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“That was where my house was,” Jackie Spann told the Los Angeles Times, pointing to an empty lot littered with debris and palm trees on Florida’s Mexico Beach.
“It’s gone,” said the 83-year old retiree, crying. “My house is gone.”
Hurricane Michael carved a path of destruction through the Florida panhandle last week, leaving at least 18 folks dead and countless families homeless. But nowhere was hit the hardest than Jackie’s home town.
Over the weekend, you might have seen the harrowing images captured by news helicopters flying over the devastated beach town.
“Flattened” is the only word that comes to mind.
Most homes weren’t destroyed.
They’re just… gone. Plucked out of the ground like daisies.
“The whole house got whipped,” former mayor Tom Bailey told the Los Angeles Times. “So far I haven’t seen any still standing. I’m telling people, if you live on the south side of Highway 98, don’t bother to come back.”
While some folks are determined to return to Mexico City and begin the arduous process of rebuilding, others are taking Hurricane Michael as a sign to get out of dodge.
“I couldn’t get nothing for this land now,” one long-time resident told CNN. “People gonna be scared to death to come down here to buy and invest money. So we’re just going to leave it. Hold onto the land and I have a 10-year-old grandson and, hopefully, when he gets 50 he can retire down here.”
But others still are starting to ask questions. Questions like: “How the heck did this happen?”
That question might seem obvious at first.
“A Cat 4 hurricane blew through town and trashed your house.”
But the question isn’t as black and white as it seems.
Something like this wasn’t supposed to happen.
After all, Florida has one of the toughest — if not the toughest — building codes in the U.S.
Fortified roofs… shatterproof windows… reinforced concrete pillars…
We’re talking about homes that are built for hurricanes, designed to resist winds of 170 mph.
So, what happened?
All Icing, No Cake
Some say, Florida’s building codes, which are the toughest in the country, simply aren’t tough enough.
Sure, they might have stood up to past hurricanes. But we are currently in new era of super storms, far more frequent and destructive that what we’ve come to expect.
“The assumption was, you don’t really have powerful hurricanes hitting the Panhandle,” Craig Fugate, former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told the Miami Herald. “Michael just threw all that in their face.”
There might be something to this theory. After all, Michael was the most powerful storm to ever hit the panhandle and the third most powerful storm in U.S. history.
But remember, these homes are supposedly built to withstand winds of 170 mph. Hurricane Michael clocked in at 150 mph. And experts are now saying that winds of 140 mph or even 130 mph would still have caused widespread destruction.
And all you have to do is look at the debris and rubble in Mexico Beach to see why. There aren’t any fortified roofs, shatterproof windows, or reinforced concrete pillars among the rubble.
You will find, however, piles of flimsy particleboard… staples in lieu of roofing nails… and heaps of other cost-cutting alternatives.
Some of this is from older homes that haven’t be brought up to code since it was revamped 11 years ago. But there are just as many new homes, built after the new code was introduced, which were destroyed.
You see, Florida talks a big game when comes to “the toughest building codes in the country.” But few buildings are actually built to that standard.
Contractors cut corners. City officials look the other way. Exemptions are made for homes near trees (which Michael just turned into roof-crushing projectiles).
“We’re learning painfully that we shouldn’t be doing those kinds of exemptions,” said Don Brown from Florida Building Commission. “We are vulnerable as any other part of the state.”
So what’s the moral of this story here? Do we need tougher building codes? Stricter building codes?
Nope. Florida’s codes are already the “toughest” in the States, and that didn’t do the residents of Mexico Beach any good.
If you’re in a tropical storm zone, you need to take it upon yourself to make sure your home is protected and your family is safe.
Because no one else will.
All the best,
Editor, Money & Crisis
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