A Florida community built to weather hurricanes endured Ian barely scratched Hundreds of thousands of people in Southwest Florida still don't have electricity or water. But Babcock Ranch, north of Fort Myers, was designed and built to withstand the most powerful storms.

One Florida community built to weather hurricanes endured Ian with barely a scratch

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While several hundred thousand people in southwest Florida still do not have electricity or water since Hurricane Ian, one community weathered the storm almost unscathed. Babcock Ranch, located north of Fort Myers, was designed and built to withstand the most powerful storms. NPR's Scott Neuman reports.

SCOTT NEUMAN, BYLINE: Mark Wilkerson is what you might call a Babcock Ranch enthusiast. He's originally from Illinois, but moved here a few years ago.

MARK WILKERSON: I thought I wanted to be on the Gulf, and then the last hurricane came through. And it reminded me that, no, you know what? I want to be in a place where I don't have to evacuate.

NEUMAN: Wilkerson works for a company that maintains renewable infrastructure. He's showing me around in his brand-new electric vehicle.

WILKERSON: Now you feel that? That's on eco.

NEUMAN: He also has a solar-powered golf cart. You see a lot of electric vehicles here. Every garage has a place to plug them in. Hurricane Ian was a big test for this community, where houses start in the mid-$200,000 range. It was built from the ground up to weather the worst that Mother Nature could throw at it, so Wilkerson stayed put as the storm came through last week.

WILKERSON: At one time in the afternoon, I said, guys, I need to go. I think we're going to lose power because the lights started flickering. And lo and behold, we never lost power.

NEUMAN: Power lines are all run underground, shielded from high winds. The whole system is fed by a massive solar array on the outskirts of town. Natural gas supplies electricity at night.

KIM BAILEY: This is our solar field here. So this is about 650,000 panels on 870 acres.

NEUMAN: Kim Bailey is the official ambassador for Babcock Ranch.

BAILEY: So this is enough to power about 30,000 homes here.

NEUMAN: That's way more power than they need. Right now, there are only about 5,000 residents here. So the excess gets fed into the grid, providing electricity for surrounding communities, many damaged in the storm.


NEUMAN: In Babcock Ranch, though, you'd hardly know that a major hurricane came through.

JENNIFER LANGUELL: It's one of the only places in this tri-county area where you're seeing kids run around and playing because there's no danger in the sidewalks or on the streets.

NEUMAN: Jennifer Languell is a sustainability engineer who helped design Babcock Ranch. She lives here, too. As confident as she was of the community's durability, even she was nervous by the sheer strength of the storm.

LANGUELL: I can definitely tell you I pulled up my construction drawings, and I verified the wind speed on my construction drawings.

NEUMAN: Part of the reason that Babcock Ranch is built 30 miles inland is to avoid coastal storm surge. Giant ponds also surround the development to protect houses from flooding.

LANGUELL: The ponds are designed, if they overflow, to flow in between the houses and flood the road intentionally, so that we have 2 more feet until it even gets to your house.

NEUMAN: A community center here was designed to double as a reinforced hurricane shelter. Everyone staying there has come in from other hard-hit communities. And Babcock Ranch residents have been fielding social media requests and shuttling in supplies. Seventy-year-old Judith Schrag, who uses a walker, is sitting out front of the shelter, smoking a cigarette.

JUDITH SCHRAG: Absolutely phenomenal in terms of donations - they are what have helped to keep this place going.

NEUMAN: Schrag arrived here a few days ago after her Port Charlotte apartment was flooded out. Jennifer Languell says the hurricane served as a proof of concept for Babcock Ranch.

LANGUELL: We don't want to brag by any stretch of the imagination because, you know, you do that, next day you get hit by a Category 5, and something doesn't work as well.

NEUMAN: She's already looking at lessons learned and what can be done better. Scott Neuman, NPR News, Babcock Ranch, Fla.

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