After Ian: Experts look at construction concerns

LEE COUNTY, Fla. – In our continuing series on the lessons learned from hurricane Ian, we take a look at how various structures stood up to or failed in the face of this ferocious storm.

Florida already has one of the strictest building codes in the nation but certainly not every home in Lee and Collier counties, the two hardest hit areas, met those standards

This building under construction just off Fort Myers beach stands as a stark example of the importance of construction standards.

It suffered no damage, while every structure around it now lies in ruins.

Dr. Fred Bloetscher, a professor of civil engineering at Florida Atlantic University, joined me at ground zero to analyze various types of construction in the hardest-hit areas.

“The kind of standard of the industry is what you see behind us here it’s concrete block but it’s not just concrete block.  it’s concrete block, every two blocks there’s reinforced horizontal steel and there’s also vertical steel that goes all the way from the foundation up to the tie beam,” Bloetscher said.

Concrete block structures that weren’t reinforced to the current Florida building code quickly crumbed under the pressure from Ian’s wind and water.

“It’s just a bunch of blocks because there’s nothing to hold it together,” Bloetscher said.

He also said Homes made from wood, unless it’s hearty Miami-Dade County pine, which is now practically extinct, are also no match for a major storm.

“If you come over and get lesser grades of wood they bend too much that’s the problem, then bend too much they snap,” he said.

Bloetscher said without question, manufactured housing and mobile homes are not storm sturdy.

“The most important to note is they in no way shape or form meet the Florida building code standards and there’s a reason why every emergency management organization says ‘get out of your mobile home’,” he said.

Bloetscher said an issue compounding construction concern is the fact that outside of the southeast area, many builders are skirting the Florida building code, including the use of particle board.

“As soon as it gets wet it swells so if you’re using that for a building material on the side of a building if it gets wet, all of a sudden your building’s going to bubble,” he said.

And while we found tall buildings, like condominiums, still standing,  Bloetscher says there are reasonable concerns that the piling caps which support some of these structures have been compromised by the onslaught of salt water.

Tomorrow we’ll start to drill down into specific aspects of construction to see what held up, and what failed.

About the Authors:

Michael Lowry is Local 10's Hurricane Specialist and Storm Surge Expert.

Veteran journalist Kathleen Corso is the special projects producer for Local 10 News.