Garrett Walton, the CEO of REBUILD Northwest Florida remembers those days in 2004 when home after home suffered severe damage during Hurricane Ivan.
He calls it "the worst day in the modern history of West Florida. Period. End of conversation." It was out of that storm that Rebuild Northwest Florida was born, first helping rebuild homes then using federal funds to retrofit or harden homes to prepare them to survive the next storm. Now, Rebuild is celebrating hardening 10,000 homes. He feels that this milestone is more important than just being a round number. He says that with homes renovated to be able to withstand a hurricane's winds, thousands of people will not be on the roads during a storm.
About two dozen people gathered at the home in a quiet residential neighborhood in Pensacola to look back and look ahead as Rebuild continues its program in Northwest Florida.
One of the featured guests was Craig Fugate, the administrator of FEMA who said the house hardening program was a smart way to use the federal funding that's available.
Chip Otwell and his wife Tina are the owners of house number 10,000. The Otwells say the work was ready to go just two weeks after the application was complete. Once the work began, things went quickly and was done in about a week.
What type of work needs to be done on houses like theirs? William Merrill, Rebuild's engineer says it's all about the wind. Merrill also says they cannot take a one size fits all approach to these homes, each has its own unique issues so every home must be inspected before a plan for hardening is made.
To be eligible for this help, the house in question must be the owner's primary residence, it must have been built before the 2002 building code and it must be a single family house. The help is available in Escambia County and now once again in Santa Rosa County. Rebuild's Garrett Walton says Santa Rosa ran out of money for awhile, but that it no longer the case.
You can get an application online at RebuildNWF.org