Hurricane

Construction cranes could be dangerous during Hurricane Irma

Three giant cranes tower over the MiamiCentral Brightline train station in downtown Miami on August 7, 2017. The cranes are designed to spin in the wind like weather vanes, so they don’t need to come down if Hurricane Irma strikes South Florida.
Three giant cranes tower over the MiamiCentral Brightline train station in downtown Miami on August 7, 2017. The cranes are designed to spin in the wind like weather vanes, so they don’t need to come down if Hurricane Irma strikes South Florida.

City of Miami officials have issued a warning about the danger posed by the 20-25 tower construction cranes located at various sites around the city.

While the cranes are built to withstand winds of up to 145 mph, there’s no guarantee they can survive a Category 5 storm.

Maurice Pons, deputy director of the building department for the City of Miami, said in a statement he would not advise staying in a building next to a construction crane during Irma. The cranes use open lattice work to allow the wind to blow through them, so they can spin around like a weather vane during a hurricane.

But while the crane’s arm remains loose, the arm’s counterbalance is very heavy and poses a potential danger to adjacent buildings if the crane collapses.

Smaller cranes, such as luffing or mobile cranes, are laid flat on the ground during a storm and do not pose a threat.

The rest of the usual construction site elements — machinery, lumber, glass and steel — will be locked down and secured by the time Irma’s winds start lashing South Florida.

“Contractors have complex hurricane plans in place. They’ve already had meetings [Tuesday] morning to talk about securing movable materials, stopping deliveries and emptying trash bins,” said Peter Dyga, CEO and president of the Associated Builders and Contractors, a Florida trade organization.

Dyga said that as Hurricane Irma nears, and official watches and warnings are issued, preparation activity at construction sites will ramp up over the next 96 hours. By the time the storm’s first gusts start to blow, the sites will be cleared of debris and shut down.

Eddie Martinez, corporate safety director for MCM, a general and civil contractor specializing in roads and bridges, says hurricane requirements for construction projects vary by municipality. Miami-Dade County projects have hurricane plans built into their contracts.

“Construction on Miami Beach is going to have different requirements than an inland project,” Martinez said. “But each job site has a hurricane plan that is reviewed by a representative of the project’s owner.”

For example, Martinez said that in a project involving roadwork, all barriers and temporary signage are taken down when a hurricane watch is issued (48 hours before landfall). By the time a hurricane warning is announced 24 hours later, workers can be at home with their families.

Dan Whiteman, vice-chairman of Coastal Construction, said that building departments of the various municipalities around Miami-Dade County will start sending out inspectors to major construction sites to make sure the proper preparations are being made.

“Hurricane Andrew was a major wakeup call to the construction industry,” Whiteman said. “Hurricane King was the last big hurricane to hit Miami, and that was in 1950. Everyone was lulled to sleep. But Hurricane Andrew was a learning experience. Flying debris caused as much damage as the wind itself.”

Rene Rodriguez: 305-376-3611, @ReneMiamiHerald

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