Flood-prone neighborhoods now have bigger homes to withstand the next storm

Written by By Carina Payerne, for CNN

The aftermath of Hurricane Florence’s landfall has revealed several new challenges for those building new homes in the East Coast’s flood zones. According to FEMA — the U.S. federal government’s emergency management agency — about two-thirds of homes are built or rebuilt in zones that are prone to flooding.

However, recent storms like Florence and Harvey, as well as frequent tropical cyclones like Irma, have caused flooding in areas that were built to withstand hurricanes.

“Those zones currently don’t fully account for living conditions,” says Lara Brockett, a designer at T.J. Paley Architectural Studio, a firm based in Jacksonville, Florida, who has worked on several projects in high-risk areas.

“You can buy a water-proof house, but you can’t move from the neighborhood where you live in those zones.”

‘Not just flimsy’

One problem local authorities have faced with introducing mandatory flood insurance is how to ensure that homes in flood zones are up to par.

“You can buy a water-proof house, but you can’t move from the neighborhood where you live in those zones.”

“Depending on the community, some can (do this) — FEMA-mandated insurance can be obtained — but you have to read your coverage,” Brockett says. “Most people have flood insurance only for their homes, with no flood insurance coverage for their personal possessions.”

“Flood insurance is important,” says Stephen Kittrell, the director of operations at the Risk Management and Mitigation Resource Center, an organization based in Jacksonville that helps communities prepare for disaster. “But in many cases, it isn’t often enough … As houses and properties get built, there are liability questions, as well.”

According to Brockett, proof of liability insurance is the key to building a safe house, but it’s not common practice.

“There’s no law that requires it (to be included in flood insurance policies),” Brockett says. “Still, people want to go out and buy insurance as soon as possible, with hurricanes like Florence, it becomes an incentive.”

Hurricane Florence’s deluge has triggered what FEMA has warned may be one of the largest losses of homes and property from a single storm in the country’s history.

“We want to make sure these buildings are sound,” Brockett says. “And with storm surges and high winds, we need to look at three things: Does it take three feet of water? Does it take a foot and a half? Or does it take three-quarters of a foot? Then determine how big the property has to be.”

He adds: “It’s not just flimsy.”

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