Hurricane Charley hit Punta Gorda, Florida, in 2004. It demolished Monty’s restaurant. Diane Caputo is the owner. She needed more than three years to get her original location open again. But the restaurant fared much better with Hurricane Ian. It made landfall in September.
“We’ve been cleaning up ever since Ian passed,” Caputo says. But she was able to reopen within a week.
Monty’s was rebuilt to be stronger. Florida has strict building rules. They make sure that new construction can withstand a hurricane.
But rebuilding is expensive. Many of the people affected by Ian can’t afford it. A new house, for example, is required to have hurricane shutters. Or impact-resistant windows. These can add thousands of dollars to building costs.
That’s making new homes more expensive. Soon, only wealthier people might be able to live in Florida. Roy Wright heads the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety. “There will [likely] be a different demographic living there five years from now,” he says, “than who may have lived there for the last 30 years.”
Cost of Living
Florida’s most vulnerable homes were built between the 1960s and the 1980s. They were made with cheaper materials than those used today. These homes are what many elderly people and service workers can afford. And Florida’s rules for new buildings don’t protect them.
People like Todd Lurty could find it hard to start over. Ian destroyed his camper on Pine Island, off Florida’s Gulf Coast. The camper was the base for his business, FunShine Island Services. It gave boat tours. Since Ian, fewer tourists are coming to the island. Lurty believes that they’ll return eventually. “I haven’t lost hope,” he says. “That’s pretty much all we have, at this point.”
Lessons to Learn
More than 2.5 million people were ordered to evacuate before Ian landed. Many stayed in their homes. Leaving wasn’t possible for them. Transportation, housing, and food all cost money. According to GlobalPro, a family can spend $5,000 to evacuate during a hurricane.
Florida is receiving federal disaster aid to rebuild. But Wright hopes there will be more state and local investment to help lower-income residents. “I would like to see them make that affordable for your average Joe,” Lurty says, “not just a millionaire-billionaire that can come in and build these great big fancy houses.”
Caputo says it’s vital to learn from these disasters while rebuilding. “We’re going into our 40th year of business . . . It’s not our first rodeo,” she says. “You can’t control Mother Nature. So you’ve just got to prepare.”
Hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean are getting stronger faster. And the likeliness of powerful storms there has increased. The chances are greater compared to just a few decades ago. Part of that is because our oceans are getting warmer. Hurricanes begin at sea. They draw their energy from the warmer water. This can mean higher winds. It can also mean heavier rain. —By Brian S. McGrath
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