Harvey and Irma: Hurricanes, Floods, and the Days After

They call it hurricane season. That time of year when tropical depressions form off the west coast of Africa somewhere north of the equator. The rotation of the earth and the prevailing winds cause these low-pressure pockets to migrate slowly westward, and if conditions are apt, pick up strength along the way.

As deadly and destructive as hurricane winds are, it is typically the associated water that causes the most physical damage: horizontal rain at 100 mph overwhelming already stressed buildings, prolonged periods of heavy rain inundating drainage infrastructure, and coastal storm surges pushing tidal waters many feet above normal.

Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma, a record Category 5 storm, is seen in this NOAA National Weather Service National Hurricane Center image from GOES-16 satellite taken on September 5, 2017. Courtesy NOAA National Weather Service National Hurricane Center/Handout via REUTERS

As of this writing Hurricane Irma is just north of Puerto Rico with Category 5, 185 mph winds. And Harvey, a rain event lasting days and dumping up to 50 inches of rain ravaged Texas and Louisiana one week ago. Because of where and how we chose to build our communities, these disaster events will remain inevitable. There are concrete steps we can and should take to improve the resiliency and disaster resistance of the buildings we build, but in reality, much of what we built in the past is disaster prone and not resilient.

In flood damaged buildings we must move quickly. Many building materials are not water tolerant and will quickly decay. Mold growth becomes an existential threat. The longer we wait to dry out what is salvageable, and to remove and clear the damaged materials, the more difficult and costly the recovery task becomes. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, SWA was tasked by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to produce a guidebook for professionals and capable homeowners to safely and successfully rehab flooded homes. This book (in English and Spanish) offers sequential how-to guidance from situational assessment to flood resistant reconstruction. It’s free and available here: https://www.huduser.gov/portal//Publications/pdf/Rehab_FloodedHouses.pdf

Louisiana, Post Hurricane Katrina

Louisiana, Post Hurricane Katrina

The days following a hurricane disaster-event are crucial. Once search and rescue operations have been completed and it is deemed safe to enter the disaster zone, we must move quickly, methodically, and with personal safety in mind to complete the rebuilding process and put our affected neighborhoods and communities back together. We hope this helps.

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