A crane at a downtown Miami condo just snapped in Irma’s howling winds

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

Two Miami firefighters watched the boom at the Vice Building at 300 Biscayne Blvd. snap, sending bricks toppling to the ground. The boom is still connected to the crane by a cable, hanging off the building’s side. People living nearby were urged by city officials to seek shelter on the side of their own building opposite the dangling crane or in a stairwell.

Miami’s fire chief, city manager, mayor and deputy building director rushed up to the fourth floor of the city’s police college, which houses Miami’s emergency operations center, after the accident to observe the damage

At one point, cellphone video appeared to show the ball that balances the weight of the anchor on the crane was swinging and slamming into the side of the building, although Deputy Building Director Maurice Pons couldn’t confirm that was the case.

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

The general contractor is Moriarty, Pons said.

Construction cranes are designed to spin around in heavy winds. They can generally sustain winds of 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.

Before Irma hit, the city of Miami warned residents who live near cranes that the storm could bring grave danger.

“We strongly urge all residents in the evacuation areas to evacuate,” Miami City Manager Daniel Alfonso said earlier. “There will be no possibility of assisting you if you’re in an emergency in the middle of the storm if you’re in an area of evacuation.”

Kevin Maloney, founder of Vice’s New York-based developer, Property Markets Group, said his firm was working to secure the site, not far from Miami’s iconic Freedom Tower.

“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.

Fire Chief Joseph Zahralban said the weather remains too dangerous to send crews out, but his department is contacting management of surrounding buildings to make sure any surrounding properties are aware of the situation.

“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,” he 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 going to not evacuate them move them but we’re going to move them to a safer location in the building in the event that they have a building whose face is exposed to the potential danger.”

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said the city should consider stricter codes for cranes, even if it came at the expense of the building projects that have boosted Miami’s economy with foreign dollars. There are 25 construction cranes within city limits.

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

It’s not known what caused the crane to topple, but on Wednesday, following a press conference, Alfonso said there’s not much the city or the contractors involved in the projects could have done ahead of the hurricane in terms of taking the cranes down.

“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. Don’t be next to a crane.”