Death toll reaches 97: Remainder of Surfside condo demolished as disaster investigation continues

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surfside image nist
Image courtesy of NIST

The search and recovery effort in the rubble of the collapsed Surfside condo is be approaching its final stages as more victims are identified and the list of the missing grows shorter, The Miami Herald has reported.

The remainder of Champlain Building South has been demolished, and the search for victims of perhaps the largest non-terrorist building collapse in US history continues. So far, 97 victims have been identified, 20 days after the collapse. 

Miami-Dade County officials say that more than 22 million pounds of concrete and debris have been removed.

Investigations have also started to uncover the reason for the collapse, and whether failures in Florida’s building inspection/review system could put other high rise structures at risk in the state.

First responders and state workers continue the grim task on-site to support ongoing the search for bodies, after rescuers concluded there would be no chance of any other survivors under the rubble of the building which collapsed on June 24.

Three years ago, an engineer warned of “major structural damage” at the building.

President Joe Biden visited Surfside July 1 to meet with rescue workers, console grieving families and deliver remarks about what could be the nation’s deadliest building collapse.

The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology said on June 30 that it will launch a full investigation into the building collapse, and what changes in laws, building codes and regulations could be made to prevent a similar tragedy. The agency that pushed safety reforms after investigating the collapse of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in 2001.

Earlier, consultant Frank Morabito wrote that the problems at the 13-story structure were on the concrete slab below the pool deck, the New York Times (NYT) reported. There was also “abundant” cracking and crumbling of the columns, beams and walls of the structure’s parking garage.

As days passed, and desperate rescue efforts have failed to uncover any more survivors, the search for causes and recriminations about the reason for the collapse continue to grow.

The condo corporation was preparing to begin a multimillion dollar repair program after acrimonious condo board meetings where residents complained about the cost and the building’s condition.

The complex’s management association had disclosed some of the problems in the wake of the collapse, but it was not until city officials released the 2018 report on June 25 that the full nature of the concrete and rebar damage — most of it probably caused by years of exposure to the corrosive salt air along the South Florida coast — became chillingly apparent,” the published report said.

“Though some of this damage is minor, most of the concrete deterioration needs to be repaired in a timely fashion,” Morabito wrote about damage near the base of the structure as part of his October 2018 report on the 40-year-old building.

The consultant gave no indication that the structure was at risk of collapse, though he noted that the needed repairs would be aimed at “maintaining the structural integrity” of the building and its 136 units..

Miami Herald: Surfside building that collapsed was starting a critical inspection process. What went wrong?

The oceanfront structure at 8777 Collins Ave. had 136 units and was built in 1981, according to real estate websites and city property records.

Miami Beach collapse
Overnight image from Miami Beach Police Department

Fiorella Terenzi, an associate professor at Florida International University who lives in a neighboring building, Champlain Towers East, said she woke up early on June 24 to a loud noise, the newspaper reported. She said she had seen heavy equipment on the roof of the south tower for the past two weeks.

Mehrdad Sasani, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University, and Joel Figueroa-Vallines, president of SEP Engineers, have said the available information about the building, along with video of the collapse, suggest something may have failed near the foundation of the building, ABC-57 TV reported. “They’ve also said that, rather than a single smoking gun, a combination of factors likely compromised the building’s integrity,” the broadcaster reported.

“Those factors could include vibrations from nearby construction work, heavy equipment placed on the concrete roof for repairs, water damage and exposure to corrosive salt in the seawater and air.”

Sasani also said that the building’s floor system was made of 8-inch-thick concrete plates atop columns.

“Given the sudden nature of collapse, one potential mode of failure is so-called ‘punching’ failure,” in which the column punches through the slab and “potentially progress(es) from there,” the professor told the broadcaster.

Investigators should be looking for any instability in the foundation, possibly including weak points within the 200 or so precast piles that help support the building, or perhaps corrosion in the steel rebar used to reinforce the concrete.

This story will be updated as additional information becomes available.

8777 collins street view
Google Street view of the property before the collapse

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