Florida condo collapse: Investigators focus on structural failure

Evidence of structural damage before the collapse emerges as search-and-rescue operations enter a sixth day.

Crews work in the rubble of Champlain Towers South condo on Tuesday as many people were still unaccounted for after a fatal collapse [Lynne Sladky/AP Photo]

Investigators probing the cause of the condo building collapse in Surfside, Florida, are finding evidence of water damage and structural corrosion so severe the building’s owner association had estimated it would cost $15 million to repair.

The president of the Champlain South Towers condo association told residents in April their building desperately needed to fix structural problems, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Condo board president Jean Wodnicki wrote to owners that damage to the building’s foundational concrete and steel bars built in 1981 was “observable”, “has gotten significantly worse” and would “multiply exponentially” in coming years.

Reports of leaks and flooding under Champlain Towers come as search-and-rescue operations stretched into a sixth day on Tuesday at the site of a partly collapsed Florida condominium complex where at least 11 people were killed and another 150 were missing and feared dead.

“There was always water there,” John Turis, a condo owner in the building told The Washington Post.

“There was always water in the garage. There was always water leaking — it used to leak on my car all of the time,” said Turis who was in New York when the building collapsed.

Rescue personnel work at the scene of the partially collapsed Champlain South Towers condominium in Surfside, near Miami Beach, Florida, in this undated recent photograph [Florida Task Force 3 / Handout via Reuters]

A former maintenance supervisor at the building, William Espinosa told television station CBS 4 Miami that saltwater would seep through the building’s foundation at high tides. Employees would use two large pumps to force it out, he said.

Photographs taken by a contractor just two days before the collapse showed a wet floor, cracked concrete and severely corroded rebar in the building’s pool equipment room, according to the Miami Herald newspaper.

With hopes fading by the hour of pulling anyone else alive from the rubble left when nearly half of the 12-floor, 156-unit tower abruptly caved in on itself, authorities held out the possibility that survivors might yet be found, the Reuters news agency reported.

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology, which has responsibility for the investigation, has deployed a team of six scientists and engineers to the site of the collapsed building, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday.

Families of the 150 still missing were “coping with the news that they might not have loved ones come out alive and still hoping that they will”, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told reporters on Monday evening.

“Their loved ones may come out as body parts,” added Cava, whose office is overseeing the response to the disaster.

People gather at a vigil on the night of June 28 in Surfside, Florida, to remember those that died or are missing after the oceanfront Champlain Towers South condo collapsed [Marta Lavandier/AP Photo]

Teams picking through broken concrete, twisted metal and dust from pulverized building materials were still treating the round-the-clock operation – which has employed dog teams, cranes and infrared scanners – as a search-and-rescue effort.

No one has been extricated alive from the ruins of the oceanfront Champlain Towers South condo in Surfside, adjacent to Miami Beach, since a few hours after one side of the high-rise collapsed early Thursday morning as residents slept.

Fire officials spoke of detecting faint sounds from inside the rubble pile and finding voids deep in the debris large enough to possibly sustain life.

“Not to say that we have seen anyone down there, but we’ve not gotten to the very bottom,” Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told reporters on Monday.

City officials announced that two more bodies were recovered on Monday, bringing the confirmed death toll to 11.

Crowds of rescue workers were standing on top of the debris pile on Tuesday morning, sifting through the rubble. Scattered thunderstorms were expected on Tuesday, potentially slowing search efforts.

The White House announced Tuesday that President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will visit the site of the collapse on Thursday.

A makeshift memorial a block from the site had been replenished with bouquets of fresh hydrangeas tucked into a chain-link fence. A poster board with hearts had a message for the first responders: “Thank you for looking for my grandmother.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies