BEFORE AND AFTER. Hard-hit Orange Beach, Ala., and other coastal towns lost motels, condos and tourist attractions. (Photos courtesy of USGS)

Even as Florida struggled to recover from a one-two hurricane punch, another monster storm slammed into its Panhandle and Alabama's Gulf Coast on Sept. 16, adding more wind and rain-induced damage that extended up the East Coast. But abating winds, receding floods and the beginning of cleanup, damage assessment and reconstruction still didn't address major concerns for those in the country's most hurricane-prone regions. Predictions of more frequent big storms hitting the U.S. in the next decades could challenge existing construction techniques, building codes and evacuation procedures. They may also prompt new calls to curb coastal building.

"We have been giving these warnings since 1996," says Stanley B. Goldenberg, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's hurricane research division in Miami. "In many areas, they have flat-out ignored the hurricane problem."
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The impact of Hurricane Ivan was hard to ignore for residents, local government and utility officials and the construction industry. "I've been through six hurricanes and this is the worst one I've ever seen," says Ray Etters, vice president of Conti Construction, Pensacola. "Devastation is a good word for what happened." The contractor's own office was damaged, "and they're telling us for the most part, it will be three weeks before power is restored." Ard Contracting, Birmingham, fared better but still faces several weeks of project shutdowns while cleaning out debris and sand from jobsites from Pensacola to Gulf Shores, Ala., says Garry Ard, president. Click here for story - Contractors See Hard Realities

About 825,000 of Alabama Power's 1.3 million customers were initially without power after Ivan roared through. Ivan struck Gulf Power's Panhandle operations head-on. "It's catastrophic," says a utility spokesman. "The electric system it has taken us 80 years to build was basically destroyed in eight hours last night." Click here for story - Ivan Kills The Power

In Atlanta, 10 million gals. of raw sewage was dumped into a creek in the city's northwest section after the storm ruptured a 4-ft-dia sewage pipe. A critical crossing across Escambia Bay in Florida that carries Interstate-10 is under fast-track reconstruction after being sliced by storm surge. click here for story - Contractor Tackles Fast Repairs to Hurricane-Ravaged Bridge

Who's Vulnerable?

New Orleans largely escaped the hurricane, but it exposed vulnerability in the city's evacuation and coastal protection plans. "We had 300,000 vehicles trying to leave the southeast Louisiana area in about a three-day period," says a spokesman for the Louisiana Dept. of Transportation and Development.

The city's levee system is adequate for 90% to 95% of likely storms. "It's the other five to 10% that scare me," says Albert Naomi, senior project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers' New Orleans district. The Corps and other officials have identified $14 billion worth of projects that would restore Louisiana's coastal defenses against further gulf encroachment. Congress may authorize about $1.5 billion. Click here for story - New Orleans Is Served Notice

Ivan's assault on major infrastructure and engineered buildings raises another worry. All four hospitals in Escambia County, Fla., suffered major damage. Several storm shelters reportedly had serious roof damage, a situation that raised concern in Arcadia, Fla., during Hurricane Charley when a shelter roof collapsed. "We...