High Rise, High Risk: Part 1

By: Sabrina Zimring
By: Sabrina Zimring

2005 has been the most active Atlantic hurricane season on record, but beach front construction hasn't slowed.

Condos rising from the sugar white shorelines are quickly changing the face of northwest Florida. How sturdy are these towers and how will they fare if the panhandle is hit with a major hurricane?

If you take a drive along panhandle beaches, you may get nostalgic about what's happening to the skyline.

The once sugary-white pristine beaches lining the panhandle are transforming into condo canyons, but are developers and owners taking a big risk with these designs? And will they weather the next big storm?

It's out with the old and in with the new; 20 and 30 story palaces are popping up everywhere along the coast, and the most active hurricane season on record hasn't slowed construction at all.

So what happens if the emerald coast comes face to face with a major hurricane? How structurally sound are these condominiums, and will they stand up to another Andrew or Katrina?

"You're just not going to be able to design something that's going to withstand mother nature. That's always been my belief. I don't care how you design something mother nature's gonna come in and if it wants something it's gonna go."

Many people found that out the hard way during Hurricanes Dennis and Ivan.

"I don't believe that there is anything that this hurricane proof. That was proved in 1969 in Camille in Gulfport when 29 people died in a hurricane proof house in a hurricane party; it just doesn't happen."

Nearly 40 years later building codes are more stringent. Florida revised building codes after Hurricane Andrew devastated south Florida.

Now, the closer you build to the coast, the tougher the building codes.

Condos are supposed to be able to withstand 110 mile-per-hour sustained winds and 130 mile an hour gusts, but even this "hurricane resistant design" isn't fail proof.

"It's the components and cladding the wall sections that will take the biggest brunt of the damage. The concrete structure itself it might strip out everything in it and you'll just have a big open shell but the concrete structure itself it'll be there."

So why do people want to take the risk and roll the dice with mother nature? Take a look at the view and the money and you'll find your answer.

"People want that view and you can see by the boom that happening people are willing to pay for that view no matter what the chances are. I think people have backed up and rethought though with Katrina and the amount of damage that's happened, but people still want and will pay for that view. It will be a matter of insurance to repair what they have to have that view in the future."

And while there are thousands of people willing to pay for that waterfront view, are you?

“The more condos you have on PCB the greater the likelihood is of the number of losses being greater should a hurricane come through, and then that very likely can have an impact on the insurance prices paid by people in town,”

We're all feeling the effects of the past two hurricane seasons with increases in homeowner’s insurance. If another storm hits Florida, you can bet insurance rates will rise again.

To give you an idea of how much damage a storm could cause, consider Hurricane Opal, which hit northwest Florida before the condo boom. That storm caused $3 billion worth of damage in 1995.

Bay County's damage estimates ran between $30 million and $50 million.


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