A tiny Florida beach town is rebuilding after a hurricane. Is it becoming a preserve of the rich?
Every year, the National Hurricane Center predicts that Florida will get hit by a hurricane that can potentially do a lot of damage. Every year, the National Hurricane Center says, it can be an expensive, deadly thing. In 1995, there were only nine hurricanes striking the state. Last year, there were 41.
But this year, for the first time, the hurricane center has been predicting that Florida will not get hit by any major hurricanes. What can we all do to stop it?
This is the question the residents of a small town on the east side of the Sunshine State are pondering after Tropical Storm Andrea came ashore last week at Palm Beach State Park.
The town called Fort Myers sits on a barrier island, surrounded by water and bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. The National Hurricane Center has long warned of its vulnerability to hurricanes. But residents have had faith in the town’s ability to recover, and they are trying to prepare for their town to become more like the one around Palm Springs — a place where wealthy families can come to take vacations and where old houses can be resurrected and repopulated.
They do it by planning for a life after a hurricane.
“When you say you have to replace homes, the houses of my relatives, maybe they can’t do it,” said Michael Jones, who is also a town councilman and former president of the Chamber of Commerce.
The idea of a “forever home” is a growing idea in Florida, where families are moving to communities along the Gulf Coast. It is an attempt to create a life after a disaster based on the idea that most hurricanes are not serious enough to destroy a community.
“This is a perfect storm,” said John Tully, president of the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce and former mayor of Fort Myers. “The residents here are used to the rain and the wind, and they don’t have to worry as much.”
As Tropical Storm Andrea moved on, Fort Myers began to see tourists walk through town.
“It was surreal. Thousands of people walking down our streets. It’s hard to tell it’s not a regular hurricane,” Jones said.
The town will begin the process of rebuilding this week by starting to sell homes.