When bay-shore residents finally get their heads above water and rebuild homes wrecked by Tropical Storm Isabel, the houses in many old waterside neighborhoods will get taller.
That's just fine with Brenda Tucker, whose 40-year-old cottage on Bay Drive in Bowleys Quarters was badly battered by the storm's waves and tidal flooding.
Because of building codes adopted in the 1970s, anyone rebuilding within the state's official flood plains - or making "substantial" repairs or renovations - must elevate their first floor above the so-called "100-year flood" level. In Tucker's neighborhood, that means about 10 feet above mean low water and a lot higher than most homes are now.
Her more immediate concern yesterday was whether her flood insurance or homeowner's insurance - or both - would cover the costs.
Standing in her front yard, her back to the Chesapeake, she gazed at the collapsed roof marking the spot where Isabel's waves crashed through her house, carrying away her Florida room and a 30-foot deck.
"I don't know if there will be enough money to fix it. I don't know if it will be condemned," said Tucker, 57.
The storm story ended far more happily for Steve Moody, 50. His bay-side house in Bowleys Quarters was built 11 years ago under current flood insurance rules. The first floor stands just above the 100-year flood level, and it stayed dry.
"We didn't have any damage, really," he said. His circuit breakers, central vacuum controls and some ductwork got wet. So did plenty of stuff he had stored in the crawl space beneath the first floor when he moved in two months ago.
He also lost an Alfa Romeo, a Porsche, a Maserati and an Infiniti. But compared with the devastation visited on most of his neighbors, he got off easy. "This is one of the few houses that didn't get clobbered," he said.
Moody's situation is part of an Isabel success story, said Roger Benson, a natural hazards specialist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"All the new construction we saw that met the requirements of the county did not have damage," he said. And now, "all the new construction that's going to be built in the future is going to have a greatly reduced risk of flooding."
The rules adopted under the National Flood Insurance program say that anyone rebuilding in the flood plain or making repairs or renovations exceeding 50 percent of the fair market value of the house (excluding the land and outbuildings) has to lift the dwelling above the 100-year flood line.
That level varies around the bay. But in Baltimore County it is roughly 10 feet above mean low water. How high is that? For a rough estimate, just look for Isabel's high-water mark.
"From the appearance of the highest rise of the Chesapeake in the tidal surge, it was very close to the height" of the 100-year flood, Benson said.
Actually, Benson doesn't use the term "100-year flood" because he doesn't want those who experienced Isabel to believe that they've endured the flood of their lives and that the danger is past.
The proper term, he said, is the "1 percent annual chance flood." That means there's a 1-in-100 chance of such a flood occurring in any year.
The rules don't mean that every new or rebuilt home must stand on 10-foot stilts. It means the first floor has to be above the 100-year flood line. For example, if your building site is 5 feet above mean low water, your new first floor will have to be elevated 5 more feet to be above a 10-foot flood line.
The rules may be stricter in some jurisdictions. Baltimore County, which suffered some of the worst damage from Isabel, adds an extra foot of "freeboard" to the prescribed flood level.
In Balto. County, a tall order after Isabel
Bay homes being rebuilt required to be elevated
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