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Video of Florida Building Collapse Points to Possible Origin

Experts weigh in on a possible 'failure point' in Surfside tragedy
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 28, 2021 1:46 AM CDT
Updated Jun 28, 2021 5:41 AM CDT

(Newser) – Engineers who have watched surveillance footage of last week's building collapse in Surfside, Fla., are pointing to the possibility of a "progressive collapse" starting in the lowest part of the condominium complex and setting off a chain reaction that led to half of the 13-story building pancaking onto itself. As the New York Times explains in an extensive look at this possible "failure point," the collapse appears to start near or at the bottom of the Champlain Towers South, rather than a structural failure higher up causing the top of the building to collapse into the floors beneath it. The Times piece explains various things that could have caused such a failure near the bottom of the building, possibly in or even underneath the underground parking garage, from damage to a design or construction error to corrosion to a sinkhole—or some combination of factors. More of the latest on the tragedy:

  • "The pool is caving in": Michael Stratton, who was away on business at the time, tells the Miami Herald his wife called him in a panic at 1:30am from their fourth-floor unit because the building was shaking, and then she saw what appeared to be a sinkhole. As she was looking out their window she said, according to her sister's account to Sky News, "The pool is caving in, the pool is sinking to the ground" before screaming. The line went dead at that point. Cassie Stratton remains unaccounted for.

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  • The grim numbers: The official death toll stands at 9, with 152 still unaccounted for. CNN reports the dead identified so far are Leon Oliwkowicz, 80, Luis Bermudez, 26, Anna Ortiz, 46, Christina Beatriz Elvira, 74, Stacie Fang, 54, Antonio Lozano, 83, Gladys Lozano, 79, and Manuel LaFont, 54. CNN has a rundown of what is known about those still missing here, while USA Today has one here and the New York Times here. Rescuers are still hoping they may find people trapped in air pockets, ABC.net reports in a look at the details of the search effort.
  • Heartwrenching phone calls: A family tells Local 10 they were getting calls from the landline of their missing grandparents, who lived in the building, up until Friday night. When they answered, all they heard was static.
  • More on the disturbing 2018 report: An engineering report on the building three years ago said "major structural damage" needed to be repaired, and more details are coming out on that report, which was commissioned by the condo owners' association. A $12 million repair project stemming from the report was due to start soon, and a lawyer representing the association says the board was not given any warning suggesting the building could collapse, and wanted to take the time to do the repairs right.
  • The word from an official: Shortly after that 2018 report, a Surfside official assured residents the building was in "very good shape." Meanwhile, residents had been complaining about disturbing issues including leaks and cracking, and reported feeling the building shake in recent years as another nearby high-rise was being constructed. At least one condo board member told the town's building official in 2019 there were concerns about the structure of the building because the other construction appeared to involve digging "too close" to Champlain.
  • 12 seconds: The BBC has screenshots from the surveillance footage detailing a second-by-second reconstruction of the collapse.
  • Location a problem? While the entire coastline in that part of Florida is settling (sinking) a couple millimeters per year, experts say the deeply buried concrete pilings would have ensured that wasn't a concern—unless some type of void or sinkhole opened up beneath one or more pilings, causing it to shift downward while the others remained where they were. As NBC News reports, Miami Beach is a barrier island, and while it's not clear this was an issue with this particular situation, experts have long noted the risk of building on that type of coastline, especially as sea levels rise.
  • Investigations: The town of Surfside has hired a structural engineering firm to study the collapse as well as inspect the rest of the building that remains standing, and other nearby buildings, the Miami Herald reports. Nearby cities are also taking their own measures to look at building safety. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal agency, is sending experts to investigate the Surfside tragedy, and other local, state, and federal agencies are expected to probe the incident. Surfside's mayor, meanwhile, says that all city documents—including "every piece of correspondence"—related to the building will be released.
(Read more Miami stories.)

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