Oct 5, 2022 - Podcasts

Building hurricane-resistant communities

President Biden is in Florida today, to survey the extensive damage from Hurricane Ian. One community northeast of Fort Myers escaped much of it. The new community was built with hurricanes in mind, and residents never lost power during Ian and saw minimal damage otherwise. What would it take to make every community this resilient?

  • Plus, the GOP doubles down on abortion.

Guests: Axios' Alexi McCammond and Notre Dame University's Tracy Kijewski-Correa.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Robin Lin, Fonda Mwangi and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

We’ve made it to Wednesday, it’s October 5th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: building for climate resilience. What we can learn from one new community in Southwest Florida.

But first, the GOP doubles down on abortion – that’s today’s one big thing.

NIALA: Abortion has been a pivotal issue leading up to the 2022 midterms. We've seen how much it's worried Republicans in midterm contests, like in Kansas earlier this summer. Well, the issue came roaring back into the headlines yesterday when the Daily Beast reported that Herschel Walker, the Republican nominee for US Senate in Georgia, paid for his then-girlfriend to have an abortion in 2009.

Walker released a statement on Monday saying this is a “flat out lie,” end quote, and is planning to sue the Daily Beast for defamation. He's also said in the past, he opposes abortion with no exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother. Now, GOP leaders are forced to respond to all of this. Axios Politics Reporter Alexi McCammond is here with the big picture. Hi, Alexi.

ALEXI MCCAMMOND: Hey, how are you?

NIALA: Alexi, what else do we know about Herschel Walker's position on abortion?

ALEXI: Well, the interesting thing is that a couple of weeks ago, Senator Lindsay Graham put out a proposal that would enact a national 15 week abortion ban, and a lot of Republicans across the country didn't wanna touch it at all. They've been trying to dodge the topic as they've been campaigning, but that wasn't the case with Herschel Walker in Georgia, who was one of the only, if not the only, Republican Senate candidate to come out and embrace this piece of legislation. Which, you know to me, is just Herschel Walker kind of inviting this conversation about abortion into his campaign, which again, is antithetical to what leaders of the Republican party want, who by the way, were not happy when Senator Graham put out that piece of legislation for this exact reason.

NIALA: Herschel Walker has been backed by former President Trump and Mitch McConnell. How are Republicans reacting to the news from yesterday?

ALEXI: Well, we have new reporting on Axios about both Republican leaders, groups and anti-abortion leaders and groups who are really, Niala, just coalescing around Herschel Walker at this point. You really see Republicans kind of just wanting to move on by saying, “look, he's denied it. We believe him, we stand with him.” I talked to SBA Pro-Life America yesterday, their affiliated super PAC about all of this. And so far they said that they've knocked on over 310,000 doors for Herschel Walker. So that just gives you a sense of how these folks are feeling. It's kind of like, you know what, let's just move on.

NIALA: How are Democrats responding? Do we have any sense of how this controversy could affect how voters show up for the polls in Georgia?

ALEXI: Yeah, I mean, look, as you know well, Democrats have been making abortion a central issue of the campaign, since the leak of the reversal of Roe, but certainly since the Dobb decision actually came down. That's completely different from what, you know, their campaign strategy was like in 2018. And so we're gonna see Democrats in Georgia continue to talk about Herschel Walkers anti-abortion position. And you know, complicating things further is his own family members, one of his sons Christian, coming out on TikTok, on Twitter, putting these videos, really kind of giving a raw, personal, intimate account of what it has been like to have Herschel Walker in his life as his dad. He paints a picture of him that's really hard to just sort of write off as, you know, a Democratic hit job because this kid is not a Democrat, and also he's his own son.

So it's really difficult, I think, and, and will become difficult for Republicans to ignore this if his son Christian continues to come out with more evidence, more stories, a fuller picture of who Herschel Walker is.

NIALA: Axios’ Alexi McCammond is part of our politics team. Thanks Alexi.

ALEXI: Thank you so much.

In a moment: what it takes to build hurricane resistant communities.


Building hurricane-resistant communities

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

President Biden is in Florida today to survey damage from Hurricane Ian. The death toll is still being sorted out, but right now estimates stand at more than a hundred, and the damage to property has been widespread except in one community just about 12 miles northeast of Fort Myers, Florida: Babcock Ranch.The new planned community is just a few years old and was built with hurricanes in mind. It's constructed deliberately away from the coast, beyond the reach of storm surge. It takes advantage of native plants and has man made lakes and streets designed to drain for flooding. And Ian was its first test.

NANCY CHORPENNING: It was remarkable, because of the way this town was built, all the utilities are underground. We never lost power. We never lost internet. We never lost water, and we don't have a boil order out the way most of the Fort Myers area does.

NIALA: That's resident Nancy Chorpenning. I chatted with her and her husband, Paul McCrery yesterday, and Professor Tracy Kijewski-Correa has been studying climate resilient communities like Babcock. She's an engineering and global affairs professor at Notre Dame. Thanks for being with us.

TRACY KIJEWESKI-CORREA: Yeah, thanks for having me.

NIALA: So Tracy, one of the things that struck me about Babcock Ranch is that instructors are built to withstand winds of up to 145 miles per hour. Here is how Nancy explained it to me.

NANCY: The total damage was, you know, a screen on our lanai and some shingles off the roof. And that is typical of all of our neighbors. You'd never know that a major hurricane had come right through here.

NIALA: So that's actually built to code?

TRACY: That is built to code. So every home, if it were built to the code, would be able to withstand 150 mile per storm. But the key is states and local municipalities have to adopt them. Unfortunately, some hurricane exposed states have yet to adopt and enforce those latest codes statewide, or they're up to two cycles, so that would be almost eight years out of date with the latest engineering knowledge.

NIALA: What states are those?

TRACY: States like Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, are themselves lagging in their ability to adopt and enforce codes. And even exceptional states like North Carolina may be two to four additions out of sync.

NIALA: I know your experts have been looking at Babcock Ranch. How did it perform when compared to other homes or other communities in Southwest Florida?

TRACY: It actually performed comparable. And so that's gonna sound underwhelming. But let me explain. The wind speeds once you got a little bit inland, were not that high in Ian. Ian is primarily gonna be known for, I believe, as a major surge and inland flooding event. And so the wind speeds I checked based on the latest computer simulation suggests that Babcock saw something on the order of 100 miles per hour. Now remember, it was designed for 150, so that was well below the stress test for those roofs and those homes. So the jury's still out, but we did really well in this hurricane and Florida building code should be commended not just for Babcock, but many other areas that actually perform quite well.

NIALA: What about flooding?

TRACY: Flooding is not addressed by our building codes in the same way. So we've picked a higher standard in setting the wind requirements, meaning we'll accept a more frequent loss due to flooding. So I think this event will start to challenge this idea of like, are we designing too low?

NIALA: Is it fair to say that the technology does exist to make buildings and communities climate resilient, but many communities or homeowners don't have the resources or the will to do it?

TRACY: So let me explain the couple breakdowns we're facing as a society. Number one, those building codes, they are only binding for new construction. And very few of our buildings in this country are new. Until we change that, the vast majority of our buildings will be at risk because they're out of date with the latest technology.

Second, our building codes are designed to stop structural damage that would cause life loss. It does not stop the losses that you're seeing in these kinds of events. The code is designed for what they call life safety. People get out alive. They don't necessarily come home to a house that's undamaged. It still allows damage. We have to decide as a society if we can accept that any longer. With the frequent hurricanes and flood events we're seeing, maybe the idea of just getting out alive isn't enough anymore.

But then the third point is many homeowners don't realize that having a home built to code of two thousands vintage is not the same protection as a 2020 building code, and as a result, they don't understand as consumers that there's action they can take to protect their home.

But to your bigger metapoint here, that still is an economic prospect many families can't afford. So we have to do better in providing cost effective retrofit solutions. And then we have to raise homeowner awareness about their responsibility and you know, their rewards as a consumer for taking that action.

NIALA: Tracy Kijewski-Correa is a professor of engineering and global affairs at Notre Dame University. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

TRACY: My pleasure.

NIALA: That does it for us today! Thanks, as always, for your feedback. And if you have a moment to leave us a starred review on Apple Podcasts, I’d really appreciate it. It makes it easier for other people to find our show.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

NIALA: The day that Richard Nixon gave a speech about his dog. The time that a war broke out over a pig farm. The very first time that a district got gerrymandered. Check out This Day In Esoteric Political History from Radiotopia. Short, fun episodes, three times a week, with surprising stories from our political past, and how they connect to our current moment. Get it wherever you listen to podcasts

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