Structural damage to homes, barns, sheds, etc. is oftentimes hidden from view. Thorough inspections for seen and unseen structural damage is a critical step in the rebuilding process. Photo by Judy Biss
The United States has suffered a series of devastating natural disasters in a relatively short time: September’s Hurricane Florence in North Carolina, October’s Hurricane Michael in Panhandle Florida, November’s Camp Fires in California, and most recently, the November 30th earthquake in Alaska. For those rebuilding after disasters, a critical step is determining the extent of structural damage that may have occurred because of high winds, floods, or seismic quakes. As we continue our rebuilding efforts in North Florida, it is important to understand what to look for while assessing building damage. Often the damage is hidden within the structure, and not immediately obvious.
In response to requests from the Alaska Extension network after the November earthquakes, Dr. Kenneth Hellevang, North Dakota State University Extension Engineer, Professor, and Fellow-American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, provided the information below on how homeowners can conduct their own initial damage assessments to determine building soundness and safety after a disaster. Although written for flooded homes, many of these guidelines apply to hurricane-damaged homes as well.
Kenneth Hellevang, Ph.D., PE, Extension Engineer, Professor, Fellow-American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers
Before attempting to restore buildings, evaluate the extent of damage and amount of repairs necessary.
“The first thing to do with a building is to check its structural soundness,” says Ken Hellevang, North Dakota State University agricultural engineer. “If the building has been moved, shifted or twisted, it may not be safe to enter. Also, while damage is obvious in many cases, it may not be noticeable immediately and could weaken the building or cause other problems.”
If the building has extensive damage, tearing it down and rebuilding probably will be less expensive than trying to repair it. As a rule of thumb, if repairs and restoration cost more than 60 percent of rebuilding, building a new structure generally is the best option.
To do a thorough inspection, check:
- Ridge and eaves to make sure they are straight
- Walls to see if they still are vertical and straight
- The building to see if has shifted on its foundation
- Frame members, such as knee braces, to see whether they’ve been pushed into the siding or up into the roof
- Trusses and rafters for signs of crushed, split or broken wood
- Frame members to make sure they haven’t buckled or twisted, aren’t bowing out of alignment and don’t appear to have slipped relative to each other or have gaps in a truss joint
- Connections for indications that nail, screw or bolt holes are elongated and nails or other connectors are pulled out of the wood or bent
- Pole building posts for crushed or broken wood near the ground or at truss connections or knee braces. Make sure the posts are straight and vertical. Look for indications that posts made of more than one board may have split along rows of nails.
- Doors or windows to make sure they open as they did before. If they do not, this may indicate the structure has shifted. In cases of severe shifting, water lines, gas lines and electrical circuits may have been damaged.
- Electrical circuits for damage
- Siding and metal roofing for tears around fasteners, evidence of fasteners being pulled, bends or buckles in the metal roof sheets and whether the sheets still are aligned with each other
- Wood for indications of damage that could weaken the building.
You should document any damage with photos and contact your insurance company. Also, consult with a building contractor or engineer if you see several indications of damage.
NDSU Extension specialists Carl Pedersen and Ken Hellevang review what to look for as you re-enter a flooded home in the following videos:
Flooded Home: Inspecting the Outside of the Structure
Flooded Home: Entering the Home the First Time
Flooded Home: Electrical Issues
Flooded Home: Checking Out the Mechanical Systems
Flooded Home: Drying Out
Kenneth Hellevang, Ph.D., PE, Extension Engineer, Professor
Fellow-American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers
Agricultural & Biosystems Engineering Department, North Dakota State University Extension Office:
ABEN 117 NDSU Dept 7620, P.O. Box 6050, Fargo, ND 58108-6050
E Mail: Kenneth.Hellevang@ndsu.edu
Living and working on a farm or cattle ranch offers many obstacles and opportunities to grow, change, and develop. Many farmers and producers, however, live under constant stress and anxiety of how and when decisions need to be made and the lasting effect it will have on their operation and family. Nothing could be truer than when mother nature sends powerful storms across our areas and you must bear the results of nature’s wrath. If you’ve recently traveled across Interstate 10, in the Panhandle of Florida, for roughly 100 miles between Tallahassee and Bonifay, it’s easy to see that mother nature has changed the landscape in that area forever. Hurricane Michael made landfall on October 10th and continued across the northwest section of Florida as one of the most powerful storms to ever make landfall in our country’s history. This storm affected areas known for beautiful beaches, golf resorts, and summer vacationers, but it also hit one of the more rural, agricultural sections of our state.
Jackson County hay barn destroyed by Hurricane Michael. Credit; Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS
Extension agents and volunteers help producers repair fence damaged by Hurricane Michael. Credit Nick Simmons, UF/IFAS
I’ve seen first hand the destruction Hurricane Michael has caused to the agricultural communities in the affected counties. Miles of fence lines have 100-year-old live oaks draped across them with other sections of land having only the bottom half of once dense pine trees. Areas where cattle were once grazing are now laden with branches, power lines, sheet metal and small pieces of equipment. As water tanks emptied due to the lack of electricity, animals began to desperately find places to seek shelter and water usually running down county roads and highways. Some animals were tragically killed from structures or trees falling, or they were severely injured, and were forced to be euthanized. Producers were faced with these challenges all the while trying to find help to remove the 70 ft. pecan tree that lays across their home.
But the determination and spirit of many cattle producers, Extension faculty, local communities and towns were not taken down by Hurricane Michael. In fact, within a day or two, neighbors, agents, and fellow cattlemen showed up with chainsaws, tractors, barbwire, fence posts and much more to help affected producers. Trailer loads of hay, feed, water tanks, fence materials, and human supplies started arriving once roads were safe to pass. Extension agents from all program areas pitched in to help tarp roofs, stretch wire, cut away trees from homes, barns and fences. Water was brought in to disperse for both animals and people. Local cattlemen’s groups banded together to bring much needed supplies to help repair boundary fences and patch barns for safe use. Amid all this, one could see that a producer, who had lost everything and really did not know where to start, begin to take a deep breath of relief. I looked on as fellow producers put an arm around their friend and said, “We will get through this together.”
Extension Agents and volunteers help deliver needed supplies to livestock producers after Hurricane Michael
This was a natural disaster that will be remembered for years to come. The stress level can be overwhelming at times but remember there is help available to aid you through this difficult time. There are resources available to assist your recovery efforts.
Please reach out to these groups to help you through this difficult time.
Recovery from Hurricane Michael will take months and years to replace what has been destroyed. Producers face many tough decisions ahead, but with the help of so many Florida cattle ranchers, Extension Agents, friends and neighbors, the Panhandle of Florida will rebuild.
Hurricane Michael Credit: NOAA
October 10, 2018 will be a date that farmers and ranchers in the Central Panhandle of Florida will never forget as long as they live. Hurricane Michael landed in Bay County with 155 mph winds (Category 5 = 157 mph), the most powerful winds since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, ripped through a mostly rural area of Florida that received immediate media attention for extensive damage to the coastal communities in Bay County. What was not made as known was the extensive damage this storm caused to agricultural operations that are a critical part of the economy of the rural counties along the I-10 corridor and into Southwest Georgia.
Typically a hurricane weakens soon after it comes ashore, but this storm had measured wind speeds of 115 mph all the way up into Donalsonville, Georgia. This area of Florida and Southwest Georgia has been spared from major hurricanes since the 1850s, so huge, 50-150 year-old trees were snapped off, twisted, or blown over onto homes, barns, fences, grain bins and other structures. So even structures that could withstand the winds were crushed by huge trees.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), UF/IFAS Food and Resource Economics Department, Florida Forest Service, and the National Agriculture Statistics Service, and Dr. Sergio Alvarez, University of Central Florida compiled a summary of estimated damages and loses to farms and ranches in the Florida Panhandle due to Hurricane Micheal.
Timber is a major industry in this part of the state and took the biggest hit with an estimated $1.3 billion loss.
Timber destroyed on a farm in Jackson County. Credit: Doug Mayo UF/IFAS
Cotton was virtually unharvested when the storm hit and was mostly destroyed. What had promised to be one of the best cotton crops ever, was either blown off the plants, or the whole plant was flattened and will be nearly impossible to harvest.
Jackson County cotton on the left was defoliated and ready for harvest, but was blown off by the storm. To the right a small section that had been harvested and was averaging 1900 lbs./acre. Credit: Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS
Cotton that was still immature with closed bolls was flattend by the torrential winds in Jackson Cunty. Credit: Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS
Cattle ranches had miles of fences damage. Many ranches utilized fence rows for pasture shade, but these trees blew over and took fences out leaving gaping holes that could not be repaired without using heavy equipment to remove the downed trees. Volunteers from the Florida Cattlemen’s Association spent three weeks in the area to help local producers get highway fences patched to keep cattle from wandering on to highways.
Florida Cattlemens Assocaiton sent volunteers who brought heavy equipment to help local ranchers patch gaping holes caused by downed trees in Jackson County. Credit: Dough Mayo, UF/IFAS
Center pivot irrigation systems, equipment barns, hay barns and grain bins that were not built to withstand category 3 hurricane winds were mangled, damaged or destroyed.
Center Pivot destroyed in Jackson County. Credit: Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS
Equipment barn destroyed by Hurricane Michael in Jackson County. Credit: Doug Mayo
Jackson County hay barn destroyed by Hurricane Michael. Creidt; Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS
These are just a few of the tragic images from a devastating hurricane. The following chart shares the estimates made by a team of UF/IFAS County Agents who interviewed farmers in Jackson County in October to develop damage estimates to this major agricultural county.
Source: UF/IFAS Damage Assessment Team
In the end it will take months just to get all of the debris pilled up to burn, and years to recover from the lost income, and to repair or replace damaged or destroyed fences, center pivots, barns, and homes lost in a matter of four hours. While USDA does have disaster programs to assist with hurricane damaged fences, debris removal, lost livestock, and timber replanting, the only hope for restoring some portion of the lost income needed to keep farm business going is action by Congress similar to the WHIP Program developed for areas impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. But this previous program did not cover timber losses. It will be essential for local farmers to utilize agricultural organizations such as Florida Farm Bureau, Florida Cattlemen’s Association and the Florida Forestry Association to work with federal representatives to get help for producers in this region that also includes timber losses. Otherwise many farm businesses in the Panhandle may never fully recover from this devastating storm.
Read the FDACS and Georgia storm damage reports:
Facing the Storm (Hurricane Michael impact on Georgia farms)
Our recent storm was traumatic in a lot of ways, and not only for humans. Many animals found their homes destroyed by the weather, which may unfortunately make cleanup and recovery even more difficult for everybody. While cooler temperatures in the fall and winter seasons will keep a lot of creatures from being too active, it can also send those who lost their shelter looking for new places to hide. If you live in a storm affected area – and most of the Florida panhandle was, in one way or another – watch out for dangerous wildlife.
Paper wasps often build their nests overhead on the eaves of buildings or in trees. Watch out!
Insects that build nests, such as bees, yellowjackets, and wasps, may still be on the wing. When their nests are destroyed or disturbed, individuals who are displaced may be flying around, looking for food or shelter. New nests will undoubtedly be built in areas that may not have had any previously, and any source of food is bound to attract attention. Piles of debris are good places for insects such as these to seek shelter, so wear protective clothing and pay close attention while doing cleanup. A brush pile that stays in the same place for a week or more might gain some unwelcome tenants. Look for paper wasp nests on eaves or in plant material, yellowjacket burrows in the ground or in hollow trees or stumps, and hornets in trees. Remove potential sources of food such as garbage with sugary residues or tree debris with sweet sap. Don’t forget that any pets or livestock you own might be affected by insects as well, so keep a close eye on pastures and areas where pets reside for signs of new infestations of stinging insects. A simple homemade trap may help to keep wasps and yellowjackets under control (you can find more information on making traps: Do-It-Yourself Insect Pest Traps. If you find a nest and need to use insecticides to get rid of it, remember to read the label before using the product.
Some snakes are harmless, like this hognose rattlesnake. Similar looking snakes such as the pygmy rattlesnake might be dangerous to people and livestock.
Snakes are another potentially dangerous creature that may be displaced, and constant wet weather may have them residing in areas they wouldn’t otherwise consider. Anywhere that might offer some warmth in these cool months is particularly attractive to a cold-blooded creature, and damaged buildings or brush piles fit the bill perfectly. Rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths are some of the more dangerous snakes we have around, but remember that not every species of snake is dangerous. For help in identifying snakes, consult our EDIS publications on this topic: Dealing with Snakes in Florida’s Residential Areas—Identifying Commonly Encountered Snakes, Recognizing Florida’s Venomous Snakes, and Native Snakes Easily Mistaken for Introduced Constrictors in Florida. Keep leaf piles, cut branches and trees, and other debris away from homes and areas where domesticated animals and pets live, if possible .
Remember that you can always contact your local Extension office for help in identifying and advice on controlling pests, whether they’re snakes or hornets, spiders or scorpions, or something even more exotic.
Evan Anderson, Walton County Agriculture Agent
In response to the large amount of storm debris from Hurricane Michael, the Florida Forest Service and the University of Florida Gadsden County Extension Service will be offering a Certified Pile Burner Course in Quincy, Florida. Normally this course includes a $50 per person registration fee, but the fee has been waived to assist with storm recovery. For the next several months, because of the risk of wildfires and the challenge of private property access, only certified pile burners will be issued commercial permits in the primary impact region of Hurricane Michael.
Class size will be limited, so register early. This course will show you how to burn piles legally, safely, and efficiently. This training will be held from 8:30 am till 4:30 pm at the North Florida Research & Education Center, 155 Research Rd, Quincy, Florida.
There will be a test at the end of the session. You must receive a grade of 70% or higher on the exam to pass the course. After passing the course, you will need to demonstrate a proper pile burn with approval from your local Florida Forest Service (FFS) office to become certified.
Florida’s Certified Pile Burner Training Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Why should I be a certified pile burner?
A: Certified pile burners are trained to burn piles legally, safely and efficiently. Most importantly, it could save a life. Also, when the weather is dry, certified pile burners will receive priority for authorization to burn by the Florida Forest Service (FFS). Also, certified pile burners are allowed to burn up to two hours longer per day and get multiple day authorizations.
Q: What is a Pile Burner Customer Number?
A: When you call the FFS for an authorization to burn, you will be assigned a personal customer number. This number references your information, so it doesn’t need to be gathered each time you call for an authorization. You must have your individual FFS customer number in order to be certified.
Q: Is there a test?
A: Yes, the test is 20 questions and open-book. You must receive a score of at least 70% to pass.
Q: What if I don’t pass?
A: Very few people fail the test but if you do, you will be provided another opportunity to take the test at a later date. If you fail the second time, you must re-register and take the training again.
Q: Why do you ask for my email on the application form?
A: Email is the fastest and most convenient method to inform registrants of their registration status. If no email address is provided, then all correspondence will be sent through the federal mail. This can take several days to relay messages, and this may not be practical if changes are made to the course schedule or for last minute registrations.
Q: Is there a cost for the training?
A: No. This is a special class in response to Hurricane Michael, the traditional $50 fee has been waived for these courses.
Q: How long does my certification last, and how long do I have to complete the certification from the time I finish the class?
A: As long as the person with the certification uses their number at least 5 times in a period of 5 years their certification will not expire under the current program. You MUST complete the certification burn within a year of taking the class.
Q: Will certified burners be notified if their certification expires?
A: Yes, notification will be sent out to them to let them know of their upcoming certification expiration date.
Q: Will I be certified at the end of the one-day training?
A: No, you will need to follow the written instructions that you will receive from the FFS to become certified. You will need to complete a simple burn plan, have it reviewed and approved locally by the FFS and also have the burn itself reviewed and approved by the FFS.
Q: Is there a minimum age to be a certified pile burner?
A: Yes, you must be at least 18 years old to take the test and be a certified pile burner.
For more information, contact:
Florida Forest Service