Downtown Construction Cranes Could Turn Deadly During Irma, City Warns

Even a novelist reaching for a heavy-handed metaphor about Miami's tendency toward unsafe overdevelopment would have winced at a Tuesday news release sent by the city. That's because it seems the dozens of cranes looming over the new luxury condo towers rising over Brickell and downtown could kill you if Irma makes a direct hit.

Like so much else in Miami, those cranes are marketed as hurricane-safe, but it turns out they're stable in winds of up to only 145 mph. If Category 5 Hurricane Irma's 185 mph maelstrom tears through the heart of urban Miami, city leaders warn, all bets are off.

"There are 20 to 25 construction cranes in the City of Miami. These tower cranes are designed to withstand winds up to 145 miles per hour, not a Category 5 hurricane," warns Maurice Pons, deputy director of Miami's building department. "The crane's arm has to remain loose; it is not tied down. The arm's counterbalance is very heavy and poses a potential danger if the arm collapses."

Pons has a dire warning for anyone planning to ride out Irma in a nearby high-rise: Don't do it. Pons writes that he would "not advise staying in a building next to a construction crane during a major hurricane like Irma."

The danger of colossal collapsing cranes is just one of the unforeseen consequences of Miami's latest skyward building boom. Dozens of gigantic new condo towers have been built across South Florida since 1992's Andrew, the area's last brush with a historic hurricane. In fact, developers have built at least 27,000 condos in downtown and Brickell just since 2002, the Miami Herald reported earlier this year.

All of those new towers are supposedly built to some of the strictest codes in the nation, designed to withstand winds up to 175 mph.

But Irma, in case you missed it, is already blowing faster than that. And building to code is one thing; actually testing the dozens of new towers with a monster storm is a whole other story. Already some of the highest-end buildings in the area have been locked in legal disputes over shoddy construction; at the Icon Brickell, where units retail for upward of $4 million, pools have leaked and shut down parts of the complex, and at another nearby tower, a high-tech garage has gone haywire.

The city's crane warning is just the most surprising reminder that Hurricane Irma could be an unprecedented test for Miami-Dade County. This is a vastly different city from the one that weathered Andrew in 1992. Let's hope all the new development is ready for what Irma might bring this weekend.

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