As Hurricane Irma threatens Miami and surrounding areas in the USA, construction companies are scrambling to secure equipment before the most-powerful storm ever recorded roars into town.

Sites across the city are locking down and removing debris and building materials which could become deadly in hurricane-strength winds. Companies across Florida and neighboring states are actively providing guidance on how to secure equipment before the severe weather hits.

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More than two dozen cranes dot Miami’s skyline as high rise development booms in the city. But this industrial expansion has created unforeseen threats in the wake of the hurricanes ravaging the southern coasts of the United States.

While most cranes can withstand winds of 145 miles per hour (235 km/h), Hurricane Irma has the potential to reach 185 mph (300 km/h). With approximately 25 cranes in the Miami area, officials are warning those in proximity to take appropriate measures. This means vacating high rise condominiums and adjacent buildings.

“We’re telling people that if you live by a construction site you should evacuate,” said Alyce Robertson, executive director of the Miami Downtown Development Authority. “The winds are so strong that it’s not known what will happen.”

The cranes’ concrete counterbalance weight poses a serious threat if the cranes come crashing down.

Daniel Alfonso, Miami city manager, added, “The crane structure can collapse. It can either go down and crush whatever is beneath it or fall sideways and maybe damage an adjacent building.”

Despite initial warnings, Alfonso also told WLRN Miami that there’s no company that could have removed all the cranes quickly enough. It takes five to six days per crane, and they can be up to 900 feet (275 metres) tall and include 10,000 pound (4.5 tonne) counterweights.

Further notes of caution

Mike Pitt, owner of Georgia-based Mastclimbers, sent a message out to industry contacts saying platforms and cars of mastclimbing work platforms, transport platforms and construction elevators must be brought down to the base at the end of each work day and must not be elevated if there is a chance of high winds. He advised if there is a chance of flooding, leave the platform above the likely flood level, usually between ties one and two.

All equipment should be disconnected from any electrical supply and any loose items on the platform should be secured, including planking and plywood.

For MCWPs, remove any large banners or boarding on the platform and check overhead protection is secure and safe.

“Please do not operate the platform when lightning is in the local area or forecasted,” Pitt warned.

For transport platforms and construction elevators, all loose items should be secured and all gates and landings must be secured. As with mastclimbers, do not operate if lighting is in the area or forecasted.

“After any severe weather, please make sure all daily and weekly checks are completed before operating and contact [your distributor or rental company] if in any doubt,” Pitt said. “If the platform or car has been flooded, contact [your distributor or rental company] before connecting back to the power.”

Irma thus far

At least 19 people have died because of Hurricane Irma, which as of Friday morning was a Category 4 storm with winds of 150 mph (243 km/h).

Officials are cautioning Florida residents who have weathered previous hurricanes to not underestimate Irma, which Gov. Rick Scott said would be “way bigger than Andrew,” referring to the major storm that hit the state in 1992.

Brock Long, the FEMA administrator, cautioned that everyone in the Southeast United States, from Alabama to North Carolina, should be monitoring the storm and making preparations.

“I can guarantee you that I don’t know anybody in Florida who’s ever experienced what’s about to hit South Florida,” Long said.