Building Codes on St. Barts Set a Storm-Ready Benchmark

An article about how to make Caribbean Islands more hurricane resistant notes that tiny St. Barts in the French West Indies has done more than any other island to prepare for the next big one.

According to news report from Bloomberg this morning,

“St. Barts was as hurricane-proof as any island could be,” says Nils Dufau, president of Tourisme de St. Barts. Because of the island’s wealth, strict building codes, and smart preventive strategies, St. Barts came through the storms relatively unscathed. (The main cause of damage—and lingering hotel closures—was flooding.) “Our electric grid was already three-quarters underground, and now we’re accelerating the rest,” Dufau says. “It means most of the island didn’t lose power—and for those who did, it wasn’t for long.” St. Barts is now testing marine barriers, watertight doorways, and “wash-through channels” that protect building foundations, all to ease flood damage from storms.”

Of course, those familiar with other islands North of St. Barts, which lies in the West Indies—such as St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, or Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, will note that prosperity to bury electrical wires and improve existing buildings is not a shared commodity. Tortola, for example, is a notorious tax haven, where billions of dollars of external money pass through each year, but little of it trickles down to native “belongers.” And when money is found for infrastructure projects, such as a large fund for improving the East End of the island’s sewer system, it mysteriously disappears long before the project is done, and raw sewage continues to run in the streets.

Even on St. Barts, billionaires, however, the rich can prove to be fair weather friends. According to this article by Emily Smith of Pagesix.com, many of the island’s billionaire tourists changed their vacation plans while the island was recovering from Hurricane Irma.

Wealth is fickle. That’s no secret. But what the St. Barts experience demonstrates is that hurricane-proofing vulnerable islands is not a matter of inadequate building science. It’s a matter of the will to put resources into long-term infrastructure defenses. Strict building codes work. All that’s needed is the deep pockets and commitment to carry them out.