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Hurricane Ian wiped out homes and power systems across Florida — so how did this small town escape mostly unscathed?

"When storms take aim at southwest Florida and evacuation orders are issued, we are at a distinct advantage."

Florida Babcock Ranch

Babcock Ranch is a place unlike anything else you'll find in Florida. 

The planned community, with a population of around 5,000 people, is located on Florida's southwestern coast, where Hurricane Ian made landfall in September of 2022. 

Ian was nearly a Category 5 storm when it devastated homes and shut down power in Fort Myers, a town just 20 miles from Babcock Ranch. Yet, as CBS News reported, Babcock Ranch's homes were able to keep the lights on while sustaining little to no damage.

Babcock Ranch, which welcomed its first residents just four years ago, has dubbed itself "the world's first solar-powered town." Now, it's also being called Florida's "hurricane-proof town." Perhaps those two nicknames are deeply connected. 

The community derives 100% of its energy from solar power, which allowed residents to keep their lights on — even as nearby grids lost power for days. As CBS reported, Babcock Ranch was even able to send leftover energy to a nearby storm shelter, making it one of the region's only shelters to maintain power. 

Babcock Ranch's solar panels were specifically made to withstand storms. They were previously put to the test during Hurricane Irma — a Category 4 storm when it hit Florida in 2017 — during which only two of the community's 343,000 panels were damaged. 

The homes themselves were also designed for resilience. Each of the community's structures can reportedly endure winds of up to 145 miles per hour, and there are built-in natural waterways to help with drainage. The community was also built 30 feet above sea level and 17.5 miles away from the nearest coast, which gives it a major leg-up during floods and storm surges. 

"When storms take aim at southwest Florida and evacuation orders are issued, residents of Babcock Ranch are at a distinct advantage," Lisa Hall, a Babcock Ranch representative, told CBS News. "Storm safety and resiliency has been factored into every element of design and engineering of the town."

That's why, remarkably, Ian did little besides tear the shingles from a few roofs. Newsweek reported that the recovery process took just one day to complete. 

Babcock Ranch is not the only development connecting sustainability with hurricane preparedness. In Puerto Rico, a pair of prototype homes gained mainstream news coverage after Hurricane Fiona, as they managed to easily survive a storm that knocked out the rest of the island's power. 

Like the homes in Babcock Ranch, those houses use solar energy to avoid reliance on a central power grid. They also feature storm-proof building materials and a filtration system that collects rainwater for drinking.  

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