The collapse of Miami's Champlain Towers South Condo Building is one of the biggest and most tragic stories of the year. Here at ForConstructionPros.com we're combing through all the information we can in order to bring you a full view of the story, all in one spot.
Updated July 6: 32 confirmed dead (26 identified); 113 missing; Final demolition occurred on July 4.How You Can Help
As reported by the New York Times, at roughly 1:30 a.m., the residents of the Champlain Towers Condo Building in Miami, Fla. were startled awake by fire alarms, debris, and "the ground trembling." Reporters Giulia Heyward, Richard Fausset, and Jack Healy interviewed Bruno Treptow—who lived on the eighth floor of the building. The collapse consumed half of the building, stopping at the edge of Treptow's living space. He's quoted saying, "The hallway's gone."
Constructed in 1981, the Champlain Towers South Condo building was 13 stories tall, housing 136 units with a parking garage beneath the building. Described on the condominium's website, the building is located just steps from the Atlantic ocean, and featured a pool deck and access to a sandy beach, with "year-round ocean breezes." For context, the location is set on the south side of Surfside (located north of Miami Beach) on a peninsula/island of sorts between the Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic ocean.
ABC News reports that about 55 of the building's condominiums were destroyed.
Units were comprised of one, two, three, and four-bedroom floor plans ranging from 1,200 ft.2 to 4,500 ft.2. As reported by Curt Anderson of the Associated Press on Monday, June 28, 2021, released minutes from 2018 had board members claiming the building was in "very good shape." However, the AP report surfaced documents that show "no evidence any of the critical concrete structure work ever started." Apparently, residents were instructed that they had to pay a "fair share" of the multi-million dollar assessment by July 1.
In this unprecedented happening, the south tower of the building collapsed on Thursday, June 24, 2021. Robert Frosch, professor of civil engineering and senior associate dean of engineering for facilities and operations at Purdue University calls the catastrophe a "progressive collapse," similar to what happened with the World Trade Center.
"When a floor collapses, the weight of that slab doubles the weight of the floor below it," Frosch explains. "This type of failure is extremely rare. We have provisions in the building code to minimize the risk of this type of failure."
The Miami Herald reports that Rosendo Prieto - the former top building official for the town of Surfside - began a "leave of absence" on June 28. Though it's unconfirmed that the decision was voluntary. Allegedly, Prieto had reviewed the 2018 inspection report and informed the residents that the building appeared to be "in very good shape." According to the Miami Herald's article, this statement was made a month after the October 2018 report.
A link to the report and excerpts are below.
However, Prieto denies receiving the report. He last worked for Surfside in November 2020 and was reassigned to the city of Doral in May.
As of Tuesday, June 29, the Miami Herald reports that three million pounds of concrete have been removed from the site. The Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky has come forward stating that rescue workers will no longer be returning to the west section of the collapse as it is too dangerous for responders. The eastern side poses the same risk.
Using technologies like infrared, search and rescue dogs, cameras, sonar, and robotics, unmanned rescuers have found "small voids or crevices in the rubble during the operation. While it does not necessarily mean survivors will be found, [officials] said, they are pursuing every possible option that could lead them to finding residents." Many of the technologies used are similar to those used in the World Trade Center, mass shootings, and in disabling explosives.
In its coverage, ABC News described the situation as "bad" and "not ideal" for rescuers. While search and rescue continues around the clock, Levine Cava tells ABC News that the remaining structure is being considered unstable. Crews are no longer entering the remaining structure.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett spoke in a June 29 press conference: "Nobody is giving up here. Nobody is stopping. We are dedicated to getting everyone out of that pile of rubble."
Adobe Stock Images | By Felix Mizioznikov
The Big Question: Why
While investigations are still underway, it's been said that it will likely take a long time to determine the cause of the collapse. However, New York Times reporters Mike Baker, Sophie Kasakove, Christopher Flavelle, and Mitch Smith, report that the town released documents that showed evidence that an engineering consultant noted "major structural damage" to a concrete slab below the pool deck with "'abundant cracking' and crumbling of the columns, beams, and walls of the parking garage." This report was done in 2018 and, reportedly, work was planned to be underway to address the issue.
The report from Morabito Consultants (MC) has been released online. Due to the location, with exposure to the ocean's saltwater and hurricanes, it's not surprising there are numerous accounts of waterproofing issues and cracking in the concrete slab edges of balconies. Structurally, MC recommended that the entrance/pool deck concrete slab be removed and replaced entirely. However, all the failed slab areas were underneath brick pavers, decorative stamped concrete, and planters—all requiring waterproofing replacement.
Purdue University's Charles Pankow Professor of Civil Engineering, Rodrigo Salgado is quoted imparting the impact water can have on cracks: "There were reports of cracks in the superstructure of the condo building and possibly some foundation movement. Cracks can be a cause or a symptom of building pathology. If you have cracks opening up, water can get in, corrode steel reinforcement, and that may lead to failure. But if you start getting movement at the foundation, those movements distort the building, and that leads to cracking. Excessively wide cracks, particularly in certain locations, are an indicator of a structure in distress."
Salgado has studied how to design and construct foundations for various types of structures for 30 years. He is the author of The Engineering of Foundations and the editor in chief of the Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).
Excerpts From the Report:
Many of the existing pavers on the pool deck are cracked and showing moderate wear and tear from years of being exposed to the elements. The pavers do not appear to pose any hazard to the building occupants and are currently not in need of replacement. The joint sealant was observed to be beyond its useful life and are in need of complete replacement. However, the waterproofing below the Pool Deck & Entrance Drive as well as all of the planter waterproofing is beyond it useful life and therefore must all be completely removed and replaced. The failed waterproofing is causing major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas. Failure to replace the waterproofing in the near future will cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially. MC approach to the repair of this structure is different from what is specified in contract documents in numerous aspects.
MC's suggested repairs included the removal of "all pavers, decorative concrete paving, setting beds, concrete topping slab, and waterproofing down to the reinforced concrete structure; repairing the concrete structure as deemed necessary; pouring a sloped bonded concrete overlay that will be sloped to drain; installing a new waterproofing membrane, protection board and drainage panels on the new sloped surface; and placing new pavers/decorative concrete slabs over a sand setting bed. New stainless-steel dual-level drains will be installed at all existing drain locations that will collect rain water at the surface of the pavers and at the waterproofing level. This system will assure that all water that penetrates to the waterproofing layer will be able to flow freely to the deck drains, resulting in an extended life for the replacement waterproofing membrane. This system also provides extra protection for the existing reinforced concrete structure and allows future membrane repair/replacement to be completed more economically. The repairs to all planters will be completed in a similar manner."
Adobe Stock Images | By Felix Mizioznikov
The report then discusses the parking garage and slabs:
Abundant cracking and spalling of varying degrees was observed in the concrete columns, beams, and walls. Several sizeable spalls were noted in both the topside of the entrance drive ramp and underside of the pool/entrance drive/planter slabs, which included instances with exposed, deteriorating rebar. Though some of this damage is minor, most of the concrete deterioration needs to be repaired in a timely fashion. All cracking and spalling located in the parking garage shall be repaired in accordance with the recommendations of ICRI (International Concrete Repair Institute).
MC visual observations revealed that many of the previous garage concrete repairs are failing resulting in additional concrete cracking, spalling and leaching of calcium carbonate deposits. At the underside of Entrance/Pool deck where the slab had been epoxy-injected, new cracks were radiating from the originally repaired cracks. The installed epoxy is not continuous as observed from the bottom of the slab, which is evidence of poor workmanship performed by the previous contractor. The injection ports were not removed, and the surfaces were not ground smooth at the completion of the injection. Leaching of calcium carbonate deposits in numerous areas has surely caused CTS to pay to repaint numerous cars. This leaching will continue to increase until proper repairs are completed. MC is convinced that the previously installed epoxy injection repairs were ineffective in properly repairing the existing cracked and spalled concrete slabs. MC recommends that the Entrance/Pool deck concrete slabs that are showing distress be removed and replaced in their entirely. Unfortunately, all of these failed slab areas are under brick pavers, decorative stamped concrete and planters which require completed waterproofing replacement. All repaired concrete slabs located in the parking garage are to be repaired in accordance with the recommendations of ICRI.
The building was meant to begin repairs as "part of required structural recertification for buildings at 40 years of age." With the original construction done in 1981, it was just past this 40-year recertification requirement.
However, many experts say there may be more involved. Theories, so far, include the potential of removing a structural support column over the years; a sinkhole; problems with the foundation; and possibly more. Of course, there's a chance that this could be the cause of a combination of many issues instead of a single problem. Yet, the fact that that this horrific event happened to such a building at such an age is unusual to say the least. "Having a building that is only 40 years old collapse like that is unbelievable, and often a failure like that is a combination of factors, not necessarily a single one," says Julio Ramierez, Purdue University's Karl H. Kettelhut Professor of Civil Engineering.
Adobe Stock Images | By Felix Mizioznikov
Inspections & Investigation
While the building had undergone extensive inspections, Kenneth Direktor, a lower for the Champlain Towers South Condo Association spoke with ABC News reporters. In their June 30 article, he is noted as explaining that "he hadn't been warned of any structural issues with the building or about the land it was built on. He said there was water damage to the complex, but that is common for oceanfront properties and wouldn't have caused the partial collapse."
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Mayor Danielle Levine Cava have announced that a full investigation would be done. ABC News reports that the Miami-Dade Police Department are leading the investigation. While not being ruled out, no evidence of foul play has been found.
Ronald Burg, PE, FACI, Executive Vice President of the American Concrete Institute released a statement on June 29. "The [ACI] shares its sadness at the loss of life following the collapse of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, USA, on June 24, 2021."
He adds that the ACI has begun assembling a team of ACI member experts to work with the National Institute of Standards and Technology on the investigation. They will work under the leadership of ACI committee 133 on disaster reconnaissance. The coordinated teams are focused on the collapse and areas involving concrete construction.
Additional details of the investigation will be made available in time.
It seems the area has taken some proactive measures for the area's structures. In a July 1 video, ABC News reporter Victor Oquendo reports that all buildings "40 years and older and above four stories are undergoing an audit. More than 500 buildings are being inspected in Miami Beach alone. One building already notified to close off access to four balconies."
Late on July 4, Mark Loiaux - a 73-year old explosives veteran and CEO of Controlled Demolotion Inc. (CDI) was hired as a subcontractor to demolition what remained of Surfside's Champlain Tower. As reported by the Miami Herald on July 5, while Miami-Dade's Mayor Loizeaux had originally claimed that the demolition would take weeks, it seems worry about the incoming tropical storm Elsa drove Governor DeSantis to direct for a more immediate response for safety.
From the Miami-Herald article, "'We spent two full days with a lot of attorneys trying to figure out the legal way to get it done,' said Steve Greenberg, founder of the BG Group, which hired CDI as a subcontractor for the Surfside operation. Greenberg said he was in talks with the administration of DeSantis about a quick demolition late last week ahead of a potential hit by tropical cyclone Elsa, even as he was seeing news report that such an operation would take weeks. 'The governor basically directed them: There’s a storm coming, it’s not safe, get it done,” Greenberg said."
The article states that CDI, who was also instrumental in the demo of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building after the 1995 bombing, brought two drillers from a New Jersey project. They drilled 165 hols and used 128 lbs. of dynamite.
By 11 p.m., the job was done without damage to nearby buildings. Soon after the scene was declared safe, search and recovery resumed searching.
How You Can Help
Both the American Red Cross and the Miami mayor have come forward announcing that they have all the donations and supplies volunteers can handle. Instead, people are encouraged to donate money. A number of funds have been set up:
- The Surfside Tragedy Central Emergency Fund: Surfside Tragedy Central Emergency Fund | The Chesed Fund
- The Greater Miami Jewish Federation's emergency assistance fund: BE PART OF THE JEWISH COMMUNITY’S RESPONSE (jewishmiami.org)
- United Way, Operation Helping Hands: United Way of Miami-Dade Web Portal (unitedwaymiami.org)
- For convenience, the website, GoFundMe has gathered a list of fund-raisers: Surfside Condo Collapse: Here’s How to Help on GoFundMe. At the time of this writing, there were 23 total, all looking for different amounts of aid at different levels of financial backing.
Sources (the most recent at bottom):
- Live Updates: Miami Building Collapse - The New York Times (nytimes.com)
- Champlain Tower South Condominium Report
- Despite warning, town deemed condo building in 'good shape' (msn.com) | Associated Press
- Rescuers: Survivors could still be inside collapsed building (apnews.com)
- Surfside condo collapse shows how the U.S. keeps getting disaster response wrong (msn.com)
- Search for possible survivors of Florida condo collapse continues as 150 unaccounted for (nbcnews.com)
- Surfside condo built in era of slipshod Miami construction | Miami Herald
- Rescue workers searching at collapsed Surfside condo | Miami Herald
- Cracked concrete, standing water days before Florida collapse | Miami Herald
- Condo board boss warned of worsening damage before collapse (msn.com)
- Surfside building collapse latest: Rescurers 'make headway' in desperate search (ABC News)
- Surfside building collapse: Death toll increases to 12 - ABC News (go.com)
- Official Who Said Collapsed Condo Was Safe on Leave From New Job (insider.com)
- Ex-Surfside official takes leave of absence after collapse | Miami Herald
- Florida condo was 'shaking all the time' during luxury tower construction next door, according to residents - CNN
- Surfside building collapse latest: Death toll rises to 16 as rescuers 'make headway' (msn.com)
- Tragedy strikes home for Miami-Dade rescuers (msn.com)
- Surfside building collapse: Death toll rises to 18 after 2 children found - ABC News (go.com)
- Eighty Seven Park developer offered $400,000 to Champlain Towers South amid construction, documents show - The Washington Post
- An agonizing decision is looming for condo rescue teams: How long to search for survivors? (msn.com)
- How the Surfside, FL condo’s demolition happened so quickly | Miami Herald
- Death toll rises to 32 as Surfside condo collapse rescue effort faces challenges from Tropical Storm Elsa (msn.com)
Stay tuned to ForConstructionPros.com for the latest updates.