There are several types of hazards that result from human development and construction in coastal zones. Some are a result of inattention to the possible dangers, and some result from an attempt to avoid and/or minimize such danger. For example, in a hurricane, much of the structural damage that occurs is a result of the strong winds blowing up under the roof overhangs of houses. These overhangs give the wind a good foothold, allowing it to lift the roof right off the house. Once this occurs, the environment exists for the entire structure to come toppling down, or more likely, to be blown away. That gives rise to another hazard ‘” flying debris ‘” which can and does smash into windows, cars and people, causing extensive damage and even death. Another hazard results from developing in low-lying areas where there is sure to be flooding when the massive amounts of water from hurricanes is blown to shore (Abbott, 2009).
On the other side of the issue are those hazards that are caused when we attempt to avoid or minimize the dangers of storms. Building sea walls is a prime example. In nature, beaches are flattened by large waves, spreading the water over a large area. The winds also build sand dunes which absorb and dissipate energy from the waves. When we build sea walls to hold back those waves, there is little sand to absorb the waves’ energy. The waves instead, bounce off these walls and cause erosion of the beaches, leaving deepened trenches. These trenches allow for even larger waves, resulting in even more erosion (Abbott, 2009).
One modern-day example of a failed attempt to thwart nature’s destructive capacity is what happened to New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Over the years, billions of dollars had been spent on building levees to keep the water out of New Orleans, which sits about 20 feet below sea level. These levees prevent the deposition of sand and mud that would have, over time, actually built more land. Instead, subsistence is continually lowering the city, creating a bowl where the rivers and lakes are actually higher than the rest of the land. Obviously, during Hurricane Katrina, the levees failed, causing disastrous floods that destroyed most of the city. Katrina was the costliest natural disaster in US history, leaving 1500 dead (Abbott, 2009).
One example of a successful attempt at coastal construction management can be seen in new building codes that were passed in 1994 after Hurricane Andrew destroyed hundreds of mobile homes. These tougher standards were proven effective in both minimizing property damage and saving lives, after Florida was hit by four hurricanes in 2004. During these storms, the mobile homes built prior to the stricter building standards sustained significant damage, while those built after the new codes were enacted held up very well (Abbott, 2009). This is evidence that there are indeed ways to minimize the hazards along the coast, but we need to do so in concert with nature rather than against her.
Abbott, P.L. (2009). Natural disasters (7th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.