Hurricane damage is horribly difficult to predict. As a storm approaches, it's hard to know precisely where it will go, how it will hold up as it crosses over land, and how extensive the resulting damage will be. As Hurricane Irma struck Florida on Sunday, though, it was clear that damage would be widespread for areas suffering a direct hit. The historic storm made landfall in the Florida Keys on Sunday morning, but Hurricane Irma wouldn't be over until later in the week, leaving Floridians with what could potentially be years of rebuilding.
Irma approached the Florida Keys on Sunday morning as a Category 4 storm with winds up to 130 miles per hour. The storm raged over south Florida for much of the day, slowly making its way north along the state's west coast. By 10 a.m. more than a million homes and businesses, primarily in southeast Florida, were without power. On Sunday afternoon, Irma was downgraded to a Category 3 storm, but the system was still threatening much of the Sunshine State.
Experts expected Irma to move up Florida's west coast through Sunday and into Monday. According to ABC News, Irma would likely strike Tampa on Sunday night and near Tallahassee on Monday morning. Beyond Florida, Georgia and Alabama were expected to feel some of Irma's effects on Monday and possibly into Tuesday.
In other words, Irma may only pummel Florida directly until Monday afternoon. Still, Floridians may feel the storm's effects for years to come. Why? Cleaning up from a massive hurricane doesn't happen overnight. It takes weeks, months, and sometimes years to repair what was lost.
As the storm moved through Florida, it was hard to tell what the extent of the damage would be. Anecdotes didn't bring much good news, though, according to various news reports. In Miami, Irma's winds toppled a construction crane. In the Keys, furniture floated down the street. Storm surges in Palm Beach caused beach erosion — but city officials considered their community to be faring well.
Although it wasn't clear how much damage Irma had done — or would continue to do — some historical data could help predict what the recovery process will look like for Florida. On Thursday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared that Irma could be "much worse and more devastating" than Hurricane Andrew. Andrew, a Category 5 storm, hit Florida in 1992, causing more than $10 billion in residential damage, alone. It was the worst storm to ever hit the Sunshine State, although Irma may give it a run for its money.
In particular, Andrew devastated the Miami suburb of Homestead. According to Government Technology magazine, it took eight years and cooperation from local officials, the National Guard, the Army, FEMA, and other organizations to rebuild the city of Homestead.
Across the state, Andrew reportedly destroyed more than 25,000 homes and damaged another 101,000. Thousands of residents who left their homes before, during, or after the storm never returned becuase of the damage. It may take weeks to assess the damage that Irma does, but a visual comparison of the two storms themselves speaks volumes.
Just two weeks ago, Americans heard that it would take years for Houston and south Texas to recover from Hurricane Harvey. Like Irma, Harvey also made landfall as a Category 4 storm, pounding Texans with several days of devastating rain and high winds. In fact, it's the first time ever that two Atlantic Category 4 storms have made landfall in the U.S. in one year. That sort of historic devastation is likely to be felt for years in the affected communities of Texas and Florida.