Hurricanes keep coming through, destroying homes and beaches, yet tenacious residents keep on rebuilding. While this endless process of destruction and construction is now commonplace in vulnerable areas, does it really make sense?
Dauphin Island off the coast of Alabama, is one notable example. This island has been directly in the path of one hurricane after another, losing hundreds of homes on its west end when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. After every hurricane, residents rebuild their homes and the island accepts millions of dollars of government funding to restore damaged beaches and roads.
Jeff Collier, mayor of Dauphin Island and lifelong resident, doesn’t want to give up on the only home he knows.
"The millions of dollars spent has been a good investment because the island provides recreation for people and a sanctuary for wildlife," Collier says.
That’s a common argument among proponents of rebuilding after every hurricane, but do the benefits of providing this habitat for wildlife outweigh such intensive, arguably wasteful, use of resources? There’s a whole lot of building materials and labor required to constantly replenish hurricane-damaged communities. Plus, things will likely get worse in the future as climate change causes rising seas.
Abby Sallenger, oceanographer and author of the book Island in a Storm, suggests that residents of Dauphin Island and other places that stubbornly rebuild time after time could learn a thing or two from Isle Derniere, which was a popular tourist destination off the coast of Louisiana in the 1850s.
Half of the island’s inhabitants were killed in 1856 when a hurricane came through and literally sliced the island in half, forming an inlet between the Gulf and coastal waters. Instead of trying to rebuild, people abandoned it. Much of it is now underwater, like Dauphin Island likely will be after a few more direct hits.