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Ian's havoc rekindles debate about rebuilding in coastal areas

Hurricane Ian left debris in Punta Gorda, Fla., after it made landfall. Storms like Ian are more likely because of climate change.
Ricardo Arduengo
/
AFP via Getty Images
Hurricane Ian left debris in Punta Gorda, Fla., after it made landfall. Storms like Ian are more likely because of climate change.

Federal officials have pledged financial support for rebuilding as the Southeast recovers from Hurricane Ian, but the storm's havoc rekindles the debate over how we rebuild in coastal areas.

Hurricane Ian caused billions of dollars in damages to coastal infrastructure, like roads, bridges and beaches. Some places in Florida, a storm surge of 12 feet or more wiped out most structures and cut off communities.

Coastal geologist Rob Young runs the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University. He says there's an opportunity in all the devastation.

“It's difficult to move existing undamaged infrastructure away from hazardous areas, but nature's just taken care of that for us,” he said, “So, there should be some places where, you know, we just shouldn't rebuild.”

But Young says we're not very good at that. He points to rebuilding after previous major storms.

“For the most part, we just put stuff right back where it was,” he said.

Young doesn't want to abandon the shoreline, but he says it's a chance to start gradually pulling back from the most exposed locations.