When Hurricane Idalia crashed into Florida on Wednesday morning, it became the eighth big hurricane hit the Gulf Coast in the last six years. And it may not be the last; The Atlantic hurricane season has not yet reached its peak and the Gulf of Mexico has been historically warm – more energy to power deadlier storms.
But as the relentless rebuilding work begins in places like hardest-hit Pasco County, Idalia’s arrival renews the question of whether it’s suitable to rebuild in some areas, experts told CNN, and where to do it.
Man-made climate change is wreaking havoc on the Gulf Coast, which is already experiencing some of the fastest sea level rise in the world. As the ocean swallows the coastline, the impacts of storm surges and flooding are more dangerous for communities in these low-lying areas.
To make matters worse, many insurance companies are too withdraw from some Gulf statesleaving homeowners and businesses with more risk and fewer options to finance their recovery in a way that will leave buildings stronger and better able to weather the next storm.
“One of the biggest questions we have going forward is whether we should redevelop these areas and spend federal and state dollars to continue to redevelop areas that will be affected in the future,” said Jesse Keenan, a professor of sustainable real estate at the School of Real Estate from Tulane University. architecture, he told CNN.
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Florida is the site of the last major hurricane, but experts CNN spoke to said the entire Gulf Coast is experiencing a perfect storm of weather impacts, including rising sea levels and stronger storms fueled by warming seas. water, combined with a reduction in the insurance fund in states such as Florida and Louisiana.
“There are certainly some communities that have reached that tipping point” of relocating instead of rebuilding, said Jeremy Porter, head of climate implications for the nonprofit research group First Street Foundation. “If we look at the trajectory of climate risks that we’re seeing, there will be many more communities that will reach that tipping point in the next 30 to 50 years.”
Major insurers have largely withdrawn from Florida and smaller ones have gone bankrupt, leaving many homeowners with Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, the state’s insurer of last resort.
And while there are more and more uninsurable places in all 50 states, experts see California, Florida and Louisiana as the top three hotspots where the pool of uninsured homeowners is growing, in part due to major disasters like hurricanes. and forest fires.
There are different factors at play in the three states, but with similar results: As an increasing number of private insurers stop offering flood or wildfire policies or go bankrupt, more people are driven to turn to the insurer of last state-backed resource, where they will typically have to pay more money for a narrower policy.
In Louisiana, for example, 17% of homeowners insurance policyholders had their policies canceled in the past year, according to a survey conducted by Louisiana State University.
Porter told CNN that the fact that Citizens has become the default insurer in Florida “is crazy to think about.”
“Citizens will not be able to bear the economic cost” of multiple major storms, he said. Last year’s Hurricane Ian was the costliest storm in Florida state history, and more storms of its magnitude could hit the state insurer hard.
There is also the question of rebuilding infrastructure that has been repeatedly flooded, such as roads and bridges.
Idalia was different from Ian in part because it struck an area that was less populated and had more natural defenses in the vast marshes and wilderness around the Big Bend area. But Idalia was the strongest storm to make landfall on that stretch of the Florida coast in more than 125 years, and wasn’t necessarily built to withstand it, as evidenced by cabin-style homes torn from their foundations by Idalia’s massive storm surge. .
Porter said rebuilding homes so they are elevated and better able to withstand hurricanes or other weather disasters is one option. But it takes the combination of up-to-date building codes and a healthy insurance market to make rebuilding resiliently an option for all homeowners, not just the wealthy who can afford it.
Keenan said Idalia and other Gulf Coast storms raise the question of where to rebuild, especially considering that some of the areas hardest hit by Idalia were island communities only accessible by bridge, such as Cedar Key.
“Many of these communities have very weak infrastructure links to the mainland,” Keenan said. “They have one way in and one way out. These areas are very precarious. From a municipal finance standpoint, they have to borrow money to build and maintain these roads. There is now a climate premium. They are putting a price on climate change.”
Porter, whose First Street organization maintains a nationwide database of properties at risk of flooding, said the problem will only increase as climate change accelerates sea level rise. While the coastal communities of southern Louisiana may be the ones that disappear into the ocean, the sea will come for many other communities in the coming decades.
“If we look at the projections going forward, we’re at the beginning,” Porter said. “The insurance recalls we’ve seen in the last two years are the canary in the coal mine.”