20 Years After Hurricane Andrew, Storm Costs and Ideology Loom Over Florida

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Mark Foley / AP

Rows of damaged houses between Homestead and Florida City, Fla. sit in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, Aug. 25, 1992.

Miami

Hurricane Andrew, which slammed into South Florida on Aug. 24, 1992, was the second costliest storm in modern U.S. history. Here in Miami-Dade County, which took the monstrous brunt of Andrew’s Category 5 winds, we’re observing the 20th anniversary by battening down the hatches for a new cyclone, Tropical Storm Isaac – which could be a hurricane when it passes near Tampa and the Republican National Convention. That’s a coincidental reminder that many Floridians aren’t just cursing Isaac as they put up their shutters this weekend. They’re also fuming about Governor Rick Scott and their state-run property insurance corporation, Citizens, both of whom are widely accused of trying to throw Sunshine State residents into a financial tempest.

That controversy, laid out in a Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times series this month, has a lot of recession-racked Floridians wondering if they can afford to stay on the peninsula. Scott, a Tea Party Republican who disdains just about everything in the public sector, seems especially contemptuous of Citizens, established in 2002 largely to give Floridians access to affordable hurricane insurance in the wake of Andrew. Today it’s the state’s largest property insurer, but Scott insists it’s too big, and he and company honchos are on a campaign to jettison homeowners from Citizens coverage and into the private sector. This despite the prospect that residents’ windstorm premiums, which alone can top $4,000 a year for a $200,000 home in Miami, may double or triple – provided they can even find a private carrier who wants to write windstorm policies in Florida – possibly leaving many unable to afford the coverage that their mortgages require.

(PHOTOS: The Most Destructive U.S. Hurricanes of All Time)

Granted, it’s not ideal to rely on a state-backed insurer as much as Florida leans on Citizens, whose bosses argue that its premiums are too low and its exposure too big to weather the next Andrew. Still, a hurricane hasn’t hit the state since 2005. And Floridians might not be so irked at Citizens’ stepped-up efforts to cancel policies if it weren’t for another of Scott’s crusades: his dismantling of much of the state’s growth management apparatus, which lawmakers and civic groups designed in part to keep the peninsula’s burgeoning population and reckless development from making Florida even more exposed to the financial wreckage of hurricanes – and the insurance premium spikes that result from it. Scott, for example, has abolished the Department of Community Affairs, which helped limit chaotic sprawl and kept developers from encroaching on the Everglades.

The problem is hardly unique to Florida, as Hurricane Katrina, U.S. history’s costliest storm, so painfully reminded us in 2005. But the GOP should ponder it next week as Isaac roars by the Tampa convention. As the U.S. population keeps concentrating in areas prone to hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, wildfires and other disasters – and as factors like global warming, no matter how hard some try to ignore its presence, exacerbate those phenomena – both political parties are going to have think harder about how to better minimize the risks and absorb the costs. Low-lying coastal areas, for example, “were never meant to house as many people as they do today,” says Tim Chapin, professor of urban and regional planning at Florida State University in Tallahassee. “More rampant development will absolutely put more people at physical and financial risk.”

So let’s hope Isaac reminds the pols in Tampa – and the Democrats at their convention the following week in Charlotte, N.C., another hurricane-vulnerable state – about legislation that’s been lingering in Washington for years: a national catastrophe fund system. The “CAT Fund” would keep premiums more reasonable by pooling money from about 20 disaster-prone states and using it to help governments and insurance companies handle the costs of large-scale catastrophes like Katrina. Says Adm. James Loy, a former Coast Guard commandant and co-chair of ProtectingAmerica.org, which lobbies for better national emergency preparedness, “I’d like to think now that we’re gaining traction in Washington for this notion of a national backstop.”

The CAT Fund wouldn’t be a taxpayer-funded backstop – which matters in this age of deficit doom, when government disaster relief is strained at best. Instead, private insurance companies would contribute a portion of their policy holders’ premiums to state CAT Funds; to be eligible for national relief, the states would then contribute a portion of their money to a national CAT Fund administered by the Treasury Department. The key, says Loy, is having “three tiers accruing money over time – insurers, state funds and the national fund – sharing the burden and not relying on federal bailouts.” The fund would also support first responders, encourage smarter building codes and growth management at the state and local level and promote public education, “making it more evident to homeowners what they’re signing up for when they choose to buy a house in one of these areas,” says Loy.

(MORE: 5 Things to Know to Protect Your House Against Flooding)

Perhaps most important, Loy adds, a national CAT Fund would lure large private insurers – which have all but abandoned property and windstorm markets like Florida – back to those areas. As a result, experts like Chapin agree that Washington has to put ideas like the CAT Fund on its radar. “We’ve got to get away from the way we depend on the federal government to save everyone’s bacon in a disaster,” says Chapin, though he and others think that may inevitably require higher taxes for residents in catastrophe-prone zones. “It gives us the illusion that there’s no risk to overdeveloping these areas, that every time a disaster hits we can just build everything back the way we’ve done before.”

Chapin insists, however, that Florida, to its credit, has done a better job than most coastal states in the past 20 years improving building codes and infrastructure like drainage. Which makes Scott’s assault on smart growth management all the more distressing — all the more a reminder of how much we haven’t learned since Andrew.

75 comments
Debbie Hanrahan
Debbie Hanrahan

Is it a legitimate storm?  Maybe collectively they can will it not to happen.  This is not to make light of hurricanes and the damage they cause.  This is to highlight that real life crisis happens and science can guide us in making decisions. 

sacredh
sacredh

Heretic. Did science give us electicity? Did science give us medicine? Did science get us to the moon? Did science give us the ability to build buildings over 1000 feet tall?

.

Crickets.

Richard Giles
Richard Giles

We hear the condescending attitude towards women and we see the elitist mentality in their performance.  It isn't just one of them as it is seen throughout their ranks and totally prevalent in their leaders.  Mitt Romney is one of the elitist, loyal to their interests, by heritage and by financial status; he demonstrated that focus at Bain and in his complete history and he continually states it in all he says.  They intend to "turn things around" on the backs of women and on the backs of the middle class; Romney has said as much and Ryan has demonstrated it in his budget, which advocates additional burden on the middle-class just to give more to the very wealthy.  Listen to what they say, really listen and evaluate it, and watch their actions, objectively watch and see - they are cocksure as they pander to the 1% who provide the mega-millions for the constant propaganda aimed to con the 99%.  There is no hope for the majority there, as there isn't any conscience or concern for the people, only subterfuge offered with their cocky confidence in the power, influence and money provided them - that being done with significant "strings" attached.The Republican / Tea Party has become owned and controlled by "the money".  There is no doubt about that as it is obvious in their complete concentration on serving "the money's" interests, in the total support provided to them (with demands for return considerations) and in their taking the people for granted as together (with the mega-millions being spent, SuperPacs, etc.) they aggressively concentrate on conning the people and manipulating public opinion.  They simply insultingly take the voters for granted as if "pawns" in their private game of politics.  "Conservative" is their deceptive word but unless it means feeding the insatiable "more" (never enough) appetite of the 1% while leaving the 99% struggling, it is only "smoke and mirrors".   The people need to recognize the deception aimed to dupe and control them, reject the abundant propaganda that plays on their emotions and firmly reject the "puppet" politicians who will dutifully serve only "the money", in order to convey the message that they just won't be so easily used and abused.

Ohiolib
Ohiolib

How about if we just stop building regular houses in the middle of hurricane alley? Either don't build there, or drastically alter the way we make houses, so we don't go through this every few years.

Pnnto
Pnnto

The Fargo area gets flooded every few springs (it seems) and the reliable "End Big Government!" republican households all line up for federal assistance. 

I'm not suggesting they shouldn't get the aid but at some point maybe build away from the river?

sacredh
sacredh

I lived in an area where it flooded every 10-15 years or so. Most houses were built up on cement block so that only the garages/basements flooded. For a flood to touch me now, the river would have to be 800 feet above flood stage. I moved.

sacredh
sacredh

That is a compliment. Thank you. I remind me of a Pat Conroy without any writing talent. And I'm not anywhere near as stable.

Pnnto
Pnnto

Sacred--Your boating/water experiences make me think of Pat Conroy. 

That's a compliment. 

sacredh
sacredh

Pnnto, we're in a low flow situation on the Ohio River, but we normally are this time of year. There aren't any restrictions on locking boats and we don't expect any in the near future.

Pnnto
Pnnto

That's why we are on the 28th floor looking down on the Mississippi. 

Take. No. Chance. 

sacredh
sacredh

OT, but Neil Armstrong has passed away. A true American hero.

Pnnto
Pnnto

To have your name be synonymous with American hero is a nice, and appropriate,  legacy. 

outsider2011
outsider2011

 Not just an American hero Paul. First man on the moon. That's a global achievement.

I posted the news story on my FB page - because he deserves it.

Also, Jerry Nelson died. He was the puppeteer who did the count on Sesame street.

He taught everyone i know how to count.

Also on the FB page.

outsider2011
outsider2011

 Good point about the Russians.. although it really was an acheivment for mankind - regardless of their pride.

The funding cuts are sad. And utterly ridiculous when you consider how much benefit comes from that money.

As opposed to paying a defense contract for a second engine for a plane that already has an engine, simply because you're the speaker and the second manufacturer is in your district..

Pnnto
Pnnto

No question on the correction outsider, although not sure that people growing up in the USSR would concur. 

Sad about Jerry Nelson, I hadn't heard that. Is there anyone who doesn't smile at the memory of The Count? 

Also, too, cut funding to PBS. That's our current republican party. 

sacredh
sacredh

That's what I think of as immortality. Your name lives on. The first man to step foot on another celestial body. Amazing.

sacredh
sacredh

outsider2011, I see a bunch of "I saw what you just did there" comments. What does that mean?

outsider2011
outsider2011

 Mentioning Paul tends to bring the crazies.

In droves.

Not that we need them. Our two resident putz's seem to take delight in driving up the threads to over 600 comments simply out of spite lately.

They aren't even trying to pretend that they've got a point.

They're like children who had too much candy - in a confined space

sacredh
sacredh

Thanks for the explanation. Does it only apply to RP mentions or any attempt to drive up a thread count?

sacredh
sacredh

I try to avoid the threads where the count gets too high. I'm not above throwing something nasty out there though before I head off to work. Or outside. Or to the store. Or to bed. Or to watch a movie.

outsider2011
outsider2011

 Hmm. I just think it applies to anything clever.

So RP, or one of your innuendos.

It's just recognizing it - so you don't think that your humor goes to waste :)

Some of us do appreciate it.

sacredh
sacredh

I think the Paul supporters are pretty much done. They usually never showed up unless Ron Paul was mentioned in the thread title. I read where they might get a thank you video at the convention. Then they'll vote for Mitt. I think many more of them are going to vote for Mitt and pretend that they didn't. If RP is still alive in 2016, we'll see the same thing again.

sacredh
sacredh

Ummmm...no. I meant Pto.

Pnnto
Pnnto

"I think the Paul supporters are pretty much done"

Oh I have plenty left. Oh wait, you didn't mean me?

sacredh
sacredh

OT, but the "party of No" thread went over 1000 comments. we're going to see many more of those before the election. I miss the Ron Paul threads.

outsider2011
outsider2011

 I saw what you just did there.

I think the Party of No was linked on other sites. Lots of different people - who haven't been here before

Elvic Geo
Elvic Geo

Regarding the disasters and wars in our

generation, who has the right to ask salvation from God?

The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those

who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those

who seek you. 

Psalm 9:9-10 (NIV).

God will not forsake those who will call on His Great Name! 

May you know more of God's True name in the Bible and His message for our time in www.thename.ph.

Disastrous events will continue to happen all over the world, for the people to

realize that the world is cursed. These will only stop when they accept and

acknowledge the true Name of God."

Scotty_A
Scotty_A

Florida elected a nutcase in Governor Rick Scott. They can recall him. The guy does not believe in public safety or education. He has not turned around the Florida economy. Republicans are often worse than Democrats these days with their dumb ideas. If things do go bad in Florida, the question will be whether the voters there decide to punish Romney. Obama will push for Federal aid in the event of a hurricane since he is fairly desperate to get reelected.

Dan5404
Dan5404

Let's hope that, if the hurricane floods Tampa, it doesn't wash the pollution from the GOP convention into the Gulf, creating another ecological disaster.

kalonlhq
kalonlhq

I think all of these better than china.

53underscore3
53underscore3

"— all the more a reminder of how much we haven’t learned since Andrew."

Katrina, anyone?

sacredh
sacredh

The last thing the republican party needs is to have pictures of senior citizens racing down the highway in motorized wheelchairs trying to outrun the storm. Especially if they're all from the convention.

ERenger
ERenger

My Hoveround doesn't just hover around. It flies through the air like the witch on her bicycle in the Wizard of Oz! 

sacredh
sacredh

53_3, I worked on the lawn off and on for two full days. I did some tree trimming too. I was finishing up weed whacking down by the mailbox and a guy  that lives up the road stopped in his truck and asked me how much I'd charge to do the same thing to his yard. I asked him if he had a picture of his wife.

53underscore3
53underscore3

Just use the AR 15, sacred.  Use the flechettes and they're great for mowing lawns.

Don't sneeze though...

sacredh
sacredh

I think I'm going to wind up needing one of those. I cut grass yesterday and I'm trimming with the pushmower today. It's pushing 90 and humid. I had to lay towels on the chair because I'm soaked.

theoldkathy
theoldkathy

Did anybody see a bubble chart yesterday comparing the costs of natural disasters?  Can't find it this morning, either on my accustomed sites or google, so I don't know where I saw it.   (Droughts and heat waves, though not storms, have been more expensive than Andrew)

Blue-eyed Gal
Blue-eyed Gal

Possibly in the current National Geographic issue? There's an interactive "cost of US natural disasters" bubble chart in the iPad edition, not sure about the website or paper. (Gosh, aren't we living in an interesting age!)

theoldkathy
theoldkathy

 Thanks!  I did see a geographic yesterday at a friend's house.  Bet that's what it was, and why I couldn't find it online.  I appreciate your reply; I can stop looking now.

ERenger
ERenger

The graphic in the print issue is very interesting. It shows how the number of super high-cost weather events (tornados, hurricanes, floods, droughts, wildfires, etc.) has nearly doubled over time. Part of the problems is that the weather is getting more intense, and part is that more and more expensive real estate and infrastructure is being built in harms way. 

ARTraveler
ARTraveler

The state of Florida has been spared a direct hit on the strip at Miami Beach for years and with all of the hotels, a large tidal surge could destroy a lot of corporate money but the best part, the US government doesn't have to supply any help because the "free hand" of the market will fix it.  Sure!

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

Lurch's mug....

thx for ruining my morning, Padgett!

sacredh
sacredh

A photo taken just seconds later would have shown a foot long tongue whipping out and catching a fly.

MrObvious
MrObvious

And the ironic thing is that he licked someone elses lips when he checked out Sarah Palin.

outsider2011
outsider2011

Why exactly did they put the convention in Florida during hurricane season, anyway?

sacredh
sacredh

Because they need Florida to have any chance. They also need Ohio to have any chance at all. Florida was decided by 500 votes in 2000. It's worth the risk that even a tiny percentage could be swayed by having the convention in a pivotal state. If Mitt loses either Florida or Ohio, he's toast and watching the rest of election night will be only to see who wins the down ticket races.

formerlyjamesm
formerlyjamesm

Florida was decided by only 5 votes in 2000.

Edit: make that 1 vote. 5-4.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

Maybe they're counting on their hot air to blow Isaac away.

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

They must trust God over Science (as we're forced to read from our righties every day). Who needs meteorology? God would never allow meteorites to hit Tampa during the convention, right?

Blue-eyed Gal
Blue-eyed Gal

"Who needs meteorology? God would never allow meteorites..." 

Snerk. Over-under on how many attendees of the GOP convention would actually get that joke? 

ARTraveler
ARTraveler

Remember, it was the GOTP faction in the House that blocked the launch of the replacement satellite (replacing one that is falling out of orbit) to watch this weather phenomena because it also measured the rise in ocean temperature (oh no, global warming!).

bobell
bobell

They just knew God wouldn't let it rain on their parade.

ARTraveler
ARTraveler

God is really pi$$ed at all of their efforts to destroy the world she created.  Hopefully, no one will be hurt, just the top blown open and all the balloons let loose to get them charged for littering.

theoldkathy
theoldkathy

 Tampa hasn't been hit for 90 years, and it probably won't be this year, either (though not because it hasn't been hit for 90 years.  That's just a false assumption). 

Charlotte's not a great choice for a convention in Hurricane season, either.

pollardty
pollardty

Your rational thinking has harshed my buzz.