As Hurricane Andrew anniversary approaches, will Florida's building codes remain strong?
Aug. 24 marks the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, the last Category 5 hurricane to slam into Florida and,one of the most expensive such disaster in U.S. history. In the wake of the hurricane's devastation, Florida created much stronger building codes designed to better withstand a future storm of equal might.
But a story in USA Today suggests that as memories of Andrew fade, Florida may be on the way to weakening those building codes, all in the name of making it easier to keep the current building boom going.
Bills proposed in this year's legislature were aimed at weaking the codes, drawing a sharp warning from former Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator W. Craig Fugate, a Florida native. Weakening the codes to benefit homebuilders would come at a "steep and devastating price" to homeowners facing higher insurance costs and to communities likely to face greater devastation if a storm hits, he wrote.
Fugate told USA Today that what the Legislature passed sickened him. But Jeremy Stewart, resident of the Florida Home Builders Association, contended that the bill that passed did not change a single building code, but just modernized the process for updating the code. The paper said he "bristled" at the suggestion that builders would change it just to cut costs.
"That's absolutely false and misleading," Stewart said. "There's not a single contractor that I know of in the state of Florida that does not want to be operating under the most stringent code, that's not concerned with the well-being of our customers."
Only two other Category 5 hurricanes have hit the U.S.: Camille, which hit Mississippi and Louisiana in 1969 and killed 256 people, and the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, which killed 408 people in the Florida Keys. The Saffir-Simpson system of hurricane categories was developed by two Florida men -- Miami engineer Herbert Saffir and National Hurricane Center director Robert Simpson.