'Sand Palace' one of few Mexico Beach houses still standing

Beachfront home largely untouched

By ERIC LEVENSON, CNN
Copyright 2018 CNN

The "Sand Palace" stands high on stilts above wreckage left over from category 4 Hurricane Michael on Mexico Beach, Florida.

(CNN) - Flooded homes. Destroyed roofs. Debris strewn everywhere.

Mexico Beach, Florida, was flattened by Hurricane Michael last week. But amid the incredible destruction, one home stood high on stilts above the wreckage, appearing largely untouched and gleaming in the sun.

The home, known as the Sand Palace, is a three-story, four-bedroom, 4½ bath vacation rental that has its own Facebook page. And its owners, Lebron Lackey and his uncle, Russell King, say it's no coincidence the place survived -- they designed it to do just that.

"At every point, from pilings to the roof and everything in between, when it came time to make a decision about what level of material or what to use, we didn't pay attention to code," Lackey told CNN's "New Day" on Tuesday. "We went above and beyond code, and we asked the question: 'What would survive the big one?' And we consistently tried to build it for that."

Construction started in 2017 and ended this year.

State code in the wake of Hurricane Andrew in 1992 required that houses have to be built to withstand 120 mph winds. However, the Sand Palace was built to withstand about 240 to 250 mph winds, Lackey said.

The walls are made of poured concrete on top of 40-foot pilings. Rebar is all through the walls. Steel cables go from the girders above the pilings through the roof and continue down the other side of the back wall, they said. And there's more.

"I could have put a balcony that I wanted on the east side of the house. The engineer said, I thought you wanted a hurricane house? We took it off," King said. "I wanted more overhang. He said, 'I thought you wanted a hurricane house?' So our (overhang) is very small."

They even took some windows out, limiting the view of the beach, and put concrete there instead.

"A lot of people criticized this. Our friends said, why didn't you put more windows in? We did put the gulf view in, but the rest of it, not so much," King said.

Lackey estimates that the additions cost about 15% to 20% more than usual, although King said it may have been more than that.

Though its roof and most windows and doors remained intact, the house was not unscathed. The Sand Palace Facebook page said that the ground floor and the stairs up to the middle floor are gone, along with windows in one of the bedrooms. All the utilities have to be redone, and one of the heating and air units is gone, too.

Still, that's a far cry from the destruction of much of the neighborhood. The town has about 1,200 residents, and officials were still looking for residents who have not been accounted for.

Lackey watched his house during the storm via cameras stationed on the decks, so he knew that it remained intact. But his relief turned to dismay when he returned home and saw everything.

"I had already seen the pictures of destruction, but there was nothing like it first-hand. Before I made it to the house, I already had tears in my eyes for the community," Lackey said.

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