In late September, a massive hurricane was churning toward southwest Florida, threatening the Tampa Bay region where more than 3 million people live.
A direct hit on Tampa was one of those doomsday scenarios that could bring a 10-foot wall of water coursing through streets, take countless lives, and cost billions of dollars in economic damage.
Right before Hurricane Ian made landfall, the storm intensified — with wind speeds just shy of a category 5 hurricane — and turned south, hitting the less populated area around Cayo Costa in Lee County. But Ian still devastated the coast and killed more than 120 people, making it Florida’s deadliest storm in 90 years.
As the storm was making landfall, we flew first to Boston, where we followed a team of catastrophe modelers as they watched the storm and calculated potential losses.
The early estimate was staggeringly high: $100 billion in losses. Only about $63 billion of that is insured. But that was just a number on a screen.
To really understand the data points, we went to the Gasparilla Mobile Estates in Placida, FL, a mobile home park near the coast that was practically flattened by the storm. We talked to residents who lost everything. Most did not have insurance.
This episode is a season prologue of sorts. We’ve been reporting for the past six months on Miami, a few hours southeast of where the hurricane tore through the state. But we knew we had to cover this hurricane and the aftermath because the next hurricane could hit Miami. And we wanted to understand how people decide to stay or go; rebuild or retreat.
In season two of How We Survive, we follow the money to the end of the world. In this case, South Florida. New episodes are out every Wednesday. Be sure to follow us on your favorite podcast app and tell a friend if you’re enjoying the show.