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A Little Would Have Gone a Long Way in Damaged Houses Ed: A version also moved on business

October 4, 1992

A Little Would Have Gone a Long Way in Damaged Houses Ed: A version also moved on business wires.

MIAMI (AP) _ For a substantial part of Hurricane Andrew’s housing destruction, the explanation may come down to a bag of nails.

Wind experts say that may have meant the difference between simple roof repairs and bulldozing the American dream. Many of the homes simply weren’t nailed together sufficiently.

The demolition job inflicted on the Homestead area left little to examine, but damaged Miami suburbs to the north are ripe for scrutiny and second- guessing.

″The hurricane stripped the emperor of his clothes and laid bare all the problems underneath,″ said homeowners’ attorney Doug Lyons.

With more than 135,000 damaged homes to consider, a Dade County grand jury is focusing on allegations of pervasive building code violations at five subdivisions built in the last 10 years, and lawyers who specialize in class- action cases are filing suits and hiring experts.

″We have found violations in most subdivisions, irrespective of who the builders are,″ said engineer John Pistorino, who is advising a county task force drafting post-storm building code changes and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The inspection system has been faulted as inadequate and lax, but the county is immune to lawsuits.

The hurricane hit Aug. 24 and became the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history at $20 billion plus.

Peter Sparks, professor of civil engineering at Clemson University and a member of the national Wind Engineering Research Council, a study group that examined structural damage days after Andrew hit, cited a common flaw: not enough nails holding roof plywood to the rafters.

The code calls for nails every 6 inches around the edge and every foot in the trusses. Sparks said both distances were stretched.

″The annoying thing about it is they probably saved very little - literally it was within a bag of nails per house,″ said Sparks.

Lawsuits are targeting Lennar Corp., widely lauded as Florida’s biggest homebuilder, and Arvida-JMB Partners, which was part of Walt Disney Corp. in the mid-1980s.

Lennar Chairman Leonard Miller, whose company has built 20,000 Dade County homes and faces lawsuits over six developments, blamed damage on ″crazy wind forces″ and lawsuits on ″unsavory lawyers,″ saying their claims are ″totally without foundation.″

Arvida Chairman Bud Miller, no relation, has turned over the company’s hurricane study to independent experts and said he thought it was premature to draw conclusions.

Country Walk, a 1,700-house upscale subdivision built by Arvida, Weitzer Homes and Kendall Country Estates, is a virtual ghost town.

Most houses are total losses. Occasional repair crews are at work, but most places are deserted. Spray-painted insurance company names, policy numbers and graffiti (″We Better Be In Good Hands″) are the only recent signs of human habitation.

When plywood sections flew off the roof, wind and rain tore through ceilings and made a mess in a picture-perfect community where prices once started at $86,900. Sparks said roof failures put the outside walls in danger, and many buckled.

″It’s so sad to hear, and I’ve heard this story over and over, of people who were locked up in their bathrooms with their pregnant wives and their little children holding these bathroom doors shut, praying out loud that they would not be killed,″ said attorney Stewart Williams, who has inspected more than 60 Country Walk homes for a lawsuit.

From top to bottom, other complaints include: improperly installed shingles and tar paper, roof sheathing nails that missed trusses, defective or rotten plywood and two-by-fours, lack of roof truss cross supports, missing hurricane straps tying an upper wall beam to the roof and inadequate bolting of the walls to the foundation.

Both companies say they built according to code - meant to withstand 120 mph winds - and concede minor defects may have gotten by them.

Arvida’s Miller said, ″No one’s perfect, so sure there’ll be mistakes every now and then.

″But were they widespread?″

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