‘Rampant irresponsibleness’: Shoddy construction found in Texas tornado wreckage

A former resident of the Landmark at the Lake Village West apartment complex takes photographs of tornado damage in Garland, Texas, December 28, 2015. © Todd Yates
Local and federal teams touring parts of North Texas to get a better idea of damage caused by nine tornadoes that touched down over the weekend found “horrific” construction in many homes and buildings.

“We’ve determined that this was a narrow but intense storm that caused a lot of damage,” Mark Fox, a National Weather Service meteorologist, told the Star Telegram. Fox is a member of the assessment team that examined damage in Glenn Heights, which straddles the border of Dallas and Ellis counties.

The nine-tornado storm, with wind speeds measuring 135 to 200 mph, damaged over 600 structures, hundreds of homes, and left 11 people dead, including a baby. It injured at least 23 others.

When local and federal teams assessed the damage, they discovered “rampant irresponsibleness” in the way many of the homes and buildings were built.

“We saw a tremendous number of improper attachment of the walls to the foundations, which just made walls fall either in or out,” Timothy Marshall, a forensic engineer, told The Dallas Morning News.

We saw problems…that were horrific in my view as an engineer. Walls not attached properly, and they’re falling down like a house of cards.”

In one such case, the main structure of Donald Shields Elementary School in Glenn Heights survived, but its exterior walls had fallen away, exposing the interior to the storm. The result “was a tangled mess of wires, broken glass, drenched carpets and steel girders jutting menacingly from the ceiling,” reported the Morning News. Officials said the school will be repaired.

Marshall, an NBC 5 storm chaser and spotter, also volunteers for damage assessment with the National Weather Service, which sends out assessment teams after storms. He found the school, in particular, shocking.

Someone “tried to nail a steel bottom plate to the concrete,” he told the newspaper. “There was no connection [between] walls, there was no connection at the roof, and it was simply nailed to the concrete foundation. That’s not going to cut it in my book, and it won’t cut it in any [building] code I know.”

Marshall said the school was hit with winds of about 85 to 95 mph and that typical construction should be able to withstand such speeds.

Glenn Heights Mayor Leon Tate said he wants to learn more about school construction in his city.

“That’s important, us having standards, and making sure anyone who wants to build in our city – doesn’t matter if it’s a home or a school – that they build to a high level of standard,” Tate told NBC DFW.

The Dallas Morning News tried to reach Ratcliff Constructors, which built the school in 2008, but multiple calls were not returned.

The school was one of 122 structures damaged by the tornados in Glenn Heights. While most of the damage was minor, 32 structures were destroyed, according to city officials.

Marshall also visited sites in Garland, Midlothian, and Sunnyvale, finding faulty construction in each area.

“The vast majority of houses we looked at did not have proper attachments,” Marshall said. “It didn’t matter what size of house. It didn’t matter what city it was in.”