In response, some cities like Miami have been taking precautions against future storms — though so far that has not included a slowdown in development.
In 1994, in the wake of Andrew, South Florida enacted some of the strictest building codes in the country. New houses must now feature impact-resistant windows or shutters as well as stronger clips and straps to secure their roofs, to better withstand major hurricanes, which inflict much of their damage through powerful winds that can send debris flying dangerously. Local zoning rules also require high-rise developers in key areas to build to withstand high winds.
"There's no question that these building codes have improved our hurricane risk," said Shahid Hamid, director of the Laboratory for Insurance, Financial and Economic Research at Florida International University, which has built a wind machine that can simulate hurricane-force winds to test new building designs.
But, Dr. Hamid cautioned, stricter codes don't offer perfect protection. Roughly 70 percent of the region's buildings were built before 1994, and many homes have not been retrofitted (though homeowners can get a substantial cut in their insurance premiums if they do so). And, he said, a direct hit from a Category 5 hurricane, with sustained wind speeds greater than 157 miles per hour, can cause heavy damage to even the best-constructed homes.
What's more, even high-rises built to withstand fierce winds can still be vulnerable to water damage from heavy rains that can seep in through roofs, as investigators discovered after Hurricane Wilma clobbered the region in 2005.
There is also flooding and storm surge to consider. Hurricane Andrew pushed relatively little water inland in 1992 and did most of its damage through ferocious winds that flipped over cars and pulverized homes. But sea levels along Miami's coasts have risen 3.3 inches since then, and the city is already seeing an increase in "sunny-day flooding" during high tides. With sea levels higher, a hurricane that struck in a vulnerable place could conceivably produce far greater flooding than Andrew did.
"Every hurricane is different," said Jean-Pierre Bardet, dean of the college of engineering at the University of Miami. "I'd expect that if we had a direct hit, we'd see damages that we were not expecting."
While stricter building requirements have made the cost of development somewhat more expensive, they have hardly put a brake on South Florida's frenetic growth, as millions of people move for the sunny weather and gorgeous beaches. Miami-Dade County's population has grown 35 percent since Hurricane Andrew, and developers still have ample incentive to build along the coastline.
In Florida, which has no state income tax, property taxes make up 36 percent of state and local revenues, and few cities have opted to take drastic measures to limit development along the hugely desirable coasts.
"It's a struggle that every community is facing in South Florida," Mr. Bardet said. "There is a constant battle between our ability to prepare for hurricanes and the pressure for urban expansion. It's a great place to live. But it does come with some risk."