Although Irma’s record-setting high winds have been getting most of the attention, worries about storm-related flooding are increasing. Rob Moore, a senior policy analyst for the not-for-profit National Resources Defense Council, has compiled a list of the 1,578 severe repetitive loss properties in Florida reported to FEMA from 1978-2015. Of those, 121 are located in Miami-Dade, totaling nearly $30 million in damage claims.
According to a report by the Associated Press released Thursday, most residents in Florida flood zones are not properly insured.
Even worse, Moore believes the region’s construction boom in coastal areas such as Miami Beach since Wilma swept through in 2005 may result in more instances of flooding during Irma than anyone anticipates.
“Depending on where and when it hits, Irma is going to be one of the biggest storms the nation has ever faced, and it could be truly catastrophic for the city of Miami,” Moore said. “Everyone has known the possibility of an Irma existed. But I fear Florida has allowed development to occur without taking that possibility into account.”
“That said, Florida has not experienced a major hurricane landfall in 12 years, since Wilma [in 2005],” Linkin said. “Before that, the frequency of major hurricane landfalls was lower than it had been in the early- and mid-20th century. During that time, the Miami real estate market exploded and a lot of people moved down there. We’re looking at a situation where all these chickens might be coming to roost — the consequence of the decisions to highly develop a hurricane-prone area.”
According to the 2016 U.S. Census, the population of Miami-Dade County has swelled by nearly 35 percent since Andrew, from 2 million to nearly 2.7 million, making Miami the eighth-most-populous and fourth-largest urban area in the U.S.
Building and construction codes and regulations have also been raised to withstand Andrew-force winds — and there’s been a lot of new construction. The current combined residential values of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties is nearly $660 billion, while commercial values near $550 billion, according to Swiss Re.
But not all of those properties are properly insured against the power of a storm as threatening as Irma.
“There’s no structure in Miami that’s built to withstand 185 mph winds,” said Keith Wolfe, president U.S. property and casualty for Swiss Re. “Nothing is designed for that, because it’s such an outlier event. But as we can see with Irma, it’s possible. All your windows will get blown out at 180 mph. And then all the water will come in, so even if you’re up in a condo on the 42nd floor, it’s going to be like you were on the ground floor.”