Is your holiday home hurricane-proof?

Not all paradise retreats can survive earthquakes or hurricanes – but one day they might need to. Laura Latham reports
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The Independent Online

Images of people battening down against hurricanes in the Caribbean this autumn may have made you think twice about owning there. However, you may not be aware that many popular second-home locations are prone to natural disasters.

Hurricane season in the Caribbean lasts from September to November, but storms are getting more frequent and it's hard to predict what islands will be hit. The traditional wooden cottage with a gabled roof is vulnerable in a hurricane, but most new homes are built accordingly, so your house should have strong straps holding the roof in place, an enforced concrete shell, storm windows and reinforced shutters and doors.

Alternatively, you could buy outside the hurricane zone. Islands such as Aruba and Margarita, for example, don't tend to suffer. Barbados is on the edge of the hurricane belt, so is better protected if not immune, as are Trinidad and Tobago, but they can all get hit by occasional nasty storms.

Buying in Europe, however, may not necessarily make you any safer. Earthquakes don't happen as often as they do in Japan, but experts say that they're becoming more prevalent. In fact, Greece, Turkey and Italy are at such high risk they have seismic design codes. This dictates the depth of property foundations and quality and strength of building materials.

Janet Schofield, of the Turkish developers Nicholas Homes, says that buildings in Turkey are subject to stringent inspection before and after completion to ensure that they're earthquake-proof. "Our apartments are designed to have a greater degree of flexibility and should settle back into place after a shock," she says.

But how do you know that a builder hasn't cut corners? You don't, according to Dr Phillip Esper of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, an expert in disaster management. He claims that although European countries work hard to ensure that builders follow the rules, there are regions in which regulations aren't enforced.

He's particularly concerned about Egypt, which has seen a development boom recently. The speed at which properties have appeared is, he claims, a sign that builders aren't following the country's construction laws. "Egypt is at the bottom of the scale, not just in implementing seismic codes but basic construction codes. There's little supervision from the authorities," he says.

Dr Esper says that developers often dilute materials such as cement to cut costs, which makes properties unstable. This is worrying because Egypt has a major fault line running along its popular Red Sea coast. "Even a small earthquake can pose a danger because of the way structures are built," he explains.

He advises anyone buying in Egypt to hire a qualified structural engineer or surveyor to examine the plans and construction. At the very least, he says, if you're considering a region prone to earthquakes, buy from a builder with a strong reputation even if it costs more. "Implementing the seismic code adds around 20 per cent to the cost of a structure, but maybe buyers need to be willing to pay the extra to ensure their property is built to safe standards."

Nicholas Homes: ; Caribbean Dreams Property: 01708 223 877, ; Gem Estates: 0800 731 8494, ; RICS: 0870 333 1600,

Safe as houses: What to look for

* Research a location to see what natural disasters it's prone to and what building regulations exist.

* Check your insurance covers natural disasters; in some countries, earthquake cover is compulsory.

* Ask Caribbean developers about contingency plans, such as water storage and power back-up in the event of hurricanes.

* Older European property may not have earthquake-proofing, and could be difficult to insure or sell on.