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Tornado damage raises building questions

May 13, 2011 at 8:27 PM   |   Comments

CORVALLIS, Ore., May 13 (UPI) -- Damage caused by tornadoes in the U.S. South in late April have raised questions about building practices and construction code enforcement, researchers say.

Scientists from Oregon State University said while there is no practical, economical way to build structures that could stand up to the EF5 strength tornadoes that occurred in the outbreak, damage from lesser storms could be reduced by better building practices and better enforcement of existing codes.

OSU researchers, with a rapid assessment team supported by the National Science Foundation, said much of the damage could be traced to inadequate connections between building members -- especially trusses, roof rafters and walls -- and that even though modern codes are generally adequate they are not always followed or enforced, a university release said Thursday.

"Time and again we've seen that such connections are often inadequate under extreme loading conditions," Rakesh Gupta, an OSU professor of wood science and engineering, said. "For instance, trusses that were just toe-nailed to the walls often failed in the high winds, the roof blew off and that allowed the rest of the building to collapse."

The problem is not just the building codes but the enforcement of the codes, he said.

"In one town in Alabama, I was told there is no inspection of homes by the city building inspector," he said. "Property taxes are very low, inspection is often inadequate, and sometimes that can result in inadequate construction quality and enforcement."

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