Floridians are preparing for the worst as Hurricane Irma hurdles toward the U.S. after already tearing through islands in the Caribbean.
The Category 5 hurricane is expected to make landfall in Southern Florida over the weekend, bringing high winds that could be up to 185 mph, flying debris and significant flooding. But even as they ready for what could be a historic and potentially deadly storm, developers in Miami-Dade county are confident in the construction of today’s luxury high-rises.
“The reason why we aren’t devastated by storms like this like they are elsewhere in the world is because we are prepared for this,” said Gil Dezer, the president of Dezer Development. The firm, based in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, is behind many new high-rises in the Miami area, including the recently opened beachfront 60-story Porsche Design Tower in Sunny Isles Beach.
Mr. Dezer said the building can withstand whatever Hurricane Irma brings.
“The way these buildings are built, these storms are nothing,” he said.
There are about 10 families living in the building now, and as far as Mr. Dezer knows, they are staying put. Residences start at the seventh floor, which is 70 feet in the air, so they are safe from flooding and flying debris, Mr. Dezer said. But if anything is flying that high, the windows are shatterproof. In addition, the windows can withstand 180 mph winds.
The company secured the site by bringing in anything that could be picked up by the wind, including anything from building materials to deck chairs, and has secured extra pumps to keep water out of the lower floors, as well as the elevator pit. Members of the building’s staff will stay on throughout the storm..
One feature of the building is that each unit has its own parking for the owners’ cars. Many owners who have not yet moved in to the building, but have closed on apartments there, have moved their cars to the tower this week, Mr. Dezer said. He added that he has moved some of his own cars into the building, and that a local Lamborghini dealer had taken similar precautions.
“If there’s flooding in a typical garage, the cars are going to get wet,” he said. “It could cause total damage, so people are being prudent.”
And for good reason, as the hurricane has already wreaked havoc in the Caribbean, causing at least seven deaths and widespread damage to the islands of Puerto Rico, St. Martin and Barbuda, among others, according to the Wall Street Journal. It’s expected to land in the Florida Keys and Southern Florida over the weekend, and continue up the state, the WSJ reported.
As of Thursday afternoon, more than 650,000 coastal residents of Miami-Dade county have been ordered to evacuate by Mayor Carlos Gimenez, according to the Miami Herald. It’s the largest order s since Hurricane Wilma in 2005, and includes Miami Beach and the county’s other barrier islands, Miami’s two main office and condo districts downtown and on Brickell Avenue, large portions of South Dade, Homestead and parts of Coral Gables, South Miami, Miami Shores and North Miami Beach.
On Thursday, the eye of “extremely dangerous” Hurricane Irma is moving between Hispaniola and the Turks and Caicos islands, according to the National Hurricane Center. President Donald Trump declared that a state of emergency in Florida on Wednesday, ordering federal assistance.
Jill Eber, one half of the Miami Beach-based real-estate firm the Jills, said in an email on Thursday that everyone at the firm was in transit due to the mandate. Still, she is confident that the city can withstand the storm.
“Our local government leaders are extremely astute of our environment and infrastructure needs,” Ms. Eber wrote in an email. “The building developers here are among the best in the world and the most knowledgeable about today’s building technology.”
Some of that knowledge has been hard earned, according to Dan Whiteman, the vice-chairman of Coastal Construction. He said past storms have taught builders and politicians about how to protect the city from damage.
Hurricane Andrew in 1992 was the first “real wake-up call,” Mr. Whiteman said. “Thousands and thousands of homes were destroyed.”
Andrew, also a Category 5 hurricane, was the first storm of that caliber to hit the area in 50 years, he added, and much of the damage was caused by flying debris, as opposed to the high winds. That’s anything from street signs to lawn chairs, which caused windows to break and glass to fly.
Because of the extensive damage it caused, developers, city planners and other officials got together and revised all of the building codes in the area, Mr. Whiteman said. That includes everything from the kind of glass used in windows to roof tiles to guidelines about how to prepare construction sites and tower cranes.
Mr. Whiteman said that although buildings can withstand the storm, he wouldn’t recommend sitting it out in one. That’s because of the expected storm surge, which could be from seven to 10 feet.
“Even an average storm will flood the streets of Miami Beach,” he said. And if the area is flooded out, the elevators and generators will mostly likely be out. Mr. Whiteman said he has spoken to several developers, and they suggest residents leave the area, “not because of the buildings themselves, but because of the inconvenience of flooding.”
Rex L. Hamilton, a realtor in Coral Gables, agreed, saying that even those who live in buildings built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane on Florida's barrier islands are leaving. Many go to Coral Gables, which is just a few miles inland, but on higher ground.
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