Michael Destruction Reveals Weak Codes 10/15 06:17
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Unlike in South Florida, homes in the state's
Panhandle did not have tighter building codes It was once argued that the trees
would help save Florida's Panhandle from the fury of a hurricane, as the acres
of forests in the region would provide a natural barrier to savage winds that
accompany the deadly storms.
It's part of the reason that tighter building codes --- mandatory in places
such as South Florida --- were not put in place for most of this region until
just 11 years ago.
And it may be a painful lesson for area residents now that Hurricane Michael
has ravaged the region, leaving sustained damage from the coast inland all the
way to the Georgia border.
"We're learning painfully that we shouldn't be doing those kinds of
exemptions," said Don Brown, a former legislator from the Panhandle who now
sits on the Florida Building Commission. "We are vulnerable as any other part
of the state. There was this whole notion that the trees were going to help us,
take the wind out of the storm. Those trees become projectiles and flying
Hurricane Andrew a generation ago razed Florida's most-populated areas with
winds up to 165 mph (265 kph), damaging or blowing apart over 125,000 homes and
obliterating almost all mobile homes in its path.
The acres of flattened homes showed how contractors cut corners amid the
patchwork of codes Florida had at the time. For example, flimsy particle board
was used under roofs instead of sturdier plywood, and staples were used instead
of roofing nails.
Since 2001, structures statewide must be built to withstand winds of 111 mph
(178 kph) and up; the Miami area is considered a "high velocity hurricane zone"
with much higher standards, requiring many structures to withstand hurricane
winds in excess of 170 mph (273 kph).
Though Michael was packing winds as high as 155 mph, any boost in the level
of safety requirements for builders helps a home avoid disintegrating in a
Tom Lee, a homebuilder and legislator, says past hurricanes have shown time
and time again that the stricter codes help. He said during past hurricanes he
looked at the damage by plane and could tell if a home was built before the new
"The structural integrity of our housing stock is leaps and bounds beyond
what it was," said Lee.
The codes call for shatterproof windows, fortified roofs and reinforced
concrete pillars, among other specifications. But it wasn't until 2007 that
homes built in the Panhandle more than one mile from shore were required to
follow the higher standards. And Hurricane Michael pummeled the region with
devastating winds from the sea all the way into Georgia, destroying buildings
more than 70 miles from the shoreline.
Gov. Rick Scott said it may be time for Florida to boost its standards ---
considered the toughest in the nation--- even further.
"After every event, you always go back and look what you can do better,"
Scott said. "After Andrew, the codes changed dramatically in our state. Every
time something like this happens, you have to say to yourself, 'Is there
something we can do better?'"
Mexico Beach, the Gulf Coast town destroyed by Michael, lacked a lot of new
or retrofitted construction, said Craig Fugate, the former director of the
Federal Emergency Management Agency and a former emergency management chief for
the state of Florida. The small seaside community had a lot of older mobile
homes and low-income year-round residents working in the commercial fishing and
"Quiet, idyllic, what I call 'Old Florida,'" Fugate said. "This is not a
bunch of high rises or brand new developments."
Bill Herrle, who owned a house near the shoreline in Mexico Beach until it
was destroyed by the storm, said he wasn't sure it made a difference when the
homes there were built. He said the storm took out his house built in the
mid-80s as well as newer buildings put up recently.
"It wiped out both the older and newer homes. It looks like my entire street
is razed," said Herrle, who was not in Mexico Beach during the storm.
David Prevatt, an associate professor of civil and coastal engineering at
the University of Florida, said in an email Thursday that drone footage of the
devastation in Mexico Beach showed structural damage to roofs and exterior
walls, and damaged rafters and trusses, "indicating the strength of the wind
that caused those failures."
Prevatt noted the damage could have occurred at wind speeds lower than the
155 mph (250 kph) that the National Hurricane Center reported at Michael's
landfall. That is, the homes could have been peeling apart before the eye and
the hurricane's strongest core winds came ashore.
Prevatt was preparing to lead a team to assess the damage. He said engineers
will be asking how old the destroyed and damaged buildings were and under what
version of the Florida building codes they were built. They also will be
looking at the differences between the structures that survived and those that