Hurricanes are getting stronger, and Mennonite Disaster Service is responding by building stronger homes.
Longtime MDS consultant Johann Zimmerman, principal engineer at JZ Engineering in Harrisonburg, Va., has studied home design to help MDS train its volunteers and other organizations to incorporate improved methods.
“There are lots of skilled workers in the country, but MDS volunteers need to be trained for resilient techniques,” he said.
MDS studied 27 homes built in Louisiana to withstand 140 mph winds after Hurricane Rita hit the area in 2005. Each home was intact even after Hurricane Laura’s 150 mph winds in 2020.
In Puerto Rico, MDS inspected hundreds of homes left roofless after Hurricane Maria brought 180 mph winds in 2017. After studying failed mechanisms of local construction methods and conducting technical research, MDS produced design guides geared to volunteers and gave workshops to more than 40 organizations.
After interviewing personnel from five of the biggest organizations at the workshops, MDS determined that of 600 roofs replaced, none sustained roof damage from Hurricane Fiona in September.
Improved rebuilding techniques don’t just have an economic impact for families.
“There’s huge cost not only financially but socially,” Zimmerman said. “Look at the societal damage in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit — how many people left and never came back.”
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