Hurricanes vs. Homes: Should Building on U.S. Coasts Be Stopped?

Willie Drye
for National Geographic News
February 27, 2006

In the wake of last year's unprecedented hurricane damage in the United States, questions are being raised about whether rebuilding should be allowed on some of the most vulnerable coastlines.

During the past decade hurricanes have inflicted billions of dollars' worth of damage from Maryland to Texas. The past two summers have been especially fearsome, with a series of monster storms shredding the Gulf Coast.

But coastal real estate is still booming. And property rights advocates say those who own that real estate are entitled to use their land as they see fit.

On Florida's Santa Rosa Island just off Pensacola, the coastal land boom didn't stop even after Hurricane Ivan pounded the island in 2004.

"Prices went through the roof," said Dave Murzin, a member of the Florida House of Representatives who represents Pensacola.

Ivan was only one of a series of exceptionally powerful hurricanes that made landfall in the U.S. in recent years.

Meteorologists say the cycle of active hurricane seasons began in 1995 and will continue for many years.

Still, destroyed and heavily damaged homes on Santa Rosa Island and elsewhere are being rebuilt, as are oceanfront hotels.

"It appears to me on the surface that we've learned very few lessons from the past couple of hurricane seasons," said Rob Young, a geologist at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina. Young analyzes coastal hurricane damage for the federal government and the insurance industry.

"Americans have a very stalwart, plant-the-flag attitude about natural disasters," Young said. "They say, No hurricane is going to chase me off my beach.

"And as long as the federal government is backing them up by replacing the infrastructure, how can you blame them for wanting to rebuild? In many cases they're not the ones that have to assume all the risks."

Lessons From Katrina?

Continued on Next Page >>


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