Boston Herald - - NEWS -

Ris­ing sea lev­els and fierce storms have failed to stop re­lent­less pop­u­la­tion growth along U.S. coasts in re­cent years, a new Associated Press anal­y­sis shows. The latest pun­ish­ing hur­ri­canes scored bull’s eyes on two of the coun­try’s fastest­grow­ing re­gions: coastal Texas around Hous­ton and re­sort ar­eas of south­west Florida.

Noth­ing seems to curb Amer­ica’s ap­petite for life near the sea, es­pe­cially in the warmer cli­mates of the South. Coastal devel­op­ment de­stroys nat­u­ral bar­ri­ers such as is­lands and wet­lands, pro­motes ero­sion and flood­ing, and po­si­tions more build­ings and peo­ple in the path of fu­ture de­struc­tion, ac­cord­ing to re­searchers and pol­icy ad­vis­ers who study hur­ri­canes.

“His­tory gives us a les­son, but we don’t al­ways learn from it,” said Gra­ham Tobin, a dis­as­ter re­searcher at the Univer­sity of South Florida in Tampa. That city took a glanc­ing hit from Hur­ri­cane Irma — one of the most in­tense U.S. hur­ri­canes in years — but sus­tained less flood­ing and dam­age than other parts of the state.

In 2005, coastal com­mu­ni­ties took heed of more than 1,800 deaths and $108 bil­lion in dam­ages from Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina, one of the worst dis­as­ters in U.S. his­tory. Images of New Or­leans un­der wa­ter elicited solemn res­o­lu­tions that such a thing should never hap­pen again — un­til Su­per­storm Sandy in­un­dated lower Man­hat­tan in 2012.

Har­vey, an­other his­tor­i­cally big hur­ri­cane, flooded sec­tions of Hous­ton in re­cent weeks. Four coun­ties around Hous­ton, where growth has been buoyed by the oil business, took the full force of the storm. The pop­u­la­tion of those coun­ties ex­panded by 12 per­cent from 2010-16, to a to­tal of 5.3 mil­lion peo­ple, the AP anal­y­sis shows.

Dur­ing the same years, two of Florida’s fastest­grow­ing coast­line coun­ties — re­tire­ment-friendly Lee and Man­a­tee, both south of Tampa — wel­comed 16 per­cent more peo­ple.

“There will be some real chal­lenges for coastal towns,” pre­dicted Jamie Kruse, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Nat­u­ral Haz­ards Re­search at East Carolina Univer­sity in Greenville, N.C. “We’ll see some of these homes that are part of their tax base be­com­ing un­liv­able.”

Haz­ard re­searchers said they see noth­ing in the near term to reverse the trend to­ward big­ger storm losses. As a stop­gap, com­mu­ni­ties should cease build­ing new high-rises on the ocean­front, said Robert Young, di­rec­tor of the Pro­gram for the Study of De­vel­oped Shore­lines at West­ern Carolina Univer­sity in Cul­lowhee, N.C.


SEA­SIDE LIFE: U.S. coast­lines are still the most at­trac­tive res­i­den­tial ar­eas, despite more fe­ro­cious weather.

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