Building Integrity: Structural Damage Known Long Before the Building Gave Way in the Middle of the Night

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By Rich and Kathy Fettke and Kathy Fettke. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

The Miami condo collapse has got a lot of people wondering about the safety and integrity of their own buildings. The 12-story oceanside condo partially collapsed while people were sleeping. At the time of this podcast, 18 people are confirmed dead and 145 are still missing. As crews continue their search through the rubble, there are reports that the building was in dire need of repair.

There were 136 condos at the 40-year-old Champlain Towers South building. More than 50 of them collapsed on June 24th at 1:30 a.m.

Eyewitness Accounts of the Collapse

The investigations are only beginning to get underway, but there’s growing evidence that the building’s pool deck had a major design flaw, and the concrete under that slab was in bad shape.

A Tik Tok video may reveal a lot about what happened. Adriana Armiento took the video from across the street. It shows the entrance to the condo garage just moments before the building came down. You can see what looks like huge chunks of concrete on the floor and water pouring out of the ceiling. The post says: “The basement was the first to collapse!” (1)

Another resident told the Washington Post that she ran to the lobby to tell a security guard about a loud boom, and that part of the surface-level parking area and the pool deck had collapsed into the underground garage. She then ran back to her condo to get her two children and the three of them escaped just minutes before the building became a pile of rubble. (2)

Condo Warned about Problems in 2018

The condo association had been warned by an engineer in 2018, at the start of a 40-year certification process. But residents spent the next two-and-a-half years negotiating whether millions of dollars in repairs were truly needed.

Frank Morabito was hired by the association to get a jump start on the certification process. According to ABC News, Morabito’s initial inspection found “significant cracks and breaks in the concrete.” (3) The report mentioned a major design flaw to the pool deck area, and the failure of waterproofing under the pool deck which was “causing major structural damage” to the concrete below. He also warned that repairs were needed “to ensure the safety of the residents and the public.”

Residents Debated the Need for Repairs

That set the stage for a lot of negotiating among residents and board members about the cost of repairs. At first, the price tag was about $7 million. By waiting, the price tag had recently grown to more than double that amount. In the meantime, the issues grew worse, and the need for repairs became more critical.

In April, the board president wrote to residents about the urgent need for repairs. USA Today got ahold of the letter. (4) In it, Jean Wodnicki described a situation that you might expect when condo owners are told about expensive repairs. She said: “We have discussed, debated, and argued for years now.” And she speculated that that would continue. But, she also sent details about the extent of the repair work in an attempt to convince residents that pricey owner assessments were justified.

She explained that much of the work would be structural repairs to the concrete but also warned that because so much of the damage was underground, that crews would have to pull up almost all of the ground-level slab. She also said that crews may discover even more problems once the damaged areas are exposed and inspected.

Roof Repairs Has Recently Begun

According to the Real Deal, work on the roof began in April. That work was given priority because of the start of the hurricane season on June 1st. Some people have speculated that heavy equipment on the roof helped destabilize the building, but an attorney for the association doesn’t agree. Donna Berger told the Real Deal: “A building doesn’t fall down because you work on a roof or because there are 16 cracks in the stucco." (5)

There’s also speculation that shifting sand under the condo may have contributed to the problems. The part that collapsed faced the ocean. And a study at the Florida International University had found that the building was sinking about 2 millimeters a year in the 1990s. That study didn’t raise much of an alarm, apparently.

Conclusions won’t be known for quite some time. For now, our hearts go out to the people who are missing and their loved ones.

We’ll have a few links to our sources in the show notes.

Thanks for listening. I’m Kathy Fettke.

Links

1 - https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/06/30/florida-condo-building-collapse-live-updates/

2 - https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/interactive/2021/building-experts-miami-condo-collapse/

3 - https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/condo-board-president-warned-deterioration-need-repairs-months-collapse-n1272583

4 - https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2021/06/28/miami-condo-deterioration-worsening-april-letter-says/7790478002/

5 - https://therealdeal.com/miami/2021/06/25/details-emerge-in-search-for-cause-of-fatal-surfside-condo-collapse/

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