By a Biometrica staffer
It’s been four days since round-the-clock search-and-rescue (SAR) operations began amid the concrete and steel rubble of a partially collapsed condominium near Miami, Florida. So far no survivors have been pulled out of the ruins of the ocean-front Champlain Towers South condo in the town of Surfside, after it suddenly collapsed as residents slept in the early hours of Thursday, June 24.
By Monday, June 28, the death toll had risen to 11 with 150 people still listed as missing. Media reports say it may end up becoming the deadliest unintentional structural failure in U.S. history. President Joe Biden said he is likely to travel to Florida as early as Thursday this week to visit the site.
It took just 12 seconds for the 40-year-old high-rise to collapse and people described hearing what sounded like thunder before seeing a huge cloud of dust, BBC reported. What caused the building to collapse is still under investigation, and some say a full inquiry could take years, not months. But a 2018 engineer’s report released by Surfside city officials that focused on the building’s structural deficiencies has been in the limelight over the last couple of days.
The victims identified by local officials so far, according to ABC News, include:
- Stacie Dawn Fang, 54 — The first victim to be identified and said to have lived in apartment No. 1002 of the Champlain Towers South.
- Antonio and Gladys Lozano, 83 and 79 — The couple lived in apartment No. 903 and were married for 59 years.
- Manuel LaFont, 54 — His body was recovered from the wreckage by first responders on Friday, June 25. LaFont lived in apartment No. 804.
- Leon Oliwkowicz and Christina Beatriz Elvira, 80 and 74 — They lived in apartment No. 704 and their bodies were recovered by first responders on Saturday, June 26 and Sunday, June 27 respectively.
- Anna Ortiz and Luis Bermudez, 46 and 26 — Their bodies were recovered from the wreckage by first responders on Saturday.
- Frank Kleiman, 55 — His body was recovered from the wreckage by first responders on Monday.
- Marcus Joseph Guara, 52 — His body was recovered from the wreckage by first responders on Saturday.
- Michael David Altman, 50 — His body was recovered from the wreckage by first responders on Monday.
It was all hands on deck, with rescue teams bringing in experts from Israel and Mexico, SAR/Recovery dog teams, and, of course, a troop of local firefighters and other trained specialists. Many from the Miami-Dade County team also have experience abroad, news reports said. Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said workers have found voids large enough to keep victims alive, Reuters reported. But hopes of identifying signs of life are diminishing as time wears on.
“We have people waiting and waiting and waiting. That is excruciating. They are coping with the news that they might not have loved ones come out alive and still hoping that they will. Their loved ones may come out as body parts,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told reporters in an afternoon news briefing on Monday.
The pancake collapse of the building left layer upon layer of intertwined debris, frustrating efforts to reach anyone who may have survived in a pocket of space, the Associated Press reported. “Every time there’s an action, there’s a reaction. It’s not an issue of we could just attach a couple of cords to a concrete boulder and lift it and call it a day,” Jadallah said during a news conference according to media reports. Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s chief financial officer and the state’s fire marshal, said it was the largest deployment of such resources in Florida history that was not due to a hurricane, the Associated Press report said. Patronis said the same number of people are on the ground in Surfside as were during Hurricane Michael, a devastating Category 5 hurricane that hit 12 counties in 2018, the report added.
On Monday, USA Today reported that a letter from the building’s condo association president in April had said damage to the building’s basement garage had “gotten significantly worse” since an inspection about two and a half years earlier and that deterioration of the building’s concrete was “accelerating.” That letter had also said the estimated cost for the repair had increased from $9 million to more than $15 million, the report added. The letter’s author, Jean Wodnicki, survived Thursday’s collapse.
Morabito Consultants, the engineering services firm whose 2018 report on the building has been in the spotlight, had also issued a statement on Saturday saying it was saddened by “the tragic events that have occurred at Champlain Towers South Condominium.” It said its 2018 report “detailed significant cracks and breaks in the concrete, which required repairs to ensure the safety of the residents and the public.”
Florida International University Institute of Environment Professor Shimon Wdowinski said on Thursday after the tragedy that the area where the building collapsed showed signs of land subsidence in the 1990s, according to analysis of space-based radar data. He added, however, that land subsidence in and of itself likely would not cause a building’s collapse. (Subsidence refers to the gradual sinking process of an area of land.) “Western Miami Beach saw subsidence over larger areas but that was expected because homes there are built on reclaimed wetland,” a post on the university’s website says.
But, as we mentioned earlier in this piece, a full investigation may take years to complete.
A team from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which also investigated the collapse of the World Trade Center on 9/11, is already on site at Surfside and is in the preliminary stages of an investigation into the reason behind the collapse, NPR reported on Monday. Some of the questions that the team is looking to answer, according to Jason Averill, chief of NIST’s Materials and Structural Systems Division, include: “Are there many other buildings of this design? Are there materials issues that are common to many other buildings?”