In the United States of America, buildings don't just fall down for no reason. But that's certainly what it looked like in the early morning hours of June 24 in the town of Surfside, a suburb of Miami, Florida. Just before dawn, half of the Champlain South Towers suddenly collapsed into a massive pile of debris and rubble.
While several of the residents were able to get out of the building relatively unharmed dozens more remain either unaccounted for or were killed. CNBC reports that the death total reached 97 as of mid-July.
Search crews have since called off what started out as a rescue mission, now certain that there are no more survivors, but one major question remains: How did this happen? How did a 13-story building fall apart, seemingly out of nowhere? While investigators remain unsure of the root cause, it's becoming increasingly clear that the collapse was avoidable, as several tell-tale warning signs pertaining to the condominium's deficient structural integrity went unheeded.
'Major structural damage'
It appears that approximately three years prior to the tower tragedy, an engineer at the time cited "major structural damage" to a concrete slab that was positioned beneath the building's pool deck, according to The New York Times. Additionally, the engineering consultant discovered substantial wear and tear affecting the beams, walls and columns in the facility's parking garage, which he described in the report as "abundant."
"Severable sizeable spalls were noted in both the topside of the entrance drive ramp and underside of the pool/entrance drive/planter slabs, which included instances with exposed, deteriorating rebar," the report further warned, which has since been made public.
While many of the building's issues weren't pressing, the professional who conducted the examination warned that several of the repairs needed to be done as soon as possible.
"Though some of this damage is minor, most of the concrete deterioration needs to be repaired in a timely fashion [emphasis added]," said consultant Frank Morabito, as reported by The New York Times.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who has provided the local and national press with ongoing updates since a portion of the tower fell, said the report's findings are news to her.
"We did know about this," Levine Cava said, as reported by National Public Radio. "We are obviously very interested in all of the evidence that is coming to light."
Yet despite these warnings, the condominium association took no action. In fact, based on documents obtained by NPR pertaining to a condo board meeting that took place on Nov. 15, 2018, Surfside officials described the building as being "in very good shape," erroneously citing the report's findings that were issued five weeks earlier in October.
Other points of concern
But this wasn't the only red flag that failed to raise alarm bells. In 2019, researchers from Ireland and Florida International University warned of local land subsidence along the U.S.' eastern seaboard. "Subsidence" is a technical term that refers to the gradual caving in of an area of land.
Put together by University College Dublin's Simone Fiaschi and Florida International University's Shimon Wdowinski, the researchers cited Boston, MA, Norfolk, VA and Miami Beach as three places exhibiting "significant subsidence," with as much as 1 to 3 millimeters of subsidence accruing per year in portions of Miami Beach.
While the purpose of the study was mainly to warn of the respective regions' vulnerability to flooding and storm surge, due in part to sea level rise, it serves as another example of impending danger.
In the wake of the disaster, officials in neighboring communities have ordered inspections of high rise facilities to ensure that they are all structurally sound and aren't in jeopardy. Miami Beach City Manager Alina Hudak told NBC News that all 5,000 commercial buildings in and around Miami Beach will be fully inspected, even though some of these buildings have already received fairly recent reviews. But there are at least 500 buildings in the city that were already of some concern. They'll be the ones that get priority attention.
"Those properties are currently going through what is known in South Florida as the 40-year recertification process," Hudak explained. " It's a pretty comprehensive process that the management companies or the condo associations are responsible for fulfilling."
Much remains unknown about how the heretofore unthinkable happened in the town of Surfside. What is almost certain is there will be many lawsuits filed by the families of those who lost loved ones and potential criminal charges if courts find negligence. Property insurers are sure to be involved as well.
Unlike traditional claim adjusters who work on behalf of insurers, the public adjusters at Stone Claim Group work for businesses and condominium associations affected by natural and man-made disasters. If your building is damaged and your policy entitles you to compensation, we'll ensure you get the money in full. Our familiarity with insurance claims and the pre-loss inspection process has won our clients million-dollar settlements that were originally far less than that.
Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you before, during or after a disaster.
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