25 years later: How Florida buildings are better able to withstand Category 5 storms

?? – Hurricane Andrew – the monster storm that hit South Miami in August 1992 – showed how sloppily many homes in the area were being built at that time to accommodate a booming population in the previous decades.

The Category 5 storm – the last of its magnitude to hit the U.S. – completely destroyed about 63,000 homes and damaged another 100,000, Jorge Zamanillo, director of the HistoryMiami Museum, told ABC News earlier this month.

The widespread destruction inspired state and local officials to write tougher building codes that made Florida’s structures better able to withstand hurricanes of similar caliber.

According to state officials, despite the “extremely dangerous” 185 winds of Hurricane Irma, Florida buildings are not in the same peril as they were 25 years ago.

“You will see that buildings stand up to hurricane winds,” Bryan Koon, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, told ABC News.

How Florida’s Hurricane Andrew often exposed lousy building practices

Andrew’s 175 mph winds covered entire neighborhoods when he landed in southern Miami-Dade County on August 24, 1992.

The Country Walk – a planned suburb north of Homestead – was a site of complete devastation after the storm, largely due to the poor construction practices used to build the homes, Richard Olson, director of the International Hurricane Research Center at FIU in Miami, told ABC News earlier this month.

Instead of nails, staples were used to attach roofs to houses built from low-quality plywood, Olson said.

Cheryl Lani Juarez, 62, who was living on Country Walk when Andrew met, said the second floor of her home couldn’t withstand the “three hours of horror”.

“You could see the sky from the attic upstairs where the kids’ rooms were,” she told ABC News. “You could see where two pieces of wood weren’t connected by nails.”

Juarez said as she went outside, “It just didn’t look like our neighborhood anymore. Her neighbors’ homes had been subject to similar destruction, and among the rubble that lay on the floor and remembered seeing piles of asphalt shingles that were not properly attached to roofs.

“You don’t see things like that when you want to buy a house,” she said.

The homes in Country Walk were allegedly so poorly built that a grand jury investigation was launched into the building practices and there were discussions of criminal charges against the builder, Olson said.

Homeowners eventually sued builders, the New York Times reported in October 1992. Juarez confirmed that an out-of-court settlement had been reached but said she was not allowed to speak about it.

The construction shortcuts resulted from pressure to accommodate Florida’s population explosion in the 1970s and 1980s, Olson said.

“How do you build fast enough to cope with this population growth?” he asked.

How Hurricane Andrew resulted in strict Florida building code enforcement

In 1992, the South Florida Building Code, which included Counties of Dade and Broward, was considered one of the best in the country, but those standards were not adequately enforced, Sun Sentinel reported.

In terms of building codes, “Florida took Andrew as a lesson learned,” said Koon.

Before Hurricane Andrew, building codes were not “rigorously enforced” because “it tended to slow construction and increase costs,” Olson said.

“It forever changed building codes, and building code enforcement in particular, which Andrew found inadequate, incompetent or avoidable,” said Olson.

A day like no other, August 24, 1992, was the day Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida, flattening entire trailer parks and overturning rows of concrete poles. Tens of thousands of people were left homeless when the storm known as the Big One swept through the area before moving west towards the Gulf and Louisiana. A sailboat sits on a sidewalk in Miami’s Dinner Key after being washed ashore by Hurricane Andrew.

Two years after Andrew, the first post-Andrew version of the South Florida Building Code was published, which, according to Sun Sentinel, focused on wind resistance and roof integrity. Improved roof standards were also among the first provisions, as were impact-resistant windows or hurricane shutters for new buildings. In addition, cheaper materials such as chipboard were banned.

The first statewide building code went into effect in 2002 and continues to serve as the basis for the state’s building code, Sun Sentinel reported. It replaced the local regulations while also taking into account the stricter regulations of Borward and Miami-Dade Counties.

Construction cranes in Miami cannot withstand Category 5 winds

The construction cranes in Miami can only withstand wind speeds of up to 200 km / h, the city of Miami announced in a press release on Tuesday.

Officials asked residents near the construction cranes to evacuate.

“The arm of the crane must remain loose; it is not tied down,” says the press release. “The arm counterweight is very heavy and is a potential hazard if the crane collapses.”

There are currently up to 25 construction cranes in the city. The winds of Hurricane Irma come at 185 miles per hour.

Energy companies prepare for the storm

Since the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, billions of dollars have been spent securing the infrastructure of Florida’s 57 utility companies, five of which are overseen by the Florida Public Service Commission, Koon said.

Emergency management teams in Tallahassee are preparing the power grids for the storm, Scott said in a press conference Tuesday evening.

When the storm is over, residents want to go home first, “said Scott. But” they can’t go home without electricity, “said the governor.

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