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Lessons from disasters like Ike

America has tightened building codes in danger zones, but it also needs to stop building.

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Nearly a week after Galveston Island took a severe beating from hurricane Ike, a Kroger grocery store has finally opened for business, grilling up fajitas for its employees. With the Texas island still not ready to take back evacuees, the open store is at least one encouraging sign of normalcy.

For that is the aim of rescue and relief workers, government officials, neighbors, and perfect strangers who all assist in the aftermath of any disaster – to help residents return to as normal a life as possible.

But normalcy has its downside in America's hazard-prone areas. If it means rebuilding exactly as everything was before the hurricane, fire, or earthquake, then business-as-usual is itself hazardous.

The country has learned to do some key things differently in the wake of several years of weather whammies. One of them is to adopt stricter building codes that save lives and money.

New building and landscaping standards spared five communities from San Diego's fierce fires last year. In 1992, when the worst mainland hurricane in US history slammed into Florida, 27 Miami-area houses built to hurricane-resistant standards suffered no structural damage, while other homes nearby were flattened.

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