July 12, 2006

The Faith-Based Recovery on the Hurricane Coast, Parts IV and V

Filed under: Katrina — PolitiCalypso @ 8:25 pm

Part IV: A Warning Shot in 2003?

Victims of Hurricane Isabel, a large storm that struck the East Coast in September 2003 as a Category Two, had been neglected and given short shrift by the insurance industry, and had not been compensated for damages a full year after that storm made landfall. Fortunately, that part of the coastline has not received a blow of comparable intensity since then. However, had such a thing happened, their damaged houses would have been much less stable in a subsequent storm, especially if they had experienced significant roof damage. Once breached, a roof is significantly less structurally sound against winds—which have a way, once they reach hurricane strength, of finding gaps and entering the house through the spaces. A strong wind to a damaged roof could easily tear it off the walls, and when it came time to assess damages, the insurance would have records to indicate that the roof was already damaged, and could use that as justification for denying claims. Clearly, the housing problem for hurricane victims after the storm is not easily solved by simply putting something over their heads.

Hurricane Isabel was the first hurricane to significantly impact the United States since Hurricane Floyd in 1999. (Hurricane Lili struck a relatively uninhabited part of Louisiana in 2002 as a Category Two, but it did less than $1 billion in damage and was a small storm that was weakening rapidly even as it made landfall.) One could say, then, that Isabel was the Bush Administration’s first significant test for hurricane recovery. Obviously it didn’t do so hot, especially for an administration whose byline and claim to fame was how well it supposedly was able to handle disasters.

Part V: Fiasco in Florida

The Administration continued to fall down with the 2004 season. Although this did not receive very much press, the state of Florida, which got battered repeatedly in 2004, received the “ignore” treatment as well for its recovery. The president and his brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, were more than willing to photo-op with victims for campaign purposes, but when it came to doing much to help, they failed badly. As of October 2005, victims of Hurricane Charley—a small hurricane that struck the Florida Gulf Coast on August 13, 2004—were still living in FEMA temporary housing, although that hurricane was very small and did only localized damage (as compared with a large storm such as Katrina). It does not take fourteen months to build a house, but Charley victims were still living in trailers after that long.
One woman was quoted in the news as being concerned that her FEMA trailer would not stand up to Hurricane Wilma, which was threatening the Florida coast at the time. She had good reason to worry: Mobile homes are considered unsafe during thunderstorm winds of 50-60 mph. They have been known to flip and literally fly to pieces during strong thunderstorms, which is why they are so frequently death traps in hurricanes and tornadoes. Weather forecasters actually advise mobile home residents to abandon them and lie in a ditch if they are in the path of a tornado; that is how unsafe they are. Hurricane Wilma ended up making landfall well south of Charley’s impact point, but it struck Florida as a Category Three hurricane with 120 mph winds and exited on the east side of the state as a Category Two with approximately 100 mph winds. The trailers would not have stood up.

Florida’s southern coast is wealthier than the parts of Louisiana and Mississippi that were damaged by Katrina and Rita, which is an obvious advantage. Also, Wilma moved across Florida very rapidly and was primarily a windstorm, rather than Rita and Katrina, which did most of their damage with massive amounts of water. However, even without these complications, reports from after the storm indicated that emergency management was mishandling the cleanup. As an example, storm victims reported being denied access to clean bottled water because the officials “guarding” the water had not been given official permission to dispense it… after 24 hours of sitting there. Although it received much less coverage than the Katrina aftermath, Florida apparently received similar treatment to the central Gulf Coast.

A cursory search of weather-enthusiast Floridians’ personal websites uncovers that many victims of Hurricane Wilma (and some whose homes were damaged in the 2004 Florida hurricanes), like their counterparts in Louisiana and Mississippi, still have not received payment for damages to their homes. They have what they call “blue roofs,” referring to wind-damaged roofs covered with blue plastic tarps. Roofs that, were another strong hurricane to strike, would be much more vulnerable than before to wind, because they had been breached and the holes not patched.

Part VI: A Dire Situation: What might 2006 hold?


  1. Two years ago at this exact day and exact minute, Hurricane Katrina made its first Gulf landfall on the Louisiana coast.

    I would like to mark this day by providing a series of links to recent news about the recovery, or what passes for it. First i

    Comment by PolitiCalypso — August 29, 2007 @ 4:14 am

  2. Every time I read about hurricane disasters I get the worst feeling. It’s hard to imagine what these people go through. Could mobile homes be a solution to avoid so many tragedies?

    Comment by gordman — October 25, 2007 @ 9:59 am

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