On Friday night, Surfside town leaders held an emergency meeting where they discussed what happened in the hours before the fatal incident and what must be done to avoid a similar tragedy in the future.
Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer said the town needs to increase the requirements of the recertification process, which includes a series of safety inspections that every building needs to complete every 40 years. James “Jim” McGuinness, the town’s building official, agreed.
“Hurricane Andrew changed the Florida building codes forever, so this terrible tragedy, which is a national tragedy, is going to change the building codes as they relate to certification,” McGuinness said.
The Champlain Towers South condominium, built in the 1980s, was up for its 40-year recertification, according to Surfside officials. Over the years, it had gone through extensive inspections due to deterioration, and the condo association was preparing to make updates and repairs.
The roof was undergoing work and the entire building had been under scrutiny due to potential construction projects nearby, officials said. Kenneth Direktor, a lawyer for the association, said the construction plans had already been submitted to the Town of Surfside but the only work that had begun was on the roof.
Direktor told ABC News there were signs of water damage to the complex, but that is common for oceanfront properties and would not have solely caused the collapse. He said he was never warned of any structural issues with the building or the land it was built on, and when a lawsuit was filed in 2015 over water damage and cracks on the outside wall of the building, engineers were hired to go through the inspection process.
At the emergency meeting Friday, McGuinness said he was on the roof of the Champlain Towers South, inspecting the roof anchors, 14 hours before it collapsed. He said there was “no inordinate amount of equipment or materials” that would cause the building to fall.
Two years before the collapse, engineers pointed out the evidence of flooding, cracking and corrosion in the building. A structural field service report from 2018 conducted by Morabito Consultants states that, among other things, the columns in the Champlain Towers South Condominium garage were cracked and needed to be replaced.
“Abundant cracking and spalling of various degrees was observed in the concrete columns, beams, and walls,” the report says. “Though some of this damage is minor, most of the concrete deterioration needs to be repaired in a timely fashion.”
The report also mentions there were cracks on the apartment balconies and that the concrete framed slab that supported the plaza/pool above the garage had undergone some previous concrete patching and epoxy injection of cracks, but the “work has performed less than satisfactorily and needs to be completed again.”
Other Champlain Towers will also be inspected following the collapse. “It would be imprudent not to take some types of steps to address that issue with the sister building,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said during the Friday meeting.
The oceanfront complex had 136 units, and approximately 55 of them were destroyed along the northeast corridor, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Raide Jadallah. People in the remaining structure were evacuated.
About 130 firefighters have been taking part in the search and rescue efforts since Thursday night, looking for survivors among the debris with the help of machinery, sonar devices and trained dogs. First responders have not heard any voices coming from the pile, but they have picked up sounds, Jadallah said.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said there are experts, including structural engineers, are on site to help keep rescuers safe while they search for survivors, as there is still “extreme risk” in working near the remaining structure. A Miami-Dade county official told ABC News there are wired dangling from the building, and on Friday, fires flared up throughout the day.
“Debris is falling on them as they do their work,” Levine Cava told reporters Friday. “But they are proceeding because they are so motivated and they are taking extraordinary risk on the scene every day.”
The cause of the partial collapse remains unknown, though so far there is no evidence of foul play, according to Levine Cava. The Miami-Dade Police Department is leading an investigation into the incident and President Joe Biden has approved an emergency declaration in Florida, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to “identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency,” according to a statement from the White House.
Source: ABC – US News