Miami is no stranger to hurricanes. Disaster preparedness is almost second nature to the locals especially those who were witness to the wrath of Hurricane Andrew that came through Florida as a Category 5 storm in August 1992. Andrew flattened areas of Miami with damages amounting to $27 billion in 1992 dollars or $50 billion adjusted for inflation. But Miami emerged stronger and bolder as redevelopment plans focused on building to hurricane standards.
Miami as a Post-catastrophe Redevelopment Model
Miami real estate specialists, including Samuel Strauch, educated at New York’s Hoftsra University, Rotterdam’s Erasmus University and Harvard, points out that developers have learned their lessons well post-Andrew. Strauch, founder and principal of Metrik Real Estate, explains that building codes in Miami are among the nation’s most stringent, requiring specific fortification of roofs, portals and other structural features to withstand heavier wind loads. Impact-resistant glass was used in the design and construction of buildings that may be exposed to wind-borne debris during a hurricane. Cinder-block masonry, reinforced solid concrete pillars, hurricane straps on roof tresses became standard features in new construction, ensuring that rebuilt structures could withstand wind and water pressure from hurricanes. Some buildings are hardened to withstand the onslaught of 180 miles per hour winds per controlled testing but have not yet been through a true-to-life like Irma.
As Hurricane Irma roared through the Caribbean, Miami hunkered down and prepared for the worst scenario. Local leaders and real estate experts like Samuel Strauch pointed out that if there was any one area that was prepared for monster storms, it would be Florida because of their adherence to more stringent building codes and consistent enforcement of these revised standards. While thousands of residents chose to move to higher ground, many more chose to stay.
Damage from Hurricane Irma
Hurricane Irma veered off the projected path, sparing the heavily populated areas of Miami from the worst of the wind and rain damage from a Category 4 hurricane. While Hurricane Irma raked the southwest coast of Florida, starting the Naples-Fort Myers area, South Florida was not exactly spared. Major streets in Miami’s Brickell financial district were flooded. Flooding extended to Coconut Grove, Morningside, Bayfront Park and further north in Fort Lauderdale’s tony neighborhoods, including the Las Olas area.
No official pronouncements have been made regarding the depth of flooding in these areas. Emergency management officials, local leaders and property owners are still in the process of digging out, surveying and assessing damages wrought by strong wind gusts and rising waters from the Atlantic, the bays, rivers and tributaries that make Miami the unique coastal town that it is.
In many of Miami’s waterfront areas that became waterlogged due to Hurricane Irma, flooding defenses have been in place for decades. Pumps are in place and activated when water incursion threatens the buildings along Ocean Drive. For the most part, many of the inundated areas saw receding waters after a few hours, limiting water damage. Many of city’s old and massive oaks succumbed to strong winds. In fact, the day after Irma passed over South Florida, the biggest issues had to do with storm debris and massive power outages that hindered clean-up and recovery efforts.
In Key West, where many commercial and residential buildings are built up using concrete stilts to keep the living area above ground level, a combination of strong winds and surging waters took down 25 percent of the structures. Ninety percent of all the structures suffered some form of wind or water damage, but as residents and business owners trickled back in when authorities gave the all-clear signal, talk was about clean-up, recovery and rebuilding.
Disaster Preparedness Pays Off
In low-lying areas that are prone to flooding, the water supply can easily become contaminated by storm water, run-off from agricultural and industrial sites, and sewage from overburdened facilities. In Miami, potable water supply is protected from contamination by using pumps to maintain the pressure in pipes that deliver drinking water to customers. When power goes out, this protective system is compromised, and
a boil-water order is issued for the area. Drawing from Andrew’s disaster preparedness lessons, Miami has installed generators to power these pumps, averting a water crisis after Irma knocked out power for millions of households for several days in Miami-Dade and most of Florida.
Officials moved quickly to restore power, enforce security in damaged zones and clean up storm debris in an efficient manner. Within hours after the storm of the century blew through Miami, the network of government agencies and private organizations converged to do what was needed to get the city back to its routine as quickly and efficiently as possible given the circumstances.
Irma’s Impact on the Real Estate Market
The consensus among industry leaders is that Miami was spared the worst scenario due to various factors. Samuel Strauch, long-time resident and business entrepreneur in Miami points out that Miami has spent the years since Andrew fortifying its infrastructure system and laying out plans to address common issues such as flooding in low-lying neighborhoods, power outages and disaster cleanup. Shortly before Irma made landfall in Florida, there was a lot of talk that devastation and damage would put the brakes on the red-hot housing market. A few weeks later, real estate agents say that the slowdown may not be as bad as anticipated.
Samuel Strauch says that in his area and among his clients, the slowdown comes in the form of delayed closing dates. This is because transactions that were close to completion prior to the storm are being put on hold as mortgage and insurance companies re-inspect the properties for any storm damage that should be mitigated even when sellers are open to offering a discount for repairs. Finance companies want to revisit valuation while insurance companies want to make sure that the condition of the properties are as described prior to Hurricane Irma.
It may take some time for Florida to come up with damage numbers, but regardless of how high those numbers will be, Miami will rebuild. Strauch, with a strong background in banking and finance assures his clients that it’s business as usual with some adjustments for lingering storm damage. But like most hardy Floridians, Samuel Strauch and his team have rolled up their sleeves to do their part in helping those in need and providing credible information to property owners. The real estate market may cool a bit, but it will remain one of the brighter sectors of the local economy.