Advertisement

Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at tampabay.com/coronavirus. Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

A little Cracker wisdom for surviving hurricane season

In my mother's family, the hurricane story was about the Hurricane of '48 _ 1848.

That storm was a monster. It flooded most of the Tampa and Pinellas peninsulas. It created John's Pass on the Gulf beaches (naming it for John was the consolation prize for what used to be his farm).

Our family, the first permanent European settlers in Pinellas County, was settled at what is now Philippe Park in Safety Harbor. Odet Philippe and his clan watched in horror as a wall of water advanced up Tampa Bay toward his homestead of St. Helena. Scurrying up to the top of an Indian mound that still exists on the site, they saved themselves.

Not so their house, groves and personal property (alleged to include a chest of gold). Now, after eight generations in Florida, our family has endured dozens of hurricanes. So far, this has been without loss of life. God help us, there is even a part of us that enjoys a good hurricane _ the energy, the housecleaning effect.

Thus a few observations from an old Cracker, with Conch roots, as Florida confronts the future after, as of this writing, three storms, with another in the wings.

As Florida looks forward, the first and best place to look is back. Multistorm seasons were not uncommon in Florida's past. Key West has had two in a month more than once.

The lull in hurricane activity from the 1960s through the 1990s was, in historic terms, an aberration. We need to assume that hurricanes are a part of our life _ as Gov. Bush says, "the price of living in paradise."

Florida's past suggests certain ways of coping with this reality, or at least mitigating it.

Until fairly recently, functioning shutters were the norm on houses in Florida, particularly in coastal areas. Whether they were the charming Bahama style, or the hideous (but very functional) aluminum "Miami" style, they were normal. They shared a common utility, in that they could be deployed relatively quickly and easily.

Also, historically, public buildings were built to Category 4, or even 5 standards. The walls of the state and federal courthouses in Key West are up to 10 feet thick. Public buildings were meant to be shelters of last resort. It does cost more to build to such standards, but only once.

Ultimately, mass horizontal evacuations are not the solution. If they are awkward now, how about when Florida has 25-million people?

Next, there are styles of architecture that do not lend themselves well to Florida. Doors that open outward may seem unfriendly to newcomers, but not to anyone who ever battled an inward-opening door in a storm. Those California-style overhangs that some suburbanites love are wind scoops in a storm. Whether or not trailers are suitable to Florida is perhaps best answered by asking a Bahamian friend if they are allowed in the Bahamas. You will hear laughter as the response.

Finally, there are simply places that should not be the site of palatial houses, and thus the site of palatial losses. Old Crackers, no matter how wealthy, built shacks on the beach. When, not if, they blew down, they were easy to replace.

Our current flood insurance scheme subsidizes the high-risk taker, at the expense of those who have better sense _ not good economics. It may well be that it is in everyone's best interest to simply acquire that beachfront motel that has received insurance-paid remodelings every few years of late.

Government need not achieve all of the above outbreaks of common sense. The insurance industry, and just plain folks, will eventually tire of subsidizing long-term bad decisionmaking.

But some old Cracker and Conch wisdom is called for right now.

J. Allison DeFoor II is an executive with EarthBalance, and lives with his wife Terry and children at Wakulla Springs. His family has been in Florida since 1829.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Advertisement
Advertisement