Coming Soon to Coastal Plains: $250 Billion Hurricanes—And We Pay

Aftermath of Hurricane Irma in the Florida Keys

The same weekend that Hurricane Dorian devastated the Bahamas, then crawled toward the coasts of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, a new book revealed the incredible taxpayer subsidies for the beautiful ocean-front homes and picturesque seaside towns built in known hurricane pathways.

And why not live at the beach, despite the dangers? After all, the burden of paying for massive damages falls on taxpayers—not property owners. The Geography of Risk, a just-released book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gilbert M. Gaul, reveals the array of federal subsidies, tax breaks, low-interest loans, grants and government flood insurance that shifted the risk of life at the beach from private investors to the public. The New York Times calls the book “eye-opening.”

Consider this: Five of the most expensive hurricanes in history have made landfall since 2005: Katrina ($160 billion), Ike ($40 billion), Sandy ($72 billion), Harvey ($125 billion), and Maria ($90 billion). With more property than ever in harm’s way, and the planet and oceans warming dangerously, it won’t be long before we see a $250 billion hurricane. Why? Because Americans have built $3 trillion worth of property in some of the riskiest places on earth: barrier islands and coastal floodplains.

Gaul, a former reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Washington Post,  is a two-time winner of the Pultizer Prize. He has reported on non-profit organizations, the business of college sports, homeland security, the black market for prescription drugs, and problems in the Medicare program. Gaul and his family live in New Jersey—but not on the beach.

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