maryland, portions of the coastline are sinking while, at the same time, sea level is rising,” Ingram said.

WJZ obtained maps of Maryland showing how much land would be lost with only a four foot rise in sea level. Much of lower Ocean City and Dorchester County would be underwater.

The Department of Natural Resources is focused on dealing with the problem.

“Flooding today that we see on a more frequent basis in communities like Crisfield, Annapolis or Fells Point could really be the high tide that we see in the future on a daily basis,” said Zoe Johnson, DNS.

Nearly 600 acres of land erodes in Maryland every year. Already 13 islands in the Chesapeake Bay have been lost, including Holland Island.

“The lower Eastern Shore of Maryland is perhaps our most vulnerable,” Johnson said. “Crisfield, for example, is less than three feet above sea level–the entire community.”

Long-term, that’s bad news for Maryland. By the end of the century, with the water projected to rise more than three feet, Crisfield will wash away.

And for homeowners like Haas on Millers Island, it’s only a mater of time before they’ll be underwater.

“The water level has gradually risen to the point where, when we get a high tide, it’s pretty much to the top of the wall, sometimes over,” she said. “The water’s gonna go where it wants to go. There’s no keeping it out.”

Haas and her homeowners are doing what they can to fight the rising waters by raising their foundations and building up their bulkheads.

The state is being proactive and limiting the spending of tax dollars in areas at high risk of flooding.

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