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An Ill Wind
By George Porter
It has been said that it is an ill wind that doesn't blow somebody
some good. I am writing this article in the center of a manufactured
housing community somewhere in Homestead, Florida and I can find
very little good from this wind. I have seen pictures of Hiroshima
and Nagasaki after the atom bomb was dropped in World War II and
this looks very similar, except for the burn. In Vietnam I saw
B-52 strikes and 24 hour artillery barrages, and I never saw anything
like this. I saw Charleston after Hurricane Hugo a few years ago,
and while the damage there was severe, most of it could be repaired.
South Florida has to be 100% totally rebuilt. It is truly a wasteland.
You think of Florida as a green tropical paradise and it used
to be in this area. However, winds reported to be in excess to
200 mph blew every leaf from every tree. There is no green. One
person I met is even missing his newly sodded lawn. It literally
ripped the grass right off the ground. Large malls and shopping
centers and other concrete commercial structures were completely
reduced to rubble. I saw a bowling alley that was constructed
out of 14" steel I-beams, all of which were twisted like
spaghetti in a bowl.
I am writing this fourteen days after the event and there is
still no electricity other than what is supplied by generators.
At present, new power lines are being run from South Miami and
they are still about fifteen miles away from the town of Homestead.
For those of you who don't know, south Florida could well be the
world's largest patio. It evidently used to be under the ocean,
and as a sea floor it was totally covered with coral. This coral
still remains a few inches beneath the surface of the ground.
Coral is not rock, but it's very close to being rock. It's more
like pumice. You can dig it pretty easily with a pick, but it's
tough enough to create a sizable problem should you decide to
put in underground utilities. Trenching would be very expensive.
This layer extends to a depth of many, many feet, so for all practical
purposes, the entire area is sitting on a bed of solid stone.
Because of that, all utilities were above ground and all the utilities
are gone, so are street signs, road signs, stop lights and everything
else in the world that was once powered by electricity.
At present, the entire area is heavily patrolled by the military
and military aircraft are everywhere. There are helicopters bringing
in supplies of food and water and ice, and soldiers are stationed
throughout the entire area with loaded rifles to discourage looters.
Jeeps with loudspeakers are travelling throughout the area giving
messages as to the whereabouts of shelter and food, and advising
people in certain districts that this area will be bulldozed on
a certain date and any personal belongings left there will be
taken away. This is truly a world class disaster. There are messages
written on pieces of siding stuck up in piles of rubble that used
to be people's homes telling missing family members where the
rest of the family can be contacted.
Insurance companies have written in spray paint claim numbers
and dates on many, many structures and homes to be sure that they
don't get counted twice. One insurance adjustor I saw was looking
in vain for a house whose owner had filed a claim, and could not
find it. She said she was having that problem a lot, so in a case
like that, the homeowner has to prove it existed before the storm
and they will settle the claim as a total loss.
The reason I came to south Florida was not merely to satisfy
my curiosity about the damage and destruction. I felt it would
be a wonderful opportunity for me to see what effect installation
may have on the stability of the homes. In my opinion, it had
a lot to do with it. You may have a box leaving the factory that
is certified at 25 psf wind load, but if it's not anchored correctly,
with a good foundation under it, it will not meet that criteria.
I spent four days looking at things that went right and things
that went wrong. From an installer's point of view, I reached
on very definite conclusion. Manufactured housing is plenty strong
when it's properly set up, and it's mighty week when it's not.
All the engineering and inspection of the design and the construction
by the people in the little white coats that crawl all over these
things at the factory is a complete waste of time if this same
manufacturer's instructions are not followed in the installation
of the home. Our housing is an engineering dream. It produces
a stronger home with less material than any other building code
in the country. It's tested and certified to perform as it's supposed
to. It's a very high tech structure and requires a very precise
installation if it is to meet its performance criteria. Just the
way you wrap the strap around the I-beam to anchor it makes a
very big difference. The straps that were pulling from the bottom
of the I-beam pried the lag bolts out of the floor of the structure
like a claw hammer pulls a nail and the structure was missing.
Homes that did not have an adequate foundation under them,
although they were standing before the storm crushed their blocks
and blew away during the storm. Many anchors were ripped out of
the ground because apparently many people felt that concrete poured
around a coral anchor, which was placed into a hole in the coral,
would hold. I am sure when you looked at the finished product,
it seemed like it ought to hold. It was, after all, imbedded in
concrete. It is contrary to the instructions of how you install
a coral anchor, but it just seemed good enough, maybe better.
I saw hundreds of coral anchors with balls of concrete around
them laying on top of smashed homes. They popped out of the ground
Many homes did survive the big blow. They all received some
damage, but at least the homeowner's possessions were kept in
one spot. I saw hundreds of homes that were blown away, as well
as the contents and there is absolutely no telling where it all
went. It is just out there with the rest of the trash, somewhere
within a mile probably
Please don't get the wrong impression about this. Our houses,
nor anyone else's down there, was ever meant to stand the kind
of winds that Andrew brought. But Andrew was 200 mph or more only
in its center. The further you got away from the center, the less
the wind was. A hundred and fifty miles away from the center of
this storm, it wasn't even a very bad day, so while the homes
in the eye of the storm obviously were doomed, homes about 35
miles away from the eye were within the structural tolerance mandated
by the HUD code. These are the homes that should have survived.
Even so, how can one know that a tornado didn't dip down suddenly
and rip a path. It obviously did these things in other types of
housing, and I am sure it did it in manufactured housing communities.
Well north of the storm, I saw a 450-unit community where one
home, and one home only, received any significant damage. It was
located in the exact center of the community and it was totally
destroyed. Most other people didn't even lose an awning. It was
obviously the victim of a downburst or a tornado touched it. Many
homes were destroyed by the flying debris from other homes, or
billboards or trees or cars or trucks. Everything was in the air
in south Florida. It's one thing to say our housing did no worse
than anyone else's. Conversely, like all other forms of housing
in Dade County, we could have also done a little better.
Right now, politician's and the press and the lawyers are having
a feeding frenzy. In a few days it will be off the national news,
and in a few weeks it will be off the local news in south Florida
and things will calm down considerably. Let us not forget the
lessons we have hopefully learned from this. Learn to read the
manual and do what it says. Those engineers actually do know what
they are talking about and it's our responsibility as installers
to follow their directions. If you find you can't do that, call
the engineer and ask him how he expects you to. Work out the problem
with the factory. Do not invent your own solutions, for if we
continue on with a business as usual attitude, this truly will
have been an ill wind that blew nobody no good.