Should you ride out a hurricane in a high-rise?
By: Sabrina Orlov •
“Should I stay or should I go?” sang The Clash in 1981.
That’s the same question Miami high-rise dwellers could be asking themselves as hurricane season enters its busiest stretch.
Thousands of people who weren’t around for Hurricane Andrew — or didn’t live in a high-rise — now reside inside modern condo and apartment towers that meet some of the strictest building codes in the U.S., capable of withstanding winds up to 175 mph.
But most of those new towers are located in coastal areas — Miami Beach, Coconut Grove, Brickell, Sunny Isles — and could be under evacuation order depending on hurricane-track and storm-surge forecasts. So even though you’d probably be safe inside your 35th-floor condo, you could be cut off from police and emergency services in case of flooding.
Most high-rise condos were built after Hurricane Andrew. The high-rise building boom didn’t begin until after 2000, and from 2002 to the present day, 42,890 condos have been built in Miami-Dade east of Interstate 95, according to Peter Zalewski, a principal with the real estate consultancy Cranespotters.com. Another 9,098 units are currently under construction.
Out of those post-2000 units, 64 percent (27,589 ) are in the downtown Miami/Brickell area.
According to a study conducted by the risk assessment group Karen Clark & Company for the Stronger Safer Florida coalition, an Andrew-sized hurricane hitting South Florida today would result in insured losses of nearly $50 billion. (The cost of insured losses after Andrew in 1992 was $15.1 billion — or $26 billion in today’s dollars.)
If the storm veered north toward downtown, away from the southwestern track Andrew took, the insured losses could reach $200 billion.
“Comparing Miami today to 1992 is like comparing apples and oranges,” KCC co-founder Karen Clark said. “The biggest drivers are increasing construction and the increasing cost of that construction. It costs more than twice as much today to repair the same damage. There are also a lot more people living in West Kendall and Homestead today, so there are more and bigger houses. That drives up the amount of damage and insured losses.”
Some buildings have been upgraded in keeping with tougher construction standards. After Hurricane Wilma blew out windows from the Four Seasons and Conrad Hotels in 2005, leaving giant shards of glass strewn along Brickell Avenue, they were replaced with tempered glass that shatters into tiny cubes.
But older buildings that have not been reworked remain vulnerable.
“When something is removed or replaced, the new addition has to comply with the current building codes,” said Michael L. Goolsby, Board and Code Administration Division Director for Miami-Dade County. “But there’s no trigger that would require an existing building to be renovated. There are still a lot of buildings that wouldn’t pass the requirements for new construction.”
Fortunately, most of Miami’s residential high-rises meet the stricter codes that would protect their inhabitants during a storm. But Alex Lastra, president of the Latin Builders Association, says that doesn’t mean people should think of them as fortresses.
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high rise, real estate, hurricane irma, safety, Miami, Orlando, Florida