Michael lays bare Panhandle’s weaker building codes
By GARY FINEOUT
Monday, October 15
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Unlike in South Florida, homes in the state’s Panhandle did not have tighter building codes until just 11 years ago; it was once argued that acres of forests would provide the region with a natural barrier against the savage winds of a hurricane.
When many of the homes on the Panhandle were built, the state had a patchwork of codes from which some buildings here were exempt. Contractors cut corners, using flimsy particle board under roofs instead of sturdier plywood, and staples instead of nails.
Many of those structures did not withstand the fury of Hurricane Michael, which slammed into the area last week with winds of up to 155 mph (250 kph), leaving acres of flattened houses and other buildings in its wake before roaring across the Georgia border inland.
“We’re learning painfully that we shouldn’t be doing those kinds of exemptions,” said Don Brown, a former legislator from the Panhandle who now sits on the Florida Building Commission. “We are vulnerable as any other part of the state. There was this whole notion that the trees were going to help us, take the wind out of the storm. Those trees become projectiles and flying objects.”
Hurricane Andrew a generation ago razed Florida’s most-populated areas with winds up to 165 mph (265 kph), damaging or blowing apart more than 125,000 homes and obliterating almost all mobile homes in its path.
Since 2001, structures statewide must be built to withstand winds of 111 mph (178 kph) and up; the Miami area is considered a “high velocity hurricane zone” with much higher standards, requiring many structures to withstand hurricane winds in excess of 170 mph (273 kph).
Though Michael’s winds were particularly fierce, any boost in the level of safety requirements for builders could help homes better withstand hurricanes.
Tom Lee, a homebuilder and legislator, says past hurricanes have shown time and time again that the stricter codes help. He said after such previous storms, he could see during flyovers which homes were built before the new code.
“The structural integrity of our housing stock is leaps and bounds beyond what it was,” Lee said.
The codes call for shatterproof windows, fortified roofs and reinforced concrete pillars, among other specifications. But it wasn’t until 2007 that homes built in the Panhandle more than 1 mile (1.5 kilometers) from shore were required to follow the higher standards. Hurricane Michael pummeled the region with devastating winds from the sea all the way into Georgia, destroying buildings more than 70 miles from the shoreline.
Gov. Rick Scott said it may be time for Florida to boost its standards — considered the toughest in the nation— even further.
“After every event, you always go back and look what you can do better,” Scott said. “After Andrew, the codes changed dramatically in our state. Every time something like this happens, you have to say to yourself, ‘Is there something we can do better?’”
Mexico Beach, the Gulf Coast town destroyed by Michael, lacked a lot of new or retrofitted construction, said Craig Fugate, the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a former emergency management chief for the state of Florida. The small seaside community had a lot of older mobile homes and low-income year-round residents working in the commercial fishing and service industries.
“Quiet, idyllic, what I call ‘Old Florida,’” Fugate said. “This is not a bunch of high rises or brand new developments.”
Bill Herrle, who owned a house near the shoreline in Mexico Beach until it was destroyed by the storm, said he wasn’t sure it made a difference when the homes there were built. He said the storm took out his house, built in the mid-’80s, as well as newer buildings put up recently.
“It wiped out both the older and newer homes. It looks like my entire street is razed,” said Herrle, who was not in Mexico Beach during the storm.
David Prevatt, an associate professor of civil and coastal engineering at the University of Florida, said in an email Thursday that drone footage of the devastation in Mexico Beach showed structural damage to roofs and exterior walls, and damaged rafters and trusses, “indicating the strength of the wind that caused those failures.”
Prevatt noted the damage could have occurred at wind speeds lower than the 155 mph that the National Hurricane Center reported at Michael’s landfall. That is, the homes could have been peeling apart before the eye and the hurricane’s strongest core winds came ashore.
Prevatt was preparing to lead a team to assess the damage. He said engineers will be asking how old the destroyed and damaged buildings were and under what version of the Florida building codes they were built. They also will be looking at the differences between the structures that survived and those that did not.
Associated Press writer Jennifer Kay in Miami contributed to this report.
Trump to visit Florida, Georgia; search ongoing for missing
By RUSS BYNUM and BRENDAN FARRINGTON
Monday, October 15
MEXICO BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Upon touring the damage in several towns along Florida’s Panhandle, Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long called the destruction left by Hurricane Michael some of the worst he’s ever seen.
On Monday, President Donald Trump plans to visit Florida and Georgia and see the recovery effort for himself. Trump declared a state of emergency for Georgia late Sunday.
In hurricane-flattened Mexico Beach, crews with backhoes and other heavy equipment scooped up splintered boards, broken glass, chunks of asphalt and other debris Sunday as the mayor held out hope for the 250 or so residents who may have tried to ride out the storm.
The death toll from Michael’s destructive march from Florida to Virginia stood at 17, with just one confirmed death so far in this town of about 1,000 people that took a direct hit from the hurricane and its 155 mph (250 kph) winds last week.
Mayor Al Cathey estimated 250 residents stayed behind when the hurricane struck, and he said he remained hopeful about their fate. He said search-and-rescue teams in the beach town had already combed areas with the worst damage.
“If we lose only one life, to me that’s going to be a miracle,” Cathey said.
He said enough food and water had been brought in for the residents who remain. Even some cellphone service had returned to the devastated community.
A framed portrait of Jesus was propped Sunday facing out of the window of Diana Hughes’ home in Mexico Beach. She rode out the hurricane on the couch huddled with her dog and her ex-husband.
The storm peeled off a small section of the roof and a few inches of water got in the single-story house. But the pickup truck wouldn’t start after getting swamped with water. Hughes still had her home, but no way to leave it.
“We need a generator, but we just lack transportation,” Hughes said on her front porch. “We’ve got food and we’ve got water. But we’ve got to keep ice in the refrigerator so the food won’t spoil. You can only eat so many crackers.”
Four days after the storm struck, a large swath of the Panhandle was suffering, from little beach towns to the larger Panama City to rural communities miles from where the hurricane came ashore. More than 190,000 homes and businesses in Florida were without electricity, along with about 120,000 in Georgia.
“We are talking about poor people, many of them are older, miles from each other, isolated in many cases from roads, including some dirt roads that are cut off right now,” Sen. Marco Rubio said on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” ”We haven’t been able to reach those people in a number of days.”
In downtown Marianna, Florida, the facades of historic buildings lay in pieces on the ground across from the courthouse. Jill Braxton stopped with a pickup truck loaded with hay, saying many people in rural areas nearby had trapped animals and needed supplies for their livestock.
“We’re just trying to help some other people who may not be able to get out of their driveways for a couple of days,” Braxton said. “There was a girl that had trapped horses, horses that were down, and horses that really needed vet care that could not get there. There’s been animals killed. People lost their cows.”
Some victims stranded by the storm managed to summon relief by using logs to spell out “HELP” on the ground, officials in Bay County, which includes Mexico Beach, said in a Facebook post. Official said someone from another county was using an aerial mapping app, noticed the distress message and contacted authorities.
No details were released on who was stranded and what sort of help was needed.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bill Nelson said Tyndall Air Force Base on the Panhandle was heavily damaged, but he promised it would be rebuilt. The Florida Democrat and member of the Armed Services Committee said older buildings on the base were demolished, while newer ones will need substantial repairs.
The base is home to some of the nation’s most advanced fighter jets, and Nelson said some hangars were damaged severely. But he gave no information on how many planes were on the base during the storm or how many were damaged.
In a statement Sunday night, the Air Force said that, “Not one Airman or family member was injured during Hurricane Michael.” Of its aircraft the statement said that visually they all looked intact but that maintenance professionals will do a detailed assessment of the F-22 Raptors and other aircraft before they say with certainty that damaged aircraft can be repaired and sent back into the skies
For the few residents remaining in Mexico Beach, conditions were treacherous.
Steve Lonigan was outside his home, talking with neighbor Jim Ostman, when a loud cracking sound made both men jump. It was just a small wooden block shifting in the sand beneath the weight of the front end of Lonigan’s camper trailer.
“All this stuff is just dangerous,” Ostman said, glancing at the destruction all around. “It’s so unstable.”
Lonigan and his wife returned Sunday after evacuating to Georgia. Seawater surged into his home, leaving a soggy mess of mud and leaves, even though the house stands 12 feet (3.7 meters) above ground on concrete blocks.
The single-story house had broken windows, and part of its roof and front steps were missing. Lonigan used a ladder to climb inside.
“We’ve got a lot more left than other people,” he said. “We were able to sleep in the bedroom last night.”
Contributors in Florida include Associated Press writers Russ Bynum in Mexico Beach, Brendan Farrington in Panama City, Gary Fineout in Tallahassee and AP Photographer Gerald Herbert in Panama City.
For the latest on Hurricane Michael, visit https://www.apnews.com/tag/Hurricanes
Will chilly, autumn weather stick around this week in the Northeast?
For many areas it will seem like the weather skipped over September and October and and went right to November.
For expert AccuWeather meteorologist commentary, analysis or interviews 24X7, please contact pr@AccuWeather.com.
AccuWeather Global Weather Center – October 15, 2018 – A chill fell over much of the East this past weekend, with more cool weather likely this week.
Briefly, a little milder air will filter into parts of the Northeast on Monday, especially along the I-95 corridor.
Temperatures will rise to above-normal levels once more across eastern Pennsylvania and Maryland up to the Hudson Valley on Monday. Philadelphia, where the normal high is around 67 degrees Fahrenheit, will have temperatures peaking around 70.
However, a dip in the jet stream will make way for two separate fronts to bring in waves of cooler air: one on Monday night and another on Tuesday night.
For many areas it will seem like the weather skipped over September and October and and went right to November.
“Some of the coldest air so far this season will come in with a front sweeping across the Great Lakes on Tuesday night,” said AccuWeather Meteorologist Steve Travis.
More Cold this Week
Normal highs in Buffalo are around 60 in the middle of October. Through October 10, the city was running 8 degrees above normal for the month, with highs regularly in the 70s and 80s.
By Tuesday, highs in western New York will be in the lower 50s and even the upper 40s by Wednesday.
Cities from Detroit to Boston to Washington, D.C., are all expected to be below normal for mid-October standards by Wednesday.
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US astronaut thanks Russian rescuers for their quick work
By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV
Friday, October 12
MOSCOW (AP) — U.S. astronaut Nick Hague thanked Russian rescue teams Friday for quickly reaching him and his Russian crewmate after an aborted launch that led to their emergency landing in the barren steppes of Kazakhstan.
The Soyuz rocket that Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin were heading off in to the International Space Station failed two minutes after Thursday’s launch, releasing a rescue capsule that carried them back to Earth.
“Thank you all for your support & heartfelt prayers,” Hague tweeted from Star City, the Russian space training center outside Moscow where the two astronauts arrived Friday. “Operational teams were outstanding in ensuring our safety & returning us to family & friends. Working with our international partners, I’m confident that we will find a path forward & continue the achievements of Space_Station.”
U.S. and Russian space officials said the astronauts were in good condition even though they experienced a gravitational force that was six-to-seven times more than is felt on Earth when their capsule went into a steep, harrowing fall back to the ground.
NASA chief Jim Bridenstine told reporters in Moscow on Friday that the Soyuz emergency rescue system worked flawlessly.
“I just want to say how grateful we are as a country, the United States, for our Russian partners,” he said. “That’s an amazing capability and we can’t understate how important it is.”
Dmitry Rogozin, head of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency, promised that Hague and Ovchinin will be given another chance soon to work on the orbiting space outpost.
“The boys will certainly fly their mission,” Rogozin tweeted, posting a picture in which he sat with the two astronauts aboard a Moscow-bound plane. “We plan that they will fly in the spring.”
Russian space officials said Hague and Rogozin will spend a couple of days at Star City undergoing routine medical checks.
“They are in good health and don’t need any medical assistance,” said Vyacheslav Rogozhnikov, a deputy chief of the Russian Federal Medical and Biological Agency.
The aborted mission dealt another blow to the troubled Russian space program, which currently serves as the only way to deliver astronauts to the space station.
Sergei Krikalyov, the head of Roscosmos’ manned programs, said the launch went awry after one of the rocket’s four boosters failed to jettison about two minutes into the flight, damaging the main stage and triggering the emergency landing. He said a panel of experts is looking into the specific reason that prevented the booster’s separation.
“We will need to look and analyze the specific cause — whether it was a cable, a pyro or a nut,” he said. “We need more data.”
Krikalyov said all Soyuz launches have been suspended pending the investigation. Preliminary findings are expected later this month, Krikalyov said, adding that Roscosmos hopes to be able to sort out the problem and perform the next Soyuz launch in December.
The current space station crew of an American, a Russian and a German was scheduled to return to Earth in December after a six-month mission. It wasn’t immediately clear if their stint in orbit might need to be extended due to Thursday’s failed launch.
A Soyuz capsule attached to the station which they use to ride back to Earth is designed for a 200-day mission, meaning that their stay in orbit could only be extended briefly.
“We don’t have an opportunity to extend it for a long time,” Krikalyov said.
NASA said flight controllers could operate the space station without anyone on board if the Russian rockets remain grounded. But NASA’s Bridenstine voiced hope that the problem that aborted the launch could be solved quickly and the next Soyuz launch may take place in December.
“I have no anticipation right now that the launch in December for the next crew will be delayed,” he said.
Krikalyov emphasized that Roscosmos will do its best not to leave the space station unoccupied.
“The station could fly in an unmanned mode, but will do all we can to avoid it,” he said.
While the Russian program has been dogged by a string of problems with unmanned launches in recent years, Thursday was the first manned failure since September 1983, when a Soyuz exploded on the launch pad.
Roscosmos pledged to fully share all relevant information on the failed launch with NASA, which pays up to $82 million per Soyuz seat to the space station.
Bridenstine hailed the U.S.-Russian cooperation in space, voicing hope that tensions between Moscow and Washington in other areas wouldn’t affect that relationship.
“We can both do more in space together than we can ever do alone,” Bridenstine said. “When it comes to space and exploration and discovery and science, our two nations have always kept those activities separate from the disputes that we have terrestrially. I anticipate that this relationship will stay strong.”
Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.