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Coastal hazards are an inevitable result of human occupation of one of the earth's most dynamic environments, the shore zone. Storms and the associated destruction by winds, waves, and floods have exacted their toll since the earliest coastal settlement. The result of these processes, together with mass wasting and subsidence, is shoreline retreat or, in the vernacular of the property owner, “shoreline erosion.” Shakespeare noted in a sonnet of having “seen the hungry ocean gain advantage on the kingdom of the shore,” and he surely was aware of the disappearance of coastal villages in Great Britain; for example, along the Lincolnshire coast (King, 1972). Yet each generation in each coastal country seems to discover the hazards anew, as if they are becoming more noticeable or severe in effect. This observation may actually be true because of changing climate and patterns of coastal use; most specifically because of increased density of human habitations. Humans are even reshaping the oceanographic setting of the adjacent shelves, adding to the potential severity of coastal hazards.

North America's Atlantic seaboard has a relatively short record of coastal settlement, but the disappearance or abandonment of entire communities such as Broadwater, Virginia; Diamond City, North Carolina; and Lafayette and Edingsville Beach, South Carolina attests to storm impact, shoreline retreat, and barrier island dynamics. Historic reports from most Atlantic states include examples of storm damage and significant shoreline erosion (e.g., Tuomey, 1848; Vincent, 1870). Loss of life and property due to hurricanes and northeasters along the Atlantic coast has been common since colonial times, but the accelerated coastal development of the twentieth century has led to increasing property losses (e.g., Herbert and Taylor, 1980; Simpson and Lawrence, 1971).

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