Two cranes at Miami construction sites have snapped in Irma’s howling winds – Miami Herald

The boom of a crane at an under-construction apartment building in downtown Miami bent and collapsed in Hurricane Irma’s heavy winds around 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

Hours later, the winds brought down a second crane at a condo tower in Miami’s Edgewater neighborhood, roughly two miles north. A video posted on Twitter showed its boom dangling above the unfinished tower.

No injuries were immediately reported. Downtown Miami, normally a bustling hub of tourists and office workers, and Edgewater, a popular residential neighorhood lined with condo towers, were empty because of the storm. Before Irma hit, the city warned residents who live near cranes that the storm could bring grave danger. There are more than 20 construction cranes within city limits.

The cranes are a symbol of the luxury real estate development that drives South Florida’s economy, attracting millions of dollars in foreign investment, even as home prices soar out of reach for locals. The construction industry has fought against stricter regulation of the towering cranes.

Two Miami firefighters watched the boom of the first crane snap, sending bricks toppling to the ground at 300 Biscayne Boulevard, just down the street from Miami’s iconic Freedom Tower, on Sunday morning.

The apartment building, which holds 464 rental apartments, is named Vice.

Its boom is still connected to the tower of the crane by a cable. On Sunday afternoo,n it was hanging partially over the building’s side. People living nearby were urged by city officials to seek shelter in their own buildings away from the side facing the fallen crane, or in a stairwell.

“Tomorrow we’ll assess the damage and try to get the engineering part of it corrected,” said Miami’s Deputy building Director Maurice Pons. “The general contractor has been contacted and he is setting up a team of wreckers to secure the tower.”

John Moriarty & Associates of Florida is the contractor. An executive there did not immediately return a request for comment.

The second accident happened at a project being built by Miami’s biggest developer, the Related Group. The condo, called Gran Paraiso, is at 600 NE 30th Ter. A Related executive and spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

After the first accident, Mayor Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said the city should consider stricter codes for cranes, even if it came at the expense of building projects that generate revenue for the city.

“It’s development in the future versus tropical storms or hurricanes,” Regalado said. “We just can not gamble on the wind.”

The arms of construction cranes are designed to spin around in heavy winds. They can generally sustain winds up to 145 miles per hour. Miami International Airport reported sustained winds of nearly 50 miles an hour and gusts above 70 miles per hour at 9 a.m Sunday. The city has instructed the developers to remove the cranes and secure the sites after the hurricane passes.

After the first accident, city officials rushed up to the fourth floor of the city’s police college, which houses Miami’s emergency operations center, to observe the damage at Vice.

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Regalado, Commissioner Francis Suarez and Pons then rode in an armored SWAT vehicle to the construction site. Regalado — who is not an engineer — said the crane does not appear to have caused any structural damage to the building’s exterior.

But in a phone conference with city officials, Moriarty explained that the crane’s counterweight had fallen through the interior of the construction site, piercing the building’s upper plate.

Kevin Maloney, founder of Vice’s New York-based developer, Property Markets Group, said his firm was working to secure the boom.

“We’re trying to find out what its potential path downward is and how to secure it,” Maloney said by phone. The tower is more than 25 stories high and was set to be completed next fall. Expected monthly lease rates range from $1,600 for a studio to $4,200 for a three-bedroom apartment. PMG is planning a luxury condo project at the same site.

Gran Paraiso is part of a four-tower complex being developed by Related in Edgewater. Prices for units range from $600,000 to $2 million, according to the Real Deal.

Fire Chief Joseph Zahralban said the weather remains too dangerous to send crews out to dismantle the cranes.

“The weather has deteriorated to the point where we’re not comfortable sending anybody out to even evaluate the situation. So our only concern right now is the protection of life, not necessarily property,” Zahralban said. “We’re going to take a look at all the exposures or buildings in close proximity. We’re going to contact those buildings to make them aware of what occurred. We’re not going evacuate them … but we’re going to move them to a safer location in the building.”

No official cause has been determined for the collapse of the cranes. For all we know, “who’s to say a tornado didn’t go through there?” asked Pons, the deputy building director.

The Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating, assisted by the city building department.

Tenants with addresses in buildings surrounding Vice were dialed by “geo-fencing,” a reverse 911 system that robocalled numbers with an alert warning of the crane’s collapse.

On Wednesday, following a press conference, City Manager Daniel Alfonso said there’s not much the city or contractors involved in the projects could have done ahead of the hurricane to take down cranes.

“It’s not like you can call Pepito in Hialeah and he can come take it down. There are few companies that can do it,” he said. “You have to call the company ahead of time. They have to come and prepare.”

“It’s an intense procedure and to take 25 cranes down in a matter of four or five days? It’s not going to happen. It’s not feasible.”

His advice?

“Don’t be next to a crane.”

This story has been corrected to reflect Vice is an apartment tower, not a condo.

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