Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Carmel on the Case: Andrew Construction: 20 Years Later
When hurricane Andrew blew though South Florida. It blew away entire neighborhoods. Should those homes have stood up better in the storm? Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero questioned construction then and is doing the same today.
It was a few weeks after Andrew and that fear had become reality. So many lost so much so fast. There was devastation in many communities. But the worst cases were in neighborhoods constructed after the South Florida building code had been weakened.
Homeowner: "Nobody that lived in this development has anything left basically. I mean these homes didn't hold up to anything."
Carmel Cafiero: "This is your roof right? This is what your roof was made of?"
Homeowners were stunned to discover their roofs had been made out of particle board. Exterior walls that looked like wood were made of Masonite.
Homeowner: "When I purchased this house, I was under the impression by looking at it that it was wood. It's only after the hurricane that I am now seeing that I was living inside cardboard."
As you might expect people were angry at both builders and Miami-Dade county.
Carmel Cafiero: "Can we trust you? A lot of people don't trust Building and Zoning any more."
20 years ago, Charlie Danger was a building official. Today he is the director of the Building Department.
Carmel Cafiero: "Are we safer today than we were 20 years ago?"
Charlie Danger: "The answer to that is yes. We are a lot safer than we were before."
Danger says today we are better protected by a stronger building code and better educated builders. But before Andrew, he acknowledges the old code had been weakened by politics and profits.
Charlie Danger: "It did play a part. It did play a part. And you were very instrumental in digging all that up."
Charlie Danger: "Cause they were cutting corners. They were making money you know, nature of the beast let's put it that way. We all learned a lesson and we cannot let people forget."
And when it came to rebuilding, victims of hurricane Andrew became victims again. Unlicensed and unethical contractors preyed on desperate homeowners just trying to get their lives back together.
Contractor: "I don't take any money from nobody."
It added insult to injury.
Contractor: "Does she have to have that camera in my face?"
Carmel Cafiero: "You betcha."
Contractor: "Don't point that camera at me. "Turn it off."
Carmel Cafiero: "No."
They put up cracked roof trusses.
Carmel Cafiero: "Would you want your family under that truss the next time a big blow comes through?"
They put up roofs that could not pass inspection. It put pressure on people still traumatized after having their homes explode around them during the hurricane.
Nick Riscigno: "For twenty minutes, the thought of my son's ... I need just a minute. Bleed to death in my arms and we all went though all this."
And some contractors simply took insurance money and vanished.
Homeowner: "Sometimes I say, let's go in the car. Let's go someplace and kill each other you know. It's really hard."
It was hard and there seemed to be no relief from the heat and the heartache. Today, there have been unsuccessful efforts to water down the current building code.
Experts warn we need to make sure that code is not weakened and that we never forget what happened to us and why.