Researcher: High-rise that collapsed was sinking, due for recertification

40-year-old building was being re-roofed

The condominium association was in contact with engineers and architects preparing to complete its 40-year building recertification.

The 12-story beachfront condominium tower in Miami-Dade County that collapsed early Thursday morning was built in 1981 on reclaimed wetlands and a Florida International University researcher told USA Today that the building had been sinking at an alarming rate.

The building had 136 units, 55 units of which were in the two wings that collapsed.

“I looked at this morning and said ‘Oh my God.’ We did detect that,” Shimon Wdowinski, professor in the Department of Earth and Environment at Florida International University, told the newspaper.

Wdowinski said his research found the building was sinking at a rate of about 2 millimeters a year in the 1990s, and the sinking could have slowed or accelerated in the time since. The study was not done for the purpose of determining the soundness of the building but as part of an ongoing project to identify which parts of Miami could be most impacted by sea-level rise and coastal flooding.

“It was a byproduct of analyzing the data. We saw this building had some kind of unusual movement,” he told the newspaper.

The I-TEAM also learned the condominium association was in contact with engineers and architects preparing to complete its 40-year building recertification, which is required by Miami-Dade County to ensure that buildings remain structurally safe.

Work to re-roof the building began in April and was ongoing.

“There was work on the building being done to meet the 40-year standard,” Miami-Dade County Commission member Salley Heyman said. “That is something that has been put in place not just for the county, but for all municipalities and we have a strict building code since Hurricane Andrew for updates and improvements.”

The inspection is to determine the general structural condition of the building and the general condition of its electrical systems. A written recertification report must be prepared, certifying each building or structure is safe for continued occupancy.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue officials confirmed at least one person found dead in the rubble killed, 35 were able to get out after the Champlain Towers South building near 88th Street and Collins Avenue in Surfside partially collapsed shortly before 2 a.m. Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez confirmed early Thursday afternoon that 53 people are accounted for while 99 people remain unaccounted for and that search and rescue operations continue.

A hotel next to the condominium high-rise was evacuated because it was so close to the collapse.

During an appearance in Tampa before traveling to Surfside, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declined to speculate on potential deaths but said from videos and from calls with local officials, “this was a really, really catastrophic incident.”

“I know there has been some documented loss of life, but I think that this is going to be a really difficult day as they go through,” DeSantis said. “Hopefully, they’re able to save a lot more people because they have done a heck of a job so far.”

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett, appearing later with DeSantis outside the scene, said rescue workers were doing their best to find survivors in the rubble.

Earlier, Burkett told reporters he suspects a grim day ahead for families and rescue workers.

“I think we need to bring some heavy equipment in, and that part of it is heartbreaking,” Burkett said.

Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said five state agencies were assisting local officials, including the State Fire Marshal’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Department of Transportation, as the collapse has affected traffic across the area.

“This is an unimaginable tragedy that will require our attention in the hours, days and weeks to come, and we will provide the needed support and comfort to our fellow neighbors and residents as they navigate this enormously difficult time,” Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-North Miami Beach, wrote in a prepared statement.

News Service of Florida contributed to this story.

About the Authors:

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.