Florida snowbird Mary Frances McKenzie considered herself fortunate after hurricane Charley blew through recently. Her winter home in Spring Lake, Fla., withstood the mammoth storm unscathed. The house down the block did not.

The roof on that cement-block stucco villa blew its top and crashed into her sister-in-law’s back porch. “It caused a lot of water damage,” says the Indiana native of her in-law’s home, just two doors down.



Fortunately, many new homes in hurricane-prone areas today are built to codes to avoid such an unpleasant scenario. These include everything from domed homes that are supposed to survive 300-mile-per-hour winds to safety innovations on more conventional houses.



While progress has been made, there is still much that could be done to mitigate damage, experts say.



The winds of a major hurricane can rip apart a poorly built house, or inflate it like a balloon, says Chad Morris, associate director of the Wind Science and Engineering Research Center at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.



“That usually begins with a window or door that fails from the wind pressure,” he says. “The air is then allowed to enter into the house, which lifts the roof off the home. Once that happens, it just blows the guts out of the inside. Sometimes it will blow out the back wall.”



Ten years ago, the weakest link was roof sheathing and its attachment to the roof, says Tim Reinhold, of the Institute for Business and Home Safety, a nonprofit group funded by the insurance industry. “In [hurricane] Andrew, probably 90 percent of homes that had damage had some sort of roof covering damage. What we saw in Charley was that people had begun to attach roof sheathing better.”



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