Why did Hurricane Michael do so much damage? The simple answer: Michael was a spectacularly hurricane. (19659003) The rest of the answer, however, is that key people decided that homes and shops and air bases hosting billions of dollars in aircraft should be built to a lower standard than the reality of Mother Nature dictated. They bet that an overpowering storm would not come along. They lost the bet.
After Hurricane Andrew uncovered gaps in the details and implementation of South Florida's blueprint in 1992, Miami-Dade County said, "Never again." Broward County and the Keys went mostly with. Building codes, building materials and inspection protocols have been improved to meet the challenge of a hurricane of the highest caliber. The current code of South Florida is a world standard.
Meanwhile, politicians in northern Florida were clawing their teeth to limit the rigorous standards that Miami-Dade introduced. They decided that one of these Andrew-style circular saws would never hit the panhandle or most of the state, so low standards were good enough.
They made that decision despite the fact that the Hurricane Camille – one of two storms that hit the United States with higher winds than Andrew – 1969 Panhandle should hit before turning left at the last minute and beat Mississippi. And there was Category 3 Hurricane Eloise, which hit just west of Panama City and did considerable damage there. And Category 2 Hurricane Kate, who met in Mexico Beach in 1985. And despite some strong hurricanes that hit the panhandle in the 19th century
Heavy construction regulations are a pain in the neck. Constant inspections are required because construction workers sometimes cut corners and then cover them with drywall or stucco. But the only way to build a safe, sustainable community in the hurricane zone is to be sure that the buildings are built respecting the natural environment.
It's appalling what people in Panama City and the surrounding area are dealing with. And it's just starting. After Hurricane Andrew, some people suffered for months. It was hard to see and live frightening.
Hopefully, the people of Panama City and the surrounding area, whose lives have been turned upside down by Hurricane Michael, will demand better leadership in the future.
The wheel doesn I do not have to be reinvented. Miami-Dade has set world-class standards. What we need are leaders who understand that Florida is a wonderful thumb sticking out into the hurricane lane. While South Florida is more likely to experience hurricanes, the entire state has a hurricane history that includes extremely high levels of hurricanes.
It's up to us all to demand that our representatives ignore the voices that favor weaker codes, and prescribe standards strong enough to keep our communities liveable even after a major storm. The cost of the shattered communities accentuated by the loss of jobs we experience in the panhandle is much greater in real dollars than building adequate standards. Add up the cost of heartbreak and life, and the real price of non-action is impossible to calculate.
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