MIAMI - Isaac is forecast to bring tropical storm force wind to Southwest Florida this weekend. And while the wind will be little compared to that produced by Hurricane Andrew 20 years ago, lessons learned from Andrew have made our buildings the most wind resistant in the country.
Hurricane Andrew's destruction set a new precedent for building codes and materials in south Florida. Now, a new facility at Florida International University tests those codes in category five winds.
As Florida International University's wall of wind roars to life, memories of Andrew's terror flood Sandy Gonzalez-Levy, an administrator at FIU.
"It's basically like a train right inside your house; it's terrifying, it really is...We ended up in a closet with my three children, husband and two dogs, and it was very scary," she says.
Sandy's Coral Gables home survived Andrew's assault with moderate damage, but 175,000 Floridians weren't as lucky and left homeless. Weak structures and poor building codes were to blame for the excessive damage.
The harrowing aftermath is one researchers and scientists at the International Hurricane Research Center at FIU vow to mitigate. Partially funded by the Hurricane Andrew We Will Rebuild effort, the goal of the research is to create a more resilient community by improving building structures and codes.
"We know hurricanes are going to come back. So it has to become a way of life, a culture to learn how we can take structures, build them stronger so where we live we'll be able to ride out the storm that much better," explains Erik Salna, Associate Director of the International Hurricane Research Center.
Recreating the force of a Category 5 hurricane, the Wall of Wind exhibits the strengths and weaknesses of a building's materials. A simulation at the Wall of Wind displayed two roofs, one built to the code in existance when Hurricane Andrew struck, and the other built to current south florida code. As the wind speed increases, shingles begin to peal back on both homes. Then, on the pre-Andrew roof, the underlayment flies away exposing half inch plywood sheathing. Held down only by nails, the sheathing flies away from part of the roof, exposing the interior structure to water damage.
"We've come a long way with building codes, no question. new construction has come a long way. but still there's a lot of work to be done," says Salna.