Engineer had warned of structural damage before Florida building collapse: report

FILE PHOTO: People stand near the partially collapsed residential building in Surfside, as the emergency crews continue search and rescue operations for survivors, near Miami Beach, Florida, U.S. June 25, 2021. REUTERS/Maria Alejandra Cardona/

A consultant had warned three years before the deadly collapse of a South Florida condominium building that there was evidence of “major structural damage” to the concrete slab below the pool deck and abundant cracking and crumbling in the underground parking garage, The New York Times reported early on Saturday.

A large section of the 12-story building in the Miami suburb of Surfside collapsed suddenly in the early hours of Thursday as residents slept, in a disaster whose cause is not yet known.

Four people have been confirmed killed and 159 are still unaccounted for, with search-and-rescue teams working around the clock through an unstable mountain of debris.

The Times said that consultant engineer Frank Morabito’s October 2018 report had helped shape plans for a repair project that was set to get underway soon, more than two and a half years after the building managers were warned.

The paper said the complex’s management association had disclosed some of the problems in the wake of the collapse. But the release by Surfside officials late on Friday of Morabito’s report made apparent the full nature of the concrete and rebar damage, it said. Most of the damage was probably caused by years of exposure to the corrosive salt air along the South Florida coast, it said.

Morabito gave no indication in his report that the structure was at risk of collapse, but noted that the needed repairs would be aimed at “maintaining the structural integrity” of the building and its 136 units, the Times said.

“Though some of this damage is minor, most of the concrete deterioration needs to be repaired in a timely fashion,” the Times quoted Morabito as writing about damage near the base of the 40-year-old building.

The paper quoted Kenneth S. Direktor, a lawyer who represents the resident-led association that operates the building, as saying this week that the repairs had been set to commence, based on extensive plans drawn up this year.

The Times added that Direktor said the process would have been handled much differently if owners had had any indication that the corrosion and crumbling — mild instances of which are relatively common in many coastal buildings — were a serious threat.


Meanwhile, prospects for recovering survivors diminished with each passing hour on Saturday.

Even so, search-and-rescue teams worked around the clock through an unstable mountain of debris looking for signs of life from any of the 159 people still unaccounted for, while smoldering fires filled the air with smoke.

The death toll of four was certain to rise with one floor of the high-rise stacked atop another like pancakes. Aided by dogs, cameras, sonar and heavy equipment, rescuers looked for any spaces that may have formed in the debris, leaving any possible survivors air to breathe.

“We have hope because that’s what our search-and-rescue team tells us, that they have hope,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told a news conference on Friday.

Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky told reporters that rescue operations would continue throughout the night.

While local officials provided aid and comfort to the families, such as hotel rooms and food, search-and-rescue specialists worked the disaster site on a rotation, with a limited number allowed at any one time to prevent further collapse, Levine Cava said.

Teams from Mexico and Israel arrived to help relieve the locally based crews, many of whom have also traveled to disaster sites around the world.

Atop the pile, some wielded hammers and picks looking for signs of life. Heavy equipment scraped away the top layer.

Below ground, rescuers who entered through the parking garage risked their own lives searching for survivors, occasionally being hit by falling debris, officials said.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue chief Andy Alvarez recalled that his team once pulled a girl out of earthquake debris in Haiti eight days into the rescue effort.

“You gotta have hope. We’re doing everything we can to bring your family member out alive,” Alvarez told the loved ones of the missing on CNN, pausing as he was overcome with emotion.

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