The deadly collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium building near Miami has raised questions about the safety of similar buildings along South Florida’s beaches, where salt air tends to eat away at steel and concrete structures.
On Saturday morning, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County announced a 30-day audit of all buildings 40 years and older under the county’s jurisdiction, which includes Miami and neighboring towns, like Surfside, where the building fell.
The collapsed building was about to undergo repairs to fix “major structural problems” an engineer had identified in 2018 in a pool deck and parking garage undergirding the structure. The repairs were part of a “recertification” every building in the county must undergo at 40-year intervals.
“We want to make sure that every building has completed their recertification process,” Ms. Cava said. “And we want to make sure to move quickly to remediate any issues that may have been identified in that process.” She urged other Florida cities to do the same with buildings within their borders.
The 40-year review was put in place after the federal Drug Enforcement Agency building collapsed in downtown Miami in 1974, killing seven people. (Engineers later blamed it on an overloaded parking garage.) Under the program, once a building reaches 40 years, a licensed engineer or architect must inspect it for structural problems and certify it is fit for occupancy.
The mayor of Surfside, Charles W. Burkett, said on Saturday morning he had not seen the 2018 inspection report that identified cracks and crumbling concrete in a pool deck and in a parking garage at the Champlain Tower South building’s base.
“Once I review it, I’ll give you my thoughts,” he said in a telephone interview.
It remained unclear when town officials became aware of the inspection report. On Friday evening, Mr. Burkett said at a town commission meeting that the collapse had caught local officials by surprise.
“No one ever dreamed that this building had these problems,” he said. “There was something very, very seriously wrong with the construction of this building.”
Mr. Burkett maintained on Friday that he did not see problems with other similar condo buildings and hotels in Surfside. The town has about “20, plus or minus” 12-story buildings, condos, rental apartments and hotels, overlooking the ocean, he said.
“There is not a lot of probable cause to believe that those kinds of problems could exist in the other ocean front buildings in Surfside,” he said.
Yet, the mayor said he understood that condominium dwellers in the community might be rattled. “I think if I were a condo dweller after something like this, I certainly would have questions rolling around in the back of my head about the safety of any building,” he said.
Three years before the deadly collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium complex near Miami, a consultant found evidence of “major structural damage” to the concrete slab below the pool deck, as well as cracking and crumbling of columns, beams and walls of the parking garage under the 13-story building.
The engineer’s report, which was also emailed to the town, helped shape plans for a multimillion-dollar repair project that was to start soon, but the building suffered a catastrophic collapse in the middle of the night on Thursday, trapping sleeping residents in a massive heap of debris.
The complex’s management association had disclosed some of the problems after the collapse, but it was not until city officials released the 2018 report late Friday that the full extent of the concrete and rebar damage — most of it probably caused by years of exposure to the corrosive salt air along the South Florida coast — became apparent.
“Though some of this damage is minor, most of the concrete deterioration needs to be repaired in a timely fashion,” the consultant, Frank Morabito, wrote about damage near the base of the structure as part of his October 2018 report on the 40-year-old building in Surfside, Fla. He did not say that the structure was at risk of collapse, though he noted that the needed repairs would be aimed at “maintaining the structural integrity” of the building and its 136 units.
Mayor Charles W. Burkett of Surfside said on Saturday morning that the town had received the report by email in 2018 — he wasn’t sure who was the recipient — but that he did not know what, if any, steps were taken to examine the problems further.
“Of course there should have been follow up,” he said of the 2018 report. “And I don’t know that there wasn’t. I think we need to understand exactly what happened at that time.”
Kenneth S. Direktor, a lawyer who represents the resident-led association that operates the building, said this week that the repairs had been set to commence, based on extensive plans drawn up this year.
“They were just about to get started on it,” he said in an interview, adding that the process would have been handled much differently if owners had any indication that the corrosion and crumbling — mild instances of which are relatively common in many coastal buildings — were a serious threat.
Eliana Salzhauer, a Surfside commissioner, said that while the cause of the collapse was unknown, it appeared to her that the problems identified by the engineer in the 2018 report could have contributed to the structural failure.
“It’s upsetting to see these documents because the condo board was clearly made aware that there were issues,” Ms. Salzhauer said. “And it seems from the documents that the issues were not addressed.”
As the search for victims of the collapsed Champlain Towers South condominium complex in Surfside, Fla., stretched into its third day, smoke and debris permeated the air, posing potential health risks.
“The air quality is a concern,” Alan R. Cominsky, chief of Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue, said at a Saturday morning news conference. “We still have ventilation fans that we have set up in specific areas, and we use them to the best that we can.”
Since Wednesday night, billows of smoke have emanated from the area, and the search and rescue team has routinely extinguished small fires that have ignited amid the rubble.
The smoke and debris surrounding the partially collapsed 13-story condominium have created a logistical challenge as the search for survivors continues and a potential health hazard for Surfside residents.
“There are respiratory concerns,” said Erika Benitez, a spokeswoman for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. “We ask people to stay indoors, and limit their exposure outside.”
The fine particles in smoke released from fires can penetrate the lungs and lead to a host of health concerns, such as burning eyes, running nose, and more long-term issues like chronic heart and lung diseases, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. People with pre-existing respiratory issues, pregnant women and the elderly are particularly susceptible to bad air quality.
“The smoke is everywhere,” said Marisa Arnolf Stuzbercher, 45, who lives about 10 minutes from the collapsed building. “And no one here is wearing a mask.”
Ms. Arnolf Stuzbercher said that she had not received any direct instruction from the local authorities on what to do.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue warned the town’s residents on Friday evening via social media about health risks.
“If you live near the area of the Surfside building, you may be experiencing smoky conditions, which can affect those with respiratory conditions,” the department tweeted.
Officials also instructed residents to stay indoors with windows and doors shut. Residents were advised to keep air conditioning on, to help with air circulation.
Smoke from a fire deep within the debris of the collapsed Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, Fla., has created severe difficulties for search and rescue workers, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County said Saturday morning.
No further victims were found overnight or early Saturday, the mayor said at a news briefing. Officials have accounted for 127 people who were at the building at the time of the collapse; 159 remain unaccounted for. And four people have been confirmed dead.
“As you heard, we’re facing incredible difficulties with this fire. The fire has been going on for a while. It’s a very deep fire,” she said. Workers have not yet been able to isolate the fire’s source, and the growing smoke from below the rubble has made it difficult for searchers to locate people presumed trapped.
Erika Benitez, a spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade Fire Department, said Saturday morning that it had been a while since rescue workers had heard sounds of people from beneath the rubble. But she said officials are still holding out hope. “The search and rescue is an operational assessment. If we’re continuing to do so, it’s because we feel it’s possible” people are alive.
Search and rescue workers are using infrared technology, foam and water, the mayor said. Teams also created a trench to try to isolate the fire and continue to search for victims in the part of the rubble rescue teams have access to.
“The world is watching, and we thank everyone for their prayers, their support,” Mayor Cava said. “We feel it.”
This story is developing.
The Grand Beach Hotel in Surfside, Fla., just a few blocks from the site of the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condos, has been turned into a makeshift community of families united by their shared grief.
The hotel has been designated the reunification center for those awaiting word about the fate of 159 people believed to have been in the building who remain unaccounted for. Every four hours family members receive updates from search and rescue officials.
But as the days since the collapse have stretched on, they have struggled to maintain optimism that missing loved ones might still be found alive.
“It feels like a nightmare, none of this feels real,” said Zoila Benezra, 57, who lives at the nearby Marbella Condominium building. “Everyone’s just been waiting.”
The anxious families spent all of Thursday and Friday morning at the Surfside community center, which was the original location of the reunification center. On Friday afternoon, they were given pink wristbands and asked to move to the hotel.
Family members occasionally left the center to talk to reporters waiting outside. Some showed photos of their missing relatives on their cellphones and shared details about their lives.
Magdaly Ramsey said her 80-year-old mother, Magdaly Delgado, had lived in Apt. 911 in the building for the past 10 years. Her mother loved movies and traveling, and the two had plans to celebrate her next birthday together in Napa, Calif., in October, Ms. Ramsey said.
“I’m a big believer in faith and prayers,” she said as she stood outside the center. “We’re hoping for the best, but we’re expecting the worst.”
The crowd also included people with no connection to the victims.
Carol Hudson, 73, who lives down the road from the Champlain Towers complex, came to the community center on Friday afternoon to figure out how she could help. “If I didn’t know where my parents were, or my kids were, even for a day, I’d go nuts,” Ms. Hudson said.
“I feel the pain,” said Ms. Hudson. “I just feel the pain.”
In the lobby of the Grand Beach Hotel, people paced and back forth, occasionally turning to emergency workers in the hope that they might have more news.
The mood was simultaneously anxious and somber on Friday evening. People arrived with covered trays of food for the families.
At a conference room across the street, people gathered around tables laden with food, water, soft drinks, diapers and other supplies. Some hugged each other deeply. Men could be seen praying in an apartment next door.
Others seemed to have begun to lose hope. One woman consoled another, wrapping her arms around her shoulder and telling her gently, in Spanish, to try to calm down.
When did it happen?
Survivors said they were jolted awake at about 1:30 a.m. on Thursday by fire alarms, falling debris and the feeling of the ground trembling.
How many people have died?
At least four people were killed. The authorities fear many more fatalities.
How many are unaccounted for?
As many as 159 people were unaccounted for as of Saturday, officials said. The authorities have stressed that the numbers might shift as the authorities figure out how many people were actually in the building.
How many have been rescued?
About 35 people were rescued from the intact part of the building, and two were pulled from the rubble, said Ray Jadallah, a Miami-Dade Fire Rescue assistant fire chief.
How tall was the building?
The tower was 13 stories tall; about half of the 136 units collapsed.
When was it built?
It was constructed in 1981, according to county property records.
How many people live in Surfside, Fla.?
The town, just north of Miami Beach, has about 5,600 residents.
In the hours immediately after much of the Champlain Towers South condominiums collapsed, the authorities evacuated two nearby buildings, an 18-story condominium tower and a seven-story hotel.
But no action had been taken by Friday at the fallen building’s nearly identical sister a few hundred yards up the beach — Champlain Towers North. Both buildings went up in 1981 in Surfside, Fla., just north of Miami Beach. The complex has a third building, Champlain Towers East, erected in 1994.
The mayor of Surfside, Charles W. Burkett, said on Friday afternoon that he was worried about the stability of the north building but that he did not feel “philosophically comfortable” ordering people to evacuate.
He was speaking at a town commission meeting called to formally declare a state of emergency in Surfside, which Mr. Burkett said would give the town access to state and federal funds.
“We have a lot of circumstantial evidence to lead us to believe that there could be issues at the sister building, Champlain Towers North,” Mr. Burkett said. “The layout of the building is the same as Champlain Towers South. It has the same name. It was probably built by the same builder, and it was probably built with the same materials. I can’t tell you, I can’t assure you, that the building is safe.”
Still, Mr. Burkett said he thought the decision to evacuate should be voluntary. He added that had not yet spoken with residents in the building.
Mr. Burkett, an independent, said he had decided on this approach after talking with elected officials in Washington and in Miami.
James McGuinness, who is in charge of Surfside’s building department, told the commissioners that construction crews had been working on the roof of the south building before it collapsed, but he said he saw no evidence that the roof work had contributed to the disaster.
“There was no inordinate amount of materials on the roof that would cause this building to collapse,” Mr. McGuinness said.
Mr. McGuinness said workers had been making repairs to the roof and to anchors on the corners that hold ropes used by window cleaners.
The condominium association had hired engineers to work on a review of the structural integrity of the building and its electrical systems, he said.
Miami-Dade County requires these inspections at intervals of 40 years, Mr. McGuinness said, but the work on the anchors on the roof were not related to the recertification process.
He said the town of Surfside had not yet received the 40-year inspection report from the building’s owners. Commissioners at the meeting said Surfside had no indication that anything was wrong with the building.
Documents released by the town on Friday afternoon, however, showed that an engineering consultant had warned the building’s owners in 2018 about “major structural damage” to a concrete slab below a pool deck as well as crumbling and cracked concrete beams, columns and walls in a parking garage beneath the structure.
Author: The New York Times
This post originally appeared on NYT > Top Stories