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Fierce Storms Haven't Slowed Growth on U.S. Coastlines

Waves of retirees keep coming to vulnerable regions despite the risks

Coastal Growth Danger

AP Images

Coastal development promotes erosion and puts more buildings and people in the path of future destruction.

Rising sea levels and fierce storms have failed to stop relentless population growth along U.S. coasts in recent years, a new Associated Press analysis shows. Harvey and Irma, the latest punishing hurricanes, scored bull's-eyes on two of the country's fastest-growing regions: coastal Texas around Houston and resort areas of southwest Florida.

Coastal development destroys natural barriers such as islands and wetlands, promotes erosion and flooding and positions more buildings and people in the path of future destruction, according to researchers and policy advisers who study hurricanes.

Yet nothing seems to curb America's appetite for life near the sea, especially in the warmer climates of the South.

From 2010-2016, two of Florida's fastest-growing coastline counties — retirement-friendly Lee and Manatee, both south of Tampa — welcomed 16 percent more people. Overall growth of 10 percent in Texas Gulf counties and 9 percent along Florida's coasts during the same period was surpassed only by South Carolina.

Cindy Gerstner, a retiree from upstate New York, moved to a new home in January in Dunedin, Fla., west of Tampa. The ranch house sits on a flood plain three blocks from a sound off the Gulf of Mexico. She was told it hadn't flooded in 20 years — and she wasn't worried anyway.

"I never gave it a thought," she said during a visit to New York as Irma raked Florida. "I always wanted to live down there. I always thought people who lived in California on earthquake faults were foolish."

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