Hurricanes Don't Slow Development

When you hit the beach in Perdido Key, Fla., the first thing you notice isn't the sparkling Gulf, it's the glittering luxury high-rises, CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers reports.

"That is beach colony, beautiful development," says Jennifer Wolfe of the Perdido Key Chamber of Commerce. Wolfe adds that the penthouses cost "several million" to own.

If not for the occasional eyesore sharing the shore with new construction, you'd never know that just one year ago this barrier island near Pensacola bore the brunt of Hurricane Ivan.

People who saw the storm's aftermath said it looked like Ivan dropped bombs rather than rainfall.

Nearly half the homes in this one county were either damaged or destroyed. Seventy percent of households asked for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's help and the insurance bill was nearly $10 billion.

You might think a direct hit from Ivan and a near miss by Katrina would at least give developers along here pause. In fact the opposite is true, Bowers notes.

"Unfortunately, our history in this country has been that we go back and not only do we rebuild, we rebuild bigger along the same places that were wiped out before. And we are just asking for it to happen again," Dr. Abby Salinger of the U.S. Geological Survey says.

Bowers comments that it boggles the mind to see 100 miles away utter devastation. You come over here and 30-floor buildings are going up everywhere you look.

"The way the storm cleaned out a lot of older buildings out there, that provided an opportunity for developers to come in and build some upscale, first-class condominiums, Escambia Co. Commission Chairman Bill Dickson says.

The post-Ivan construction on this one barrier island alone, the front line come hurricane season, is estimated at half a billion dollars. Other than enforcing rigid new building codes, officials admit there is little they can do to limit development.

"People own property out there and you gotta let them develop it," Dickson says. "You can't go around and buy up everything and protect everybody. You have to build within the codes and hope for the best."

And when it comes to a hurricane, hoping for the best is an expensive bet people along this stretch of paradise are more than ready to make.
  • Sean Alfano

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