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Are Apartments Safe During Hurricanes?

Reviewed by: David Naimey

Approved by: Chad Turner


  • Category 3+ hurricanes bring severe damage due to strong winds.
  • Residents should consider evacuation orders, building codes, and personal safety.
  • Any property in the path of a hurricane face risks of flash flooding and structural damage from water and debris.

During hurricane season, the safety of high-rise condos becomes a top priority. There are many misconceptions about hurricane damage and prospective apartment and condo buyers should have valuable insight about living in hurricane-prone areas. 

When you intend to buy a condo in an apartment building, consider first several factors regarding your safety, including hurricane categories and building codes. 

During an extreme weather event, people have to make the tough decision of whether to stay or go and how to follow evacuation orders for their safety. Interestingly, it is not just about how close you are to the coast that affects your safety. Various threats that come with hurricanes, such as strong winds, heavy rain, storm surges, and flying debris, are just as dangerous to properties.  

Myths and Misconceptions about Hurricanes 

There is a lot of hurricane misinformation out there that is pretty widely spread. For example, people may think that only the coastal areas are at risk of hurricane damage and flooding. However, people who have experienced Hurricane Wilma, Hurricane Andrew, and Hurricane Irma firsthand will tell you that high winds at 175 mph and an extremely high chance of flash flooding can happen miles away from any major body of water.

If the hurricane builds enough strength and has a strong enough storm surge, severe flooding can happen far from the coast. Unfortunately, flash floods and fast-moving water results in many deaths during extremely dangerous hurricanes due to homes not being built to the same strict building codes as those near the coast.

What Category Hurricane is it? 

Any hurricane labeled as Category 3 or higher should be considered a major hurricane. For example, a category 4 hurricane can have wind speeds up to 156 mph. That’s easily enough force to break your windows and sliding glass doors if you are not equipped with impact glass. 

Winds of more than 90 mph can easily damage roofs and building structures. Your apartment or condo must follow strict building codes and be able to withstand high winds up to a certain level. If a major hurricane is hitting your area, you should consider evacuating.  

I Live in a High-Rise Condo: Should I Ride out the Storm?

The decision to stay ultimately lies with you, but should be dictated by several factors and conditions. What category of hurricane is projected? Has there been a mandatory evacuation order issued? Is your apartment close to the coast? What are the building’s hurricane evacuation plans?

Personal situation

Whether or not you decide to ride out the storm can be influenced by other factors as well, such as a family member whose care requires power. For example, a baby or an older person who needs a breathing machine to comfortably breathe may not have the same ability to just pick up and leave as a younger, single individual would.

Loss of power

Loss of power in a high rise can also affect those who are unable to use stairs and must use elevators. Without power, apartment dwellers may be unable to leave their floor if things get out of hand. In this case, you may need to call an emergency number to help with your evacuation or call family and ride out the storm with them. 

Of course, some apartment buildings have power generators: check with your HOA and get to know how well-prepared your building is to be able to prepare and plan ahead for natural disasters.

Call emergency numbers

Most cities or counties have numbers you can call if you do end up needing additional help in case there is a mandatory evacuation. If you or a family member are in a tough situation and rely on power to support your life, then have those numbers handy and don’t wait until the last minute. Make sure that you have everything important such as phone numbers, personal information, health documents, and all necessary emergency items available in an obvious area in your apartment so you can access them quickly at any time. 

How Close To The Coast Am I?

Closeness to the coast and hurricane strength have to be taken into account. If you have a category 5 hurricane and there’s a mandatory evacuation, it doesn’t matter how close to the coast you live. You should get you and your family to safety as soon as possible because the strength of the hurricane can damage buildings and high-rise apartment blocks even inland. 

But what if there’s a Category 2 or even a Category 3 hurricane? 

High-rise buildings closer to the coast in areas that witness active hurricane seasons have much stricter building codes than high-rise buildings that are further inland. Because of this, your building might actually be better equipped to handle higher winds like that of a Category 3 than a building of the same height located more inland, with more lenient building codes. In this specific case, it may actually be safer for someone on the coast to stay than it would be for someone more inland.

Is There a Mandatory Evacuation?

In case there is ever a mandatory evacuation, you can always choose to ride out the storm of your own volition, as the state you live in can’t force you to leave your home or a condo if you do not want to. However, for your personal safety and the well-being of your family, you should leave whenever there is a mandatory evacuation order issued. Remember that only higher-category hurricanes typically lead to mandatory evacuation orders.

If there is a mandatory evacuation and you choose to stay, remember that you are on your own. If something extremely dangerous happens, like very high flooding in your high rise, rescue may not be authorized to come. It would be more dangerous to send help to rescue you than it would be to wait until after the storm has passed, as your saviors can end up in the same predicament as you. So, if you choose to stay in your condo in a tall building, you’re responsible for your own safety. There are some red flags about condos you should know about.

This is why you should always follow your county’s orders when it comes to mandatory evacuations to stay safe during hurricanes. 

Wind Isn’t the Only Thing You Should Worry about Living in a High Rise


Flash flooding during a hurricane 

Unfortunately, a hurricane with high winds is only part of the worries associated with living in a high-rise building. One of the most terrifying aspects of a hurricane is the torrential downpours that can cause possible storm surges. This adds to the very high possibility that your building will become flooded. Bottom-floor apartments and condos, in particular, could experience flooding during a strong hurricane. 

For example, in the Miami-Dade County area, Hurricane Irma had a storm surge of 4 feet. That means that standing on South Beach in Miami, you were a little less than 4 feet deep in water due to flooding and higher sea levels. That is enough water to cause considerable structural damage to buildings that are less equipped to handle flooding of that magnitude.

Structural damage from underneath

Some high rises can be very structurally sound when it comes to negating the high wind pressure. However, those same high rises can succumb to structural damage from water, leaving anyone who stays in a high rise at risk. You also have to take into account the very real chance of flying debris moving with the high winds.

Take Several Factors into Consideration

If you live in hurricane-prone areas, there are several important aspects to take into consideration about the safety of high-rise apartments during hurricane season. 

Proximity to the coast is not the only feature to take into account. If anything, sometimes high-rise apartments and condos in coastal areas are sturdier than those inland and better able to withstand high wind and flooding. In order to ensure that apartments are safe, the building code dictates the sturdiness of high-rise buildings, depending on their location and their susceptibility to the dangers of hurricanes and extreme weather events.  

People living in high-rise apartments and condos should always follow evacuation orders, especially in severe hurricanes. Aside from high winds, hurricanes can cause conditions such as heavy rain, storm surges, and falling debris which are also significant risks.

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