Ian shows the risks and costs of living on barrier islands

Sep 30, 2022, 7:02 PM | Updated: Oct 1, 2022, 8:57 am
In this aerial photo made in a flight provided by mediccorps.org, damage from Hurricane Ian is seen...

In this aerial photo made in a flight provided by mediccorps.org, damage from Hurricane Ian is seen on the causeway leading to Sanibel Island from Fort Myers, Fla., Friday, Sept. 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

              Damaged homes and debris is seen on Sanibel Island, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, on Sanibel Island, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
            
              A TV news crew works in debris on Sanibel Island, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, on Sanibel Island, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
            
              Destroyed homes are seen on Sanibel Island, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, on Sanibel Island, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
            
              In this aerial photo made in a flight provided by mediccorps.org, damage from Hurricane Ian is seen on the causeway leading to Sanibel Island, making it impassable, in St. James City, Fla., on Pine Island, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
            
              CORRECTS LOCATION TO FORT MYERS, NOT ST. JAMES CITY - In this aerial photo made in a flight provided by mediccorps.org, damage from Hurricane Ian is seen on the causeway leading to Sanibel Island from Fort Myers, Fla., Friday, Sept. 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
            
              Damaged condominiums along the beachfornt after Hurricane Ian passed by the area Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, in Sanibel Island, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
            
              Water streams past buildings on the oceanfront after Hurricane Ian passed by the area, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, in Sanibel Island, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
            
              David Muench sits with his birds after being rescued from Sanibel Island in the wake of Hurricane Ian, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, in Fort Myers, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

SANIBEL ISLAND, Fla. (AP) — When Hurricane Ian struck Florida’s Gulf Coast, it washed out the bottom level of David Muench’s home on the barrier island of Sanibel along with several cars, a Harley-Davidson and a boat.

His parents’ house was among those destroyed by the storm that killed at least two people there, and the lone bridge to the crescent-shaped island collapsed, cutting off access by car to the mainland for its 6,300 residents.

Hurricane Ian underscores the vulnerability of the nation’s barrier islands and the increasing costs of people living on the thin strips of land that parallel the coast. As hurricanes become more destructive, experts question whether such exposed communities can keep rebuilding in the face of climate change.

“This is a Hurricane Katrina-scale event, where you’re having to rebuild everything, including the infrastructure,” said Jesse M. Keenan, a real estate professor at Tulane University’s School of Architecture. “We can’t build back everything to what it was — we can’t afford that.”

Ian slammed into southwest Florida as a Category 4 hurricane Wednesday with among the highest windspeeds in U.S. history — in nearly the same spot where Hurricane Charley, also a Category 4, caused major damage in 2004.

Of the 50 tropical cyclones that have come within 100 nautical miles of the Fort Myers area since 1873, 23 have been hurricanes that passed within 75 miles (120 kilometers) of Sanibel Island, according to the city’s website. Each posed “a significant threat to property and lives on the island at some point in its life cycle.”

In 1921, a massive hurricane wiped out half of neighboring Captiva’s landmass and cut that island in two, according to the Sanibel Historical Museum & Village.

The latest storm has initiated a new cycle of damage and repair on Sanibel that’s played out on many other barrier islands, from the New Jersey shore and North Carolina’s Outer Banks to a ribbon of land along the Louisiana coast.

Barrier islands were never an ideal place for development, experts say. They typically form as waves deposit sediment off the mainland. And they move based on weather patterns and other ocean forces. Some even disappear.

Building on the islands and holding them in place with beach replenishment programs just makes them more vulnerable to destruction because they can no longer move, according to experts.

“They move at the whims of the storms,” said Anna Linhoss, a professor of biosystems engineering at Auburn University. “And if you build on them, you’re just waiting for a storm to take them away.”

After devastating parts Florida, Ian made landfall again in South Carolina, where Pawleys Island was among the hardest hit places. Friday’s winds and rains broke apart the barrier island’s main pier, one of several in the state to crumble and wash away.

On Saturday, homeowners in the beach community about 73 miles (120 kilometers) up the coast from Charleston struggled to assess damage from storm. The causeways connecting the island to the mainland were strewn with palm fronds, pine needles and even a kayak retrieved from a nearby shoreline.

Like Pawleys Island, many barrier island communities anchor long-entrenched tourist economies, which are often the source of crucial tax dollars. At the same time, the cost of rebuilding them is often high because they’re home to many expensive properties, such as vacation homes.

“When there’s a disaster like this, we will pour tens of billions of public dollars into these communities to help them rebuild,” said Robert S. Young, director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, which is a joint venture between Duke University and Western Carolina University.

“And we will ask very little for that money in return in terms of taking a step back from places that are incredibly exposed to hazards and making sure that we never have this kind of a disaster again,” Young said.

But any big changes to the standard disaster response will be complicated, said Dawn Shirreffs, Florida director of the Environmental Defense Fund.

Challenges could include decisions on who participates in programs that elevate flood-prone homes or programs that buy those homes and tear them down. Planting mangroves to prevent erosion could end up blocking someone’s view.

Many homeowners bought their properties before people were fully aware of climate change and the risks of sea-level rise, Shirreffs said.

Keenan, the Tulane professor, said Sanibel will undoubtedly be changed by Hurricane Ian, based on the research he’s done. There will be fewer government resources to help people rebuild. Those with fewer means and who are underinsured will likely move. People with financial means will stay.

“Sanibel will just be an enclave for the ultrawealthy,” Keenan said.

But Muench, the Sanibel resident, said homeowners and business owners are sure to rebuild their properties.

His family has owned and operated a campground on the island for three generations. The island, he said, is “paradise — we live in the most beautiful place on Earth.”

“We are going to continue to exist on Sanibel,” Muench, 52, said from Fort Myers on Friday after evacuating Sanibel. “Give us five years, and you might not even notice if you didn’t know.”

___

Finley reported from Norfolk, Virginia. Associated Press reporters Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg, Florida, and Meg Kinnard in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, contributed to this story.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

murders...
Associated Press

Appeals court upholds most Eyman campaign finance violations

A Washington state Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld most of the campaign finance violations that longtime anti-tax initiative promoter Tim Eyman was found liable for last year.
9 hours ago
A Washington State Department of Agriculture worker displays an Asian giant hornet taken from a nes...
Associated Press

No northern giant hornets found in 2022 in Washington state

Citizen trapping of northern giant hornets in northwest Washington ended Nov. 30 without any confirmed sightings of the hornets this year, state officials said Tuesday.
9 hours ago
Ivan Safronov, an adviser to the director of Russia's state space corporation is seen on a TV scree...
Associated Press

Russian court upholds ex-reporter’s 22-year treason sentence

MOSCOW (AP) — A court in the Russian capital on Wednesday rejected an appeal from a former journalist who was convicted of treason and given a 22-year prison sentence following what was widely seen as a politically motivated trial. The appeals court upheld the September sentence handed to Ivan Safronov, who worked as a military […]
1 day ago
FILE - Mexican President Andres Lopez Obrador stands at the National Palace during a welcome ceremo...
Associated Press

Mexico to cut elections funding, ease online voting

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s ruling party quickly pushed through an electoral reform Wednesday that reduces funding for the country’s electoral oversight agency. Officials said the changes will also make it easier for millions of Mexican migrants living abroad to vote in domestic elections via the internet. Mexicans living abroad — mostly in the United […]
1 day ago
Blue Bunny and Halo Top brand ice cream products are seen in Englewood, N.J., The Italian confectio...
Associated Press

Ferrero buys Blue Bunny ice cream maker Wells Enterprises

Italian confectioner Ferrero said Wednesday it is acquiring Wells Enterprises, one of the largest U.S. ice cream makers, in a deal that will broaden both companies’ offerings. Wells, a 100-year-old family-owned company based in Le Mars, Iowa, makes Blue Bunny, Halo Top and other brands. It employs 4,000 people and produces more than 200 million […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

High court sides with history society’s access to earthworks

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio’s historical society can proceed with efforts to gain control of a set of ancient ceremonial and burial earthworks currently maintained by a country club, the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday. At issue before the court were the 2,000-year-old Octagon Earthworks in Newark in central Ohio. The Ohio History Connection, which […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Ian shows the risks and costs of living on barrier islands