It appears that the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium tower in Surfside Florida could have been avoided; it was a sort of “chronicle of a death foretold” where a letter and studies from more than two years ago warned the possibility of the Surfside collapse.
Last Thursday night, June 24, the structure of the building where hundreds of people lived collapsed; so far there are 16 dead and at least 147 missing.
At first glance, the condominium offered luxury amenities; a four-bedroom penthouse with more than 418 m2 was sold for almost $2.9 million at the beginning of this year. In addition to the homes, the building offered terraces, a club room, tennis courts, gym, sauna, private beach, heated pool, subway parking, and 24-hour security.
The building is located between several condominium towers and luxury hotels, including the Four Seasons Hotel at The Surf Club, a few blocks to the north.
Although the official causes of the collapse are still unknown, the internal deterioration of the structure was noticeable with cracks, leaks, and the lack of preventive maintenance giving signs that if no action was taken, the building built in 1981 could collapse.
Surfside collapse: A foreseen tragedy
A letter from Champlain Towers South’s board chair in 2018 describes the deterioration, “Observable damage, such as in the garage, has significantly worsened since the initial inspection.”
“Concrete deterioration is accelerating. The roof condition has gotten much worse, so extensive roof repairs have had to be incorporated,” the missive says.
“When you can see the spalling (cracking) of the concrete, that means the rebar holding it together is rusting and deteriorating below the surface,” it notes.
“Based on our research, there were a lot of warning signs more than 10 years ago, maybe even longer,” attorney Adam Schwartzbaum, whose grandparents lived in the building, told CNN.
Schwartzbaum is leading a class-action lawsuit for “reckless and negligent conduct” by the condo association.
A 2018 structural field review by Morabito Consultants Inc. found significant structural damage under the pool deck, according to the report. At that time, the construction company submitted a $15 million estimate to make the fixes.
Kenneth S. Direktor, an attorney involved, told The New York Times that the building was about to undergo extensive repairs because of rusted steel and damaged concrete. The repairs had been scheduled as part of an overhaul and recertification process for 40-year-old buildings.
Mehrdad Sasani, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University, claims that in addition to structural problems and “40 years of exposure to salt, water and salted air,” the building’s collapse may have been influenced by vibrations from construction work, heavy equipment on the roof and water damage from the building’s swimming pool.
In 2018, a Surfside official said the building was in good shape
Rosendo Prieto, a former Surfside, Florida, building official, said in 2018 that the condo was structurally sound. However, after an engineering report came out disproving his claims, the contractor was suspended from his current job.
A private engineer advised Prieto that a leaking pool above the Champlain Towers South garage contributed to “significant structural damage” three years ago.
A review of minutes from a condo association meeting found that Prieto told the board that he had indeed reviewed engineer Frank Morabito’s troubling report, but that all was well.