Damaged – and repairable
In a residential neighborhood near the center of a monster tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma last month, two partially damaged houses stand like an island among others flattened by the storm.
The walls and roofs of the buildings in a new housing development called Featherstone Addition are still upright while there is nothing left but a concrete foundation where other homes once stood nearby.
The two homes were not completely spared but are salvageable, according to David Prevatt, a civil engineer who saw them when he surveyed the damage after Moore took a direct hit from an EF5 tornado, the strongest rating.
He is convinced that the two houses survived because they were built stronger than most in Oklahoma and the rest of “tornado alley” – the region stretching from Texas to Iowa that accounts for roughly a fourth of all U.S. tornadoes.
“This notion that we cannot engineer buildings economically to withstand tornado loads is a fallacy,” said Prevatt, who has studied damage from hurricanes and the devastating tornadoes in 2011 in Joplin, Missouri and Tuscaloosa, Alabama…
Damage costs are rising because of increased population density, even in mostly rural states such as Oklahoma, which has seen substantial urban sprawl in the last decade, said Greg Carbin, Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.
Another important reason that has received less attention, is that most homes in tornado alley are not built to withstand even a modest tornado.
The result is that residents of tornado alley, insurance companies and the U.S. government are footing a mounting bill from damage that could be limited with better construction, according to several engineers, meteorologists and consumer advocates interviewed by Reuters.
“We have to stop this cycle of a storm coming along destroying things and we build them back the same,” said Leslie Chapman-Henderson, chief executive of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, a consumer group. “That is the official definition of insanity.”
Oklahoma should follow the example of Florida after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and adopt a tougher building code to reduce damage in future, said Prevatt, Assistant Professor of Civil and Coastal Engineering at the University of Florida.
RTFA for a boatload of detailed information and analysis. Useful stuff – in a society that responds to thoughtful, scientific study. Unfortunately, that definition doesn’t especially include the United States.
International building codes, the standards for safety and sustenance, generally are about a decade ahead of the United States. Any progressive moves on the world stage take at least that long before consideration gets on the US agenda – Congress and the corporations supplying building materials to American homebuilders. The National Association of Home Builders starts work on analysis and understanding immediately if not sooner – but, everyone in the NAHB knows that the adoption process will be slower than the average tortoise.
Now, we could make regional changes based on what Florida and the hurricane states have learned. That’s still too easy for the States’ Rights crowd. You have to understand that a minor percentage of residents in Tornado Alley – and especially their favorite conservative politicians – still hate the idea of building standards, code ordinances and zoning.