[fla-left] Greed fuels the stampede to Hurricane Alley (fwd)

Michael Hoover hoov at freenet.tlh.fl.us
Tue Aug 8 07:38:12 PDT 2000

forwarded by Michael Hoover
> --
> Published Sunday, August 6, 2000, in the Miami Herald
> Greed fuels the stampede to Hurricane
> Alley
> August marks another queasy anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, the
> costliest natural disaster in the country's history.
> If a storm of similar magnitude hammers the coast this year, the
> results likely will be even more catastrophic and deadly.
> Hundreds of thousands of potential new victims have migrated to the
> Atlantic and Gulf shores since 1992, when Andrew creamed parts of Florida
> and Louisiana.
> Despite the well-publicized increase in hurricane activity, oceanfront
> real-estate sales are booming. Never before have so many people so
> blithely placed themselves in harm's way.
> It's not only the lure of the sea but the promise of future
> reimbursement that brings newcomers. Government policy fosters development
> on high-risk coastal zones, wetlands and barrier islands by essentially
> subsidizing those who, in the face of dire predictions, elect to live
> there.
> The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, for instance, spends about $80
> million a year replenishing beaches that nature nibbles away. Artificial
> beach restoration enhances property values, which in turn spurs more
> coastal construction.
> The closer you get to the ocean, the more you pay for land. Meanwhile,
> ironically, the ocean is getting closer to you.
> From New York to Key West, sea levels are rising steadily to reclaim
> the shore inch by inch. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
> estimates that about 30,000 single-family homes and condos are on
> coastal tracts that will be submerged by 2030.
> One could reasonably argue that anybody who lives on a beach is surely
> aware of the risks, and is free to take a chance against weather,
> erosion and rising oceans.
> The government goes farther than that. It compensates homeowners who
> fall victim to their own arrogance, ignorance or misplaced optimism.
> The program is national flood insurance, and it's sold to those who
> live in such imminent danger of being swamped that no private insurer
> will go near them.
> Many folks with government flood protection never report a claim.
> Others file again and again. According to a recent series in USA Today,
> one piece of property in Houston has been the subject of 16 federal
> flood claims that so far have paid out $807,000.
> Remarkable, for a property valued at only $114,480.
> FEMA officials have fought to curtail beach replenishment and sharply
> limit development that ruins crucial natural drainages. Congress has
> repeatedly refused to act.
> Huge money is at stake. Banks, land speculators, builders, highway
> contractors -- all of them get rich off waterfront projects, and all
> have clout with politicians.
> Witness the fierce struggle required to pass a minimally sensible
> building code here in Florida. At issue was nothing less than the
> safety of millions of families, yet industry lobbyists came
> disgracefully close to gutting the law.
> National flood insurance has been tightened in recent years, but not
> enough. It's absurd that fellow taxpayers must bail out those of us,
> like myself, who've chosen to live on a flood zone in hurricane alley.
> Cutting federal flood benefits won't happen, though. It would
> discourage banks from financing oceanfront property, which would
> slow coastal building. Profits always win out over common sense.
> Those now stampeding to America's shorelines figure the move isn't so
> risky. If a hurricane comes, Uncle Sam will pay up to $350,000 to
> rebuild their splintered dream home, which they will have safely
> evacuated in advance of the surge.
> Or maybe not. So densely populated is the U.S. coastal hurricane
> corridor that some experts believe evacuation might be more perilous
> than riding out the weather.
> Last year, three million people across the South headed inland to
> escape Hurricane Floyd. The wild exodus gridlocked interstate highways,
> leaving some evacuees stranded in traffic for 18 hours.
> If the storm had veered ashore, many would have died in their cars.
> No wonder the mood among hurricane experts is one of glum resignation.
> Disaster is inevitable. Those who should have listened didn't.
> People's mad dash to relocate at the ocean's edge -- and lawmakers'
> cowardly refusal to curb it -- shows how quickly Andrew was forgotten.
> Consequently, the most destructive storm in history is destined to
> become the second most destructive. The big question, as always, is when.

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