Those worrisome cranes and loose boards? Here’s how builders prepare for a hurricane

Hurricane Dorian moves away from NC coast after Cape Hatteras landfall

Hurricane Dorian made landfall over Cape Hatteras, NC at 8:35 a.m, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm pounded the coast with heavy rain and wind, causing severe flooding and power outages across the state.
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Hurricane Dorian made landfall over Cape Hatteras, NC at 8:35 a.m, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm pounded the coast with heavy rain and wind, causing severe flooding and power outages across the state.

Construction cranes are either being moved out, tied up to a building or left standing on construction sites to ride out high-speed winds, something they are built to do.

Some cranes are left on sites of high-rise developments because there’s not enough time to dismantle them, a task that takes weeks to do on certain types of cranes. But if a crane left standing is well-greased and capable of swinging in the wind without hitting a building, the contractor feels confident the equipment will withstand Dorian.

Cranes remain a concern for county officials after some snapped in 2017 during Hurricane Irma. Some fell with winds of about 100 miles per hour, despite a state requirement that they be able to withstand 145 mile-per-hour winds.

Worries that the cranes would hurt people or property caused the evacuation of two residential buildings. Resumption of Metromover service also was delayed after the 2017 storm because of worries that a broken crane hanging over the tracks could be a hazard.

All three of those cranes were of the same model model, SK 315 Hammerhead Tower Cranes, and were not used in Miami last year during hurricane season.

But contractors said cranes are not their only concerns as they await Hurricane Dorian. Storing other equipment, potential price hikes on construction materials after the storm and delays on their projects are weighing on their minds too.

“We cleaned the sites early,” said Sean Murphy, co-president of Coastal Construction. Construction materials are stacked and strapped down or stored in a warehouse. Other materials were tossed and dumpsters were emptied.

Hurricane preparation plans were the same across the state for Coastal Construction, which has more than 20 projects in Orlando, Tampa, Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

The building itself, depending on the stage of the project, might be boarded up. Floors are waterproofed to minimize the effect of water that may drizzle in. Decks scheduled for a concrete pour receive them ahead of the storm.

Another general contracting company with projects across the state, Richard and Rice Construction, started preparations Tuesday.

“We are securing all loose building materials, bracing block walls, filling block rake walls with concrete and cleaning up every piece of debris that could fly in the wind. We are accelerating all schedules so the structures are secure for all hurricane conditions,” Murray Rice, Richard and Rice Construction’s co-owner, wrote in an email.

His company works on 15 multi-family and residential projects in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, including D.R. Horton’s Rosecrest development in Homestead and Lennar Homes’ Parkland Bay in western Broward. He told the Herald that loose debris and old materials were tossed into dumpsters. Other materials were picked up, banded or stored. Concrete is poured into a building’s blocks to help it withstand wind damage.

“Everything is buttoned up,” said Rice.

Like Murphy, Rice implemented the same preparation strategy on his projects across the state. “Storms are unpredictable. They don’t always go where they say they’re going to go. We look at the state as a whole,” Rice said.

Other contractors started preparations later in the week.

Due to Labor Day weekend and the possibility of being short-staffed Saturday and Sunday, Brad Meltzer, president of Plaza Construction, said his team started mid-week. ‘’It’s difficult to prepare due to the holiday weekend. We needed to take advantage during the work week.”

The contractor for Zaha Hadid’s One Thousand Museum building in downtown Miami, Meltzer said, “Everything is secured. We want to make sure things don’t go airborne before we go home today.”

Of the 20-plus projects, Murphy said about 15 of those have cranes, with the majority in Miami and Sunny Isles.

“Every crane is a little different. Each crane has specific engineering,” Murphy said.

Some kinds of cranes can move off site quickly, while others remain in place until construction is completed.

Some cranes at Murphy’s sites are lowered while others remain vertical and are tied to buildings. Others, left freestanding, have their turntables greased and are prepared to spin freely in the wind like a weather vane. Cranes that spin freely must have an unrestricted 360-degree radius to move, ensuring that it will not hit the project or nearby buildings.

Weathervaning is a good thing, said Jim Robertson, president and CEO of AmeriCrane Rentals. “People worry about spinning like helicopters, but you want that to spin. In cases that they don’t do that, cranes become rigid and it’s not made to be rigid” because then it is susceptible to snapping, he said.

Construction executives are also concerned about the effects Dorian could have on business.

The cost of construction materials could jump, depending on how severe the storm is. Rice saw plywood prices increase after Irma.

Expecting that they will be eager to catch up on lost time, contractors plan to return to their sites soon after Dorian passes or moves away from South Florida. “As soon as the storm passes, we’ll be out there unless some cities, like Sunny Isles or Miami Beach, don’t allow it,” said Murphy.

Sometimes there’s an access issue when municipal officials “haven’t determined an area is completely safe and don’t want unnecessary people to come back,” said attorney Josh Atlas of Saul Ewing Arnstein and Lehr. “The fewer people, the less activity that’s out there and the less authorities have to worry about safety and security.”

Preparation time before Hurricane Dorian’s arrival and clean up after it passes are expected to cause construction delays. Even for sites with no damage, Meltzer has seen storms cause delays of three to six days.

“The bad news is the storm is moving slow so we lose a lot of progress in the building. The good side of it is we get a little more time to prepare,” Murphy said.

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