On Sunday afternoon, as Hurricane Irma unleashed destructive winds across South Florida, images of towering cranes were causing panic on social media.



At two construction sites in Miami, crane booms — the long horizontal arms that carry loads and balance the structures — had collapsed, damaging the unfinished towers next to them and sending debris onto the city’s empty streets. One appeared to have been bent, dangling perilously to the side. A similar incident was reported later at another construction site in nearby Fort Lauderdale.

While developers and the contractors in charge of the cranes insisted that they had inspected and secured the structures ahead of Irma’s arrival, exactly why the cranes failed remains unclear. The companies, along with city officials, are investigating the cause.

What is apparent, however, is that the cranes collapsed under winds weaker than what they should have been able to endure. City officials said the roughly two dozen cranes that dot Miami’s developing hot spots are designed to withstand winds of up to 145 mph; as Irma tracked to the west, the city saw gusts of up to 100 mph.

Nobody was injured in the incidents, which happened above deserted streets. Still, the crane failures reopened a debate about whether imposing stricter regulations are necessary, with Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado telling the Miami Herald that the city “cannot gamble on the wind.”

Imposing tighter rules, though, could be a regulatory nightmare.

Although Miami enforces codes and regulations on the construction and maintenance of buildings, cranes are regulated by the federal government, specifically the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. State law adds another layer of red tape; Florida statute preempts cities from enforcing laws regulating cranes, said Miami City Attorney Victoria Méndez.

Rules vary in other states. New York City officials, for example, introduced new restrictions, including lowering the wind-speed threshold needed for crews to secure cranes, after a crane fell onto a Manhattan street, killing one and injuring three others in early 2016.

Still, some trade associations in Florida bristled at the mere mention of tighter regulations. Associated Builders and Contractors says imposing new rules would be a knee-jerk reaction.

“It’s premature to say anything because we don’t know anything about what happened,” said Peter Dyga, the president of the trade group’s local chapter, which once sued Miami-Dade County over a crane ordinance. “It could’ve been a tornado. We simply don’t know. It’s possible that the operator made an error. … We don’t know if the equipment was actually put in the proper mode. There’s a lot of facts that need to be investigated and answered before we say that standards are improper.”

Maurice Pons, deputy director of Miami’s Building Department, said the city has ordered the contractors to stop construction work on the buildings where the cranes failed and to remove the towering hazards. OSHA has also been notified, Pons said.

An OSHA official said the cranes appeared to have failed because of the storm, and the agency has offered assistance in dismantling and removing them.

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