What Are the Possible Causes of the Surfside Condo Collapse?

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U.S.|What could have caused the condo building near Miami to collapse?


The Champlain Towers South complex in Surfside, Fla., was about to undergo repairs as part of required structural recertification.
Credit...Maria Alejandra Cardona for The New York Times
  • June 25, 2021, 1:20 p.m. ET

Engineering and architectural experts said it may take a long time to piece together what caused the partial collapse of the condo building near Miami, but there are a few areas that investigators will want to look for: corroded components, an undermined foundation, or defects in the construction or design.

“When a building falls downward on itself it’s more likely that there was a loss of support somewhere,” said Abieyuwa Aghayere, a professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering at Drexel University.

The Champlain Towers South complex in Surfside, Fla., was about to undergo extensive repairs for corrosion and concrete spalling as part of a required structural recertification for buildings when they reach 40 years of age. Ocean salts can penetrate structures to begin rusting steel components, in particular rebar that may be improperly protected.

But there are other factors that could make a building vulnerable to collapse. Charlie Danger, who retired as Miami-Dade County’s building chief seven years ago, said unpermitted remodeling could result in someone eliminating a structural support column.

Meanwhile, some experts such as Mr. Aghayere said a sinkhole or other foundation problems could lead to major instability under buildings.

Researchers using space-based radar to examine the flooding potential in the Miami Beach area had noticed long before the collapse that the Champlain Towers South was subsiding in ways that neighboring properties were not.

“I was surprised,” said Shimon Wdowinski, an environmental professor at Florida International University. “I didn’t expect to see movement over there. That’s a stable part of the city.”

But Mr. Wdowinski said even larger amounts of subsidence are often seen in areas that don’t see buildings collapse.

There have been other complaints from residents of the condominium complex. One resident filed a lawsuit over water intrusion that she blamed on poor maintenance. Others complained that nearby construction had sent rumbles through the condo building.

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