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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 
service industries.

   "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 
did not.


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