Monday, May 15, 2006
7 News Features: Water Hazard
Summer's just around the corner and that means lots of kids will be splashing in the water. But in this Seven News Investigation, we've learned some backyard pools and lakes have a hidden water hazard caused by last year's hurricane season. 7's Lynn Martinez has more in this special assignment report.
WSVN--Roofs blown off...
Property torn apart.
It was a rough hurricane season for South Florida.
And while life may be back to normal for many of us, it can never be the same for Joyce White.
Joyce White: "I breath my grandchildren. Garcie, I woke up to him. I went to sleep to him, and he was everything in the world to us."
Two months ago, Joyce's youngest grandson, three-and-a-half year old Garcie Luna, drowned in her neighbor's pool.
Joyce White: "I was outside with him and i got a phone call. And within two minutes, Garcie was gone."
Joyce searched the neighborhood, never suspecting the pool next door.
But it turns out her neighbor's fence had fallen down during Hurricane Wilma.
And while the neighbors did put the fence back up, Joyce says they never finished the job and Garcie walked over and fell into their pool.
Joyce White: "If they put a fence up -- gate up -- if the law was enforced this would not have happened."
What happened to Garcie isn't an isolated incident.
Last October, a three-year-old boy made it past his neighbor's hurricane damaged fence and drowned in their pool.
And last month, a game of basketball in Oakland Park turned tragic for 16-year-old Mcdonald Cherfils.
Before Hurricane Wilma, a fence used to stop balls from going in the water.
On this day, Cherfils waded in to get the ball back, but never made it out.
Joyce White: "It's a danger to all kids."
Diane Holm: "If the fencing is not in place, it is a serious, serious risk."
Diane Holm with the national drowning prevention alliance says according to Florida's building code, if you have a pool, you must have a perimeter fence to keep people out.
But in backyard pool after pool -- from Cooper City to Hialeah, to Southwest Miami-Dade -- we spotted this water hazard for ourselves.
Diane Holm: "It's a major hazard. Absolutely, what fencing they have left isn't doing any good."
Broken fences propped up with two-by-fours...
Others with loose or broken orange netting...
Diane Holm: "People are worried about their home and their roof and all kinds of things like that, they don't know what tragedy is until they've had someone die in their pool."
Holm says city and county code enforcement officers should be doing more to prevent tragedies, but so should homeowners.
Diane Holm: "People don't have an excuse anymore."
Maurice Murray: "The issue of the fences down is a major concern."
In the city of Fort Lauderdale, where Garcie drowned, inspectors have been issuing citations and speeding up the permit process to have fences fixed.
But finding a contractor is also a problem.
Maurice Murray: "We did hope that by the end of this hurricane season a lot more work would be done, but it hasn't."
Lynn Martinez: "Experts say temporary fencing, like this orange mesh, is better then nothing. But accoridng to the law, a pool fence should be at least four feet high and support 52 pounds of pressure."
Mark Press: "Unfortunately if your fence was knocked down by the hurricane and your property does not comply with those requirements, you are negligent."
And while police have never strongly enforced the law, the families of the victims wish more was done to protect their loved ones.
Joyce White: "Take the time and put up a fence. It's too late once a child dies to do anything about it. I'll never be right again."
Lynn Martinez: "Pools built after October 2000 are also required to have a baby fence as an extra layer of protection. Fort Lauderdale congresswoman Carey Wasserman-Schultz is now proposing legislation to make that law retroactive, requiring all pools have the extra protection."
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