A rapid assessment of damaged residential buildings in the Florida Keys after Hurricane Irma

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019

With maximum winds of 185 miles per hour, Irma was the most powerful hurricane in recorded history to exist in the Atlantic Ocean outside of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. Irma sustained those maximum winds speeds for 37 hours and spent three consecutive days as a category 5 hurricane, making it the longest of any cyclone in the world to maintain that intensity.

Hurricane Irma made landfall near Cudjoe Key (lower Florida Keys) on 10 September 2017, as a Category 3 storm, and caused widespread damage to the Florida Keys. Shortly after the storm, a team of Princeton University and Purdue University researchers, including professor Dan Chavas and graduate student Jie Chen (Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences), conducted a field survey to investigate the damage to the Keys and to quantify the contribution of various hazard and vulnerability factors to the observed damage. Such post-event assessments can provide crucial information for implementing post-storm response measures and for developing vulnerability models.

To guide their efforts, the team used computer model simulations of the storm surge and wave heights along with post-storm satellite imagery and direct observations. They conducted a rapid damage survey for 1600+ residential buildings and found distinct factors governing damage at the two study areas. In Big Pine Key, proximity to the coast was a main factor, as severely damaged buildings were located near narrow waterways connected to the ocean. Building type and size were critical factors in Marathon, highlighted by the near-complete destruction of trailer communities there. These findings raise issues of affordability and equity that need to be considered in damage recovery and rebuilding for resilience.  The raw and analyzed data from this study appear on DesignSafe, a web-based research platform of the National Science Foundation’s Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure program.

Xian, S., K. Feng, N. Lin, R. Marsooli, D. Chavas, J. Chen and A. Hatzikyriakou (2018). Brief communication: Rapid assessment of damaged residential buildings in the Florida Keys after Hurricane Irma. Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 18(7), pp.2041-2045.

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