Cause I saw 'em build houses in Newfoundland, and I wouldn't expect those to stand up to much in the way of weather.
Well, first off, NFLD is in Canada, so US housing codes don't even vaguely apply.
As Enahs says, housing codes vary. There are certain basic ones that virtually all states/counties/cities comply to (codes are determined at that level roughly -- states make certain minimums, which are generally very broad. Counties then adopt more strict codes. Depending on how the state laws work, a city/township may have local authority instead of the county). For instance, all bedrooms must have a window for a secondary escape route, all bathrooms must have some form of ventillation (window or fan), there are plumbing and electrical standards, etc.
Now in certain areas of the country the codes are extremely rigorous. California probably has the toughest codes, at least for anywhere that is potentially affected by an earthquake. Florida is probably second due to hurricane proofing -- modern construction in Florida is supposed to be able to withstand 150 mph winds without damage. That's pretty damn tough (and it doesn't cost much more to do either -- it's mainly using additional ties between structural members and using hurricane proof glass... which has the added benefit of being very high efficiency).
Now the issue is that many of these codes are relatively recent. Anything built in Florida pre-Andrew (1992) was under much less rigorous codes -- code which proved to be insufficient. Ditto for anything in California that wasn't built in the last 10 years. We've learned a lot about earthquake proofing in that time. The flipside is that there are some things you simply cannot stand up against. A category 5 hurricane is one -- the only things in its direct path that will survive are hardened concrete bunkers. And tornadoes will destroy absolutely anything they hit.
Part of the problem is that coastal land has become absurdly popular and expensive. People literally build houses on sandbars which is pretty much doomed to vanish in the face of a large storm like this. And while you can get insurance to pay for the loss of house, you can't insure the loss of land, so if your plot suddenly becomes ocean again then you're SOL.