No building could have stood up to Irma’s winds

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Category 5-plus Irma was described as “a fluke of nature,” and no home built under the current windspeed thresholds could have withstood her 185 mph winds, which ravaged Barbuda’s building stock nine days ago.
This estimation came from Linda Dias, chief architect of the Montserrat government, after she was asked whether the inattention to building codes in Barbuda had a role to play in the destruction.
“Really and truly the conclusion essentially was that Hurricane Irma was a fluke of nature, and it was just a lot more than what our buildings could withstand. It’s not a reflection on our building code,” Dias said.
Colin John Jenkins, vice president of the Antigua & Barbuda Institute of Architects, said that not even properly built homes could go undamaged in the record-breaking storm.
The average resident in Antigua and Barbuda cannot afford a home that can withstand Category 5 hurricanes, Jenkins said, unless they are built like underground bunkers that are used for security during bomb threats.
Even if a property is built according to the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) highest building code standard, which allows for wind speeds at 180 mph, Dias said Irma’s winds surpassed that, so a building would have “considerable failure.”
The Montserratian architect warned that building codes may come with the best recommendations, but the “real problem is affordability, and if you increase the minimum standards the cost does go up.”
The OECS building code was updated in 2015, but Jenkins emphasized that only “after things happen or when lessons are learned” can they be changed.
Moreover, he said any law can be made, “but if it is not properly enforced [or] respected, it is not valuable or efficient.”
The Development Control Authority (DCA) approves building construction plans, but often contractors and homeowners ignore its recommendations. “If you want to do things right, you hire the right professionals. You understand there is a cost involved, and you don’t cheat the system,” Jenkins said.  His advice: “adhere to the building codes, because the DCA does their best with what they have.”
Both experts were interviewed during the OBSERVER AM programme.

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