Did faulty installation or winds blow away window protection?

Article Courtesy of the Miami Herald

Posted November 6, 2005

During Wilma's hurling winds, the noise suddenly became much louder at the western Miramar home of Edgardo and Marianne Guzman. Four of the accordion shutters on the second-floor windows flew open.

''We had a false sense of security,'' says Edgardo Guzman. ``There we were, feeling safe, and then the shutters blew open. You could hear the noise of the hurricane.''

Other neighbors' accordion shutters also flew open, he said.

Throughout South Florida, Wilma's winds blew away some aluminum shutters and forced some accordion shutters open.

That shouldn't have happened: Engineers and city inspectors say the storm wasn't that strong.

Instead, they blame bad installation or say homeowners didn't put up the shutters properly.

Some homeowners, however, suggest that the shutters may have been faulty.

Guzman, for example, blames a weak lock on his shutters, which didn't hold during the storm. When he bought his home four years ago, he paid extra for the builder to install accordion shutters but didn't know that he could have gotten ones that included a pin as a reinforcement.

Christine De la Torre says that the aluminum panels at her townhouse in Coconut Grove had held through other storms. Not this time. Four flew off.

''The winds must have been really strong,'' De la Torre says. ``They flew off like toothpicks.''

Engineers and city inspectors say the new tougher codes have produced shutters that are effective in protecting homes. Indeed, most held during Wilma.

Veteran structural engineer Eugenio Santiago, who is also a Village of Key Biscayne building official, says bad installation could be the culprit for some faulty shutters.

In at least one newer neighborhood, he says he has seen shutters improperly installed -- without city inspectors catching the mistakes.

In west Miami-Dade near Florida International University, Stanley Pérez says an accordion shutter at his house that had recently passed inspection blew open during the storm.

A county inspector had cited one improperly installed accordion shutter, which was fixed last month, before Wilma hit. But another shutter blew open three times.

Each time, Pérez says, he had to open the door to the patio to relock the shutter. After the third time, two panels in the shutter broke and ``closing them was no longer an option.''

Other homeowners discovered problems with their hurricane shutters just before they put them up.

Mike and Brenda Smith say they found the locks jammed on some of their accordion shutters at their western Miramar home. They had to improvise to close them.

The shutters held, but one of their upstairs windows shattered. ''The glass ended up in the pool,'' Brenda says.

The breakage may have been caused by wind caught between the shutter and window.

Sometimes the shutter tracks get bent and create more room for the wind to gather between the shutter and window, says Don Waldron, Miramar's community development director, who oversees the city's building division.

Accordion shutters can also break open during a storm if they are not fastened securely, he adds.

Homeowners have to make sure they hear a lock click, says J.R. Valdesuso, who had accordion shutters installed at his Pembroke Pines home and became such a fan that he now sells them for Miami-based Florida Aluminum Distributors.

The shutters have to be clean, too, he says, or the key hole can become clogged and hard to lock, he adds.

He and his wife, Lourdes, says they wash their accordion shutters after each storm. They also oil them to make sure they glide smoothly along their track.

In Margate, Mildred Moskovitz, who is in her 70s, has been just as careful to maintain her condo's roll-down shutters. She managed to latch them before Wilma hit.

But this time her shutters didn't keep out the storm. Wilma shattered the patio doors in her fourth-floor unit -- which led to part of a wall and a ceiling collapsing.

''I was petrified. I was so scared,'' says Moskovitz, who ran to a closet to save herself.

"I still get emotional thinking about what happened.''