Officials in Miami are calling for inspections of all older buildings over six stories within 45 days after the shocking collapse of the Champlain Towers South apartment building that it is now feared to have killed potentially scores of people.
The sudden and catastrophic failure of the building last week stunned the nation, happening incredibly quickly and as most of its residents slept. So far there have been 10 confirmed dead but more than 150 people remain missing.
According to CNN, the city of Miami sent letters on Friday to condo associations of 40-plus-year-old buildings above six stories, urging them to get an inspection from a qualified structural engineer within the next 45 days.
“Effective immediately, you are strongly urged to retain the services of a Licensed Structural Engineer and to undertake a Structural Inspection for Visible signs of Distress,” the letter said.
Miami-Dade and Surfside officials have vowed to release all documents relating to Champlain Towers “to get to the bottom of what happened” as fires in the rubble have hampered efforts to reach possible survivors.
While the cause of the collapse remains unknown, engineering experts interviewed by the Miami Herald, have said that, based on available evidence, it appeared that a structural column or concrete slab beneath the pool deck failed, creating a crater into which the mid-section of the building collapsed.
According to the minutes from a November 2018 board meeting obtained by the Miami Herald, Rosendo Prieto, the chief building official for the town of Surfside, told residents the condominium was “in very good shape” just a month after an engineer highlighted “abundant cracking” in concrete columns, beams and walls in a field survey report.
The 136-unit building, erected in 1981, collapsed before a recertification process was completed.
But emails released by Surfside also show that Prieto dismissed concerns over potential damage to the building’s foundation from a nearby construction project just two months after the engineer’s report.
Separately, developers of the complex were accused of contributing to at least two town board members’ campaigns to get help with permits during construction in 1981, according to the Washington Post.
Champlain Towers were in a partnership with Polish-born Canadian Nathan Reiber. According to Ontario’s Hamilton Spectator. Reiber was charged with tax evasion by Canadian authorities in the 1970s.
In 1979, faced with a moratorium on construction in Surfside due to sewer system problems, rival developers with stalled projects complained that Reiber’s Champlin Towers project had received preferential treatment for permits.
A year later, developers at Champlain requested that two members of Surfside’s town council return political contributions that has been made to them after Reiber’s rivals went public. Reiber died in 2014.
Beyond immediate questions on the cause of the Champlain Towers’ collapse are broader questions of Miami’s long, beach front development, often built on reclaimed land or sensitive barrier islands. Reports have identified parts of north-east Miami Beach where the ground has sunk, though experts stress it is far too early to make any meaningful guesses as to the exact cause of the collapse.
Shimon Wdowinski, a professor at Florida International University’s department of earth and environment, co-authored a paper in April last year that found the building had sunk by about two millimeters per year since the 90s.
Wdowinski said it came as no surprise given his research last year. “I looked at it this morning and said ‘Oh my god.’ We did detect that,” he told USA Today,
A construction executive who extensive experience building high-rises in New York and elsewhere in the US, told the Guardian that everything moves no matter where its constructed.
“Sure, buildings in Florida take a beating from the hurricanes and rain. If corners were cut, they’ll have to investigate what was in the ground and what kind of foundations was it built on. ”