South Florida learned a lot as a result of Hurricane Andrew. In my opinion, the biggest lesson learned was that we needed to build stronger.
Many homeowners who had their homes damaged or destroyed lost confidence in the South Florida Building Code that was in place at the time. There was plenty of blame to go around. Fingers were pointed at the shortcomings in the building code itself, shoddy construction by the home builder, and lack of adequate code enforcement. The bottom line is that much of the damage could have been prevented.
An excellent example can be seen in this one picture, taken by then National Hurricane Center Director Dr. Bob Sheets. The picture was taken by Bob during a helicopter survey after Andrew and shows an area to the south of Country Walk that experienced the strong northern eyewall. The houses at the bottom of the picture had extensive damage. Most roofing tiles and some roof sheathing are missing from many of the homes. Damage was tremendous in this development during Andrew but the extensive roof damage allowed water to get into the homes from rains even weeks after the hurricane. Bad things happen when water gets inside. Most of the homeowners in this development had to move out of their homes while major repairs were made.
The Munne Estates (the homes with the red tile roofs) at the top of the picture show a stark contrast. These homes showed very little overall damage. The builder, Raul Munne, said that he used plywood, not pressed board, for the roof sheathing. And the plywood was 5/8 inch thick rather than 1/2 inch allowed by the code in 1992. Munne also used nails that were driven in by hand, not by a nail gun, to secure the roof sheathing. He properly braced gable ends and applied a full bed of mortar rather than small blobs to secure the tile.
And the Munne Estates used their own inspectors to catch mistakes in construction rather than rely on county inspectors. The end result was that the folks living in this development could stay in their homes after the hurricane.
By the way, the Munne Estates were located to the east of the homes at the bottom of the picture, meaning that the strong winds had to move over the Munne Estates before striking the more damaged homes to the west.
The Dade County grand jury addressing Hurricane Andrew made numerous recommendations. Fortunately for South Florida residents, we have benefited from the resulting improvements in the building code, changes in construction practices, and more adequate inspections.
It should be noted that previous Dade County grand juries also urged improvements in the way houses are built and inspected. Let’s hope that we don’t need another grand jury after the next major hurricane to tell us the same thing.