Mario Feola applied his knowledge of aeronautical engineering when building his Diamondhead home in 1991 at the end of a taxiway. The bottom floor is basically a guest room and a hangar - he and wife Charlotte are pilots - and the top living floor offers a great view of the runway from a 5,000-square-foot deck. |
But that's not where the aeronautical engineering comes in.
"The main structure is designed to withstand 150 mph, and the 'skin' is designed to start peeling away at 110 mph," Feola said. "With the skin gone there's less surface for the pressure to act on and the building stays structurally sound."
That's what happened in Katrina.
Only two houses were habitable on the south side of Diamondhead, Feola's and one down the street by a neighbor who used Feola's design.
Because of eight feet of water, the Feolas lost their airplane and everything on that first floor, but their main living area remained in tact. The house did what it was designed to do and if the Feolas had anticipated flood, they might have prepared for that.
The Cessna 172 ended up outside the hanger in a ball of metal, along with their cars.
"I never in my wildest dreams thought water would come up," Feola said. "The bay is miles away and we've never had flooding."
But the house withstood the wind and surge with its foundation that includes six-foot by six-foot tubes of concrete and steel in the ground.
"It's actually significantly less expensive than conventional construction," said Feola. "Steel is less expensive than wood. To get the same structural strength out of wood you'd have to spend a lot more money."
Feola built the outer walls of painted steel, followed by insulation, then two feet dead airspace, then the framing for the living area. He said his electric bills are low.
"The point I'd like to get through is that there are a dozen people rebuilding similar structures on the south side of Diamondhead because they were impressed about how our house came through."
Feola is vice president of Diamondhead, chartered as a corporation and run by a board instead of a mayor-council. Before Katrina, the Hancock County community had 3,600 residences. About 250 were made uninhabitable on the south side, Feola said, and about 460 on the north side.
"Diamondhead will build back big and better than ever," Feola said. "Even before Katrina we'd switched our reputation as a sleeper to a vibrant, growing area."
- KAT BERGERON