- Hurricane Michael obliterated nearly every structure along the coast of Mexico Beach, Florida – except for a few shoddy foundations and one pristine home.
- The surviving home, known to its owners as Sand Palace, was built to withstand winds of up to 250 mph.
- As state officials weigh the need for stricter building codes, Sand Palace could serve as a model.
Hurricane Michael destroyed nearly every structure in the small town of Mexico Beach, Florida, when it made landfall last week, turning homes, restaurants, and gift shops into piles of rubble and debris.
As the storm wreaked havoc along the Gulf Coast, the National Ocean Service began releasing satellite images of the damaged coastal communities. The photos show few surviving structures, other than the occasional scattered property that managed to hold onto its foundation.
But to the right of the Mexico Beach Pier, one house remains relatively unscathed, while everything around it appears to be flattened.
With its two-tiered balcony, elevated pillars, and blazing white exterior, the house is a shining example of storm-resistant construction. When its owners, Russell King and Lebron Lackey, built the property in 2017, they installed steel cables and 40-foot pillars designed to withstand flooding and heavy winds. The entire home is made of poured concrete, a common protective feature in South Florida’s hurricane-prone communities.
Unlike many properties in the area, the five-bedroom, five-bathroom house – known to its owners as Sand Palace – was built to endure winds of up to 250 mph. The home’s most notable feature are breakaway walls designed to fall off in the event of a hurricane without bringing down the rest of the structure.
That’s far more protective outfitting than mandated by the state building code.
Since 2002, Florida has called for Panhandle properties to be built to withstand winds of up to 150 mph. By 2007, the state upped these requirements to include additional construction elements such as shatterproof windows, buttressed roofs, and stable concrete pillars.
But these requirements apply only to new construction within a mile of the shore, leaving many buildings ill-equipped to weather a major storm. Properties built before 1992, when Hurricane Andrew barreled through the region, are particularly vulnerable, since the state’s older codes allowed builders to use shoddier materials like particle board and staples to construct roofs.
Leading up to Hurricane Michael, officials guessed that the Panhandle’s acres of trees would slow wind speeds and protect the community from massive damage. But the trees went flying, destroying properties in their path. When Michael’s 155 mph winds hit the area on Wednesday, not even the buildings that followed those regulations survived.
The devastation already has the state questioning its existing regulations.
“After every event, you always go back and look what you can do better,” Gov. Rick Scott told reporters. “After Andrew, the codes changed dramatically in our state. Every time something like this happens, you have to say to yourself, ‘Is there something we can do better?'”
Sand Palace could offer some guidance for protecting future properties – at a steep price.
The architect behind Sand Palace, Charles Gaskin, told The New York Times that hurricane-resistant features tended to double the cost of construction per square foot. That would make that solution unviable for the Panhandle’s many lower-income residents whose older properties and mobile homes were swept away by the storm.