‘That’s the tragedy’: Expert says building code not followed in some cases

“Some of these roofs, I think, could have stayed put if they were built to code,” said tornado expert, who came to Barrie to inspect the damage.

Up to 40 homes damaged by Thursday’s tornado could be sentenced after many of them lost their roofs, some due to poor workmanship, an engineering professor at Western University’s The Northern Tornadoes Project said.

“With some of the roofs off, the whole roof off, we saw a lack of following building codes,” said Greg Kopp, ImpactWX chairman of severe storm engineering and the project’s principal investigator.

“There were not enough nails, in many cases there were no nails that held the roof to the walls. And during a tornado or a wind storm, the roof becomes like a wing and wants to come up, so you have to hold it down,” said Kopp.

“In many cases we found a lack of following the building regulations on that. Some of these roofs could have stayed put, I think, if they were built for coding.”

City inspectors have deemed 60 homes uninhabitable at this time.

Any construction shortcuts will no doubt be addressed as the investigation of the scene and homes continues, said Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman, calling the news of the craftsmanship troubling.

While home construction has improved over time, especially when compared to the structures destroyed in the 1985 tornado that resulted in deaths, inconsistencies still exist.

“These houses, I’m standing here looking at them, mostly brick construction or brick ground floor … you can even see here that the framed houses have taken more damage,” Lehman said as he surveyed the destruction Friday. “I think one of the hard results of this will be to make sure those storm nails and those things that should be part of the construction are going to have to be followed.”

City officials have issued and placed unsafe orders on homes that have suffered major structural damage and are deemed unsafe. Those orders are meant to keep people out of the damaged buildings until they can be assessed and temporarily repaired.

The Northern Tornadoes Project researchers arrived in Barrie before Dark Thursday to begin their on-site investigation. Their goal is to arrive as quickly as possible to find and examine the rafters and entire roofs on the ground, along with the nails and bolts essential during construction.

Roofs for timber-framed houses are considered lightweight and should be nailed down to prevent loss and damage, Kopp explained before conducting the final examination of the scene on Friday.

A few hundred extra dollars during construction could guarantee their stability, he said. For years now, experts have been discussing the value of hurricane belts that add a level of safety to structures.

“You can build a house that will hold together in a tornado of about this strength (EF2). And so if this community had been built to withstand tornadoes, it would add a few hundred dollars to a house, but all the roofs would have been on it.”

The Northern Tornadoes Project is working with a builder in St. Thomas who is building an entire community with advice from the tornado experts, including using longer nails on the roofing and extra tires.

Those measures won’t prevent damage such as the loss of siding and shingles and broken windows and doors, Kopp said, but the roof would be safe and residents would eventually be back in their homes.

“What I’m really afraid of these people here, I don’t think they realize, but some of them will be out of the house for a few years,” he said. “And with young children, education disruption and after the past year with education disruption, it will be a while before their lives get back to normal.

“And that’s the tragedy of it for me.”

With an estimate of 10 to 20 houses without roofs or relocated roofs, up to 40 houses in that tornado-ravaged area could be condemned, meaning they cannot be repaired and must be rebuilt, based on the experience of the project team won at other events.

Some houses, Kopp added, have clearly lost their roof, and while other houses appear healthy, they may have had their roofs shifted and are considered unsafe because they are not connected to the walls.

According to Kopp, this will be determined by inspectors who enter the homes for further investigation.

Part of the Northern Tornado Project’s role is to determine wind strength by assessing damage in the absence of live wind speed measurements.

By examining the displaced roofs and collapsed walls, based on their knowledge of housing strength and aerodynamics and the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale, they were able to estimate that the tornado moved through the area at 210 kilometers per hour and the tornado identified as an EF2.

The goal of the project is to capture data for every tornado in Canada and map out the details, including tornadoes in forests. They’ve found that in situations like Thursday’s storm, multiple tornadoes are often the strongest tornadoes.

“We want that information because it helps us with risk modeling, stuff designed for tornadoes,” Kopp said. “For example, the electricity grid is like a major tornado grid across the entire continent, so you want to know about the risks.

“We think you can also limit damage to houses. A better understanding of the risk and prevention is therefore very important. And of course a warning, so we also always want to provide Environment Canada with some ground truth about what really happened so that they can improve their warning systems.”

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