The latest on the partial building collapse near Miami

By Melissa Mahtani, Adrienne Vogt, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 11:21 a.m. ET, June 30, 2021
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4:13 p.m. ET, June 29, 2021

Increase in high-tide flooding is eroding coastal infrastructure and seen as a risk, engineer says

From CNN's Rachel Ramirez

Older buildings like the one in Surfside, Florida, are frequently seeing sea level rise and saltwater intrusion as greater risks, a structural engineer tells CNN.

Ben Schafer, a structural engineer at Johns Hopkins University, says civil engineers need to rethink how buildings are designed and how older buildings need to be reassessed.

“Climate change is changing the demands on all of our buildings across the US,” Schafer told CNN. “Sea level rise is one example of something that’s much broader. All of us are experiencing this, and just as we’re experiencing it all our buildings are experiencing it as well. In many cases, they’re facing demands that weren’t anticipated when we designed them in the past.”

Buildings with concrete and steel reinforcements aren’t designed to be submersed in sea water, which it damages concrete and corrodes the steel. As sea level rises, more tidal flooding will bring in more saltwater into coastal infrastructure. 

“The life of the structure would be greatly shortened,” he adds. “It’s a corrosive environment. It’s not favorable for concrete or steel, which are your primary building materials.”

If climate change was in fact a contributing factor to the building collapse, Schafer adds that engineers must learn from the tragic event and implement climate mitigation systems.  

“I don’t think we’ve owned up even to the scale of the problem,” Schafer said. “If you look at the median sea level-rise predictions and project that on to city maps, the scale of what we need to do is so far beyond the scale of what we’re so far considering,” he said.

3:26 p.m. ET, June 29, 2021

Sea level in Surfside has likely risen around 7 to 8 inches in the past 40 years, researcher says

From CNN's Rachel Ramirez

Sea level in Surfside, Florida, has risen roughly 7 to 8 inches in the past 40 years, due mainly to human-caused climate change, according to Brian McNoldy, a climate and weather researcher at the University of Miami.

The higher sea level increases the frequency of high-tide floods in the Miami area.

As sea level rises, McNoldy said, salt water can degrade infrastructure and infiltrate freshwater wells.

While being careful not to assign blame for the Surfside condo collapse, McNoldy added, “I don’t think I need to be an engineer to conclude this, but any time things are submerged in saltwater, it becomes harsh on them — it doesn’t matter what that material is.”

“We do know that in the past 25 years, sea level has risen almost 6 inches [in the Miami area]," McNoldy told CNN. "If we go back 40 years, we’ve probably seen about 7 to 8 inches of sea level rise and what that does, some low-lying places that maybe didn’t used to flood are starting to now, and places that maybe always did have some issues during exceptionally high tides have even worse issues now.”

McNoldy stressed that the sea level rise has been “across the board around here,” indicating that the influx of rising sea water would be affecting all the structures along the coastline.

3:21 p.m. ET, June 29, 2021

Structural engineer investigates possible triggers for Florida condo collapse

From CNN’s Camille Furst

A structural engineer from Washington, DC, has been called to investigate the Florida condo collapse by the town of Surfside.

Allyn Kilsheimer, the chairman of the board of KCE Structural Engineers, a Washington, DC, firm, told CNN correspondent Brian Todd on Tuesday that he has about 30 theories for what could've triggered the condo to collapse just after midnight on Thursday.

He was asked to visit by an attorney on behalf of Surfside, Florida, on Friday morning, and arrived that afternoon. 

"In a situation like this, most probably, it would not be one condition alone that would cause this," Kilsheimer said.

He told CNN that possible triggers could be "an explosion from below, a car hitting a column, problems with the roof slab collapsing down and therefore dropping everything else, problems in the foundation, all that kind of stuff."

From what Kilsheimer has initially investigated, he said that he hasn't seen anything from the condo that told him people needed to get out of that building immediately.

So far, Kilsheimer said he's had access to the perimeter of the site, but "should have access to various portions of the site and the building during the day today."

Kilsheimer also inspected the garages of nearby buildings. He said, "I didn't see anything that would make me think the buildings are in danger of collapse."

For those who are concerned about their own condos, Kilsheimer suggests hiring a registered Florida structural engineer, "not an inspector, not an architect, not a contractor. A structural engineer."

2:54 p.m. ET, June 29, 2021

Miami-Dade County mayor says a potential grand jury would look into what contributed to the collapse

From CNN’s Amanda Watts and Rosa Flores

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava speaks to the media during a press conference in Surfside, Florida, on June 28.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava speaks to the media during a press conference in Surfside, Florida, on June 28. Jose A Iglesias/Miami Herald/AP

The mayor of Miami-Dade County said Tuesday she would support the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office opening a grand jury investigation into the catastrophic collapse at Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida.

“The grand jury can choose to investigate anything it chooses,” Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said. “In this case it would be the matter of this building collapse, and what is contributed, and what should be done.”

Levine Cava said there is currently a grand jury impaneled which is working on other issues. It has not been decided if they would take up this case, or if it would fall to the next grand jury that is seated. 

The mayor promised she will do everything she can to ensure this does not happen again. “This will never ever happen again, not on my watch. We are going to do everything we possibly can to ensure that," Levine Cava said.

Earlier today, she said she has been speaking to Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle about the matter.  

2:25 p.m. ET, June 29, 2021

Collapsed bedrooms are under 13 to 16 feet of concrete, rescue worker says

From CNN’s Gregory Lemos

Col. Golan Vach, commander of the Israeli National Rescue Unit, speaks to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on June 29.
Col. Golan Vach, commander of the Israeli National Rescue Unit, speaks to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on June 29. CNN

The commander of the Israeli National Rescue Unit said Tuesday the collapsed bedrooms from the Champlain Towers South building are under 13 to 16 feet of concrete.

“This building collapsed very, very badly, if I can use this word, because it collapsed into itself. And the bedrooms that we are looking for, because the people [slept] in the bedrooms are under four or five meters of concrete,” Col. Golan Vach, commander of the Israeli National Rescue Unit, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Tuesday.

Vach said his team is comprised of 15 people who are mostly engineers and search and rescue experts. He said his team found new spaces in the rubble to search Monday and Tuesday.

“So there is still hope,” Vach said. “Until one week, I have a solid hope that we will find someone. After one week, it’s minor.” 

He said he had never seen a collapse like the one at Champlain Towers South.

“This is the most difficult site I have ever worked but I still have hope,” Vach said noting there are “major dangers and issues that we must consider when we enter rescuers into this site.”

 

1:55 p.m. ET, June 29, 2021

Condo homeowner says he paid a $95,000 assessment as part of recertification effort

From CNN's Daniel Medina

On Thursday morning, Francesco Cordaro and his wife watched on TV as their apartment building in Surfside partially collapsed. At home in Staten Island, New York, they had planned to move to South Florida full-time for retirement.

“The ocean view. The size. The location. I loved everything about that apartment,” said Cordaro, 65, who says he and his wife were in Surfside last month. “All my dreams are shattered.”

Cordaro purchased the apartment in January 2019. That month, he says, he attended a Champlain Towers South condo association meeting where the upcoming 40-year recertification was discussed, along with minor bureaucratic items, but there was no mention of any structural issues in the tower. 

“We knew that we were going to have the recertification, but no other specific claims were made at that time about any structural problems,” said Cordaro.

For his part, Cordaro says earlier this month he paid out just over $95,000 for his portion of the building’s “special assessment fee” in connection to the recertification. He says he has not yet hired any legal representation to recoup damages “out of respect” for the tower’s missing residents.

“Certainly, someone needs to pay for this,” said Cordaro. “I don’t know who, what, when but certainly someone has to pay.”

1:53 p.m. ET, June 29, 2021

Here's what the Biden administration says will be included in the federal response to condo collapse

From CNN’s Kristen Holmes

As rescuers continue to look for people in the rubble of a collapsed condo building in Surfside, Florida, the Biden administration is outlining the federal response to the disaster.

Here's what is included, according to one official:

  • The emergency declaration the President approved authorizes FEMA to coordinate disaster relief efforts, reimburse response costs, provide equipment and resources to assist with debris removal and emergency protective measures in order to try to save lives – and to provide temporary shelter and housing to alleviate the hardship and suffering for those who have been displaced.
  • FEMA has more than 50 personnel on site coordinating closely with state and local officials and providing assistance. 
  • FEMA has deployed an Incident Management Assistance Team as well as building science experts, structural engineers and geotechnical experts to support search and rescue operations, and a mobile command center. 
  • A Family Assistance Center opened Monday by state and local officials. FEMA has staff there to assist survivors in applying for federal assistance, to include temporary housing and funeral assistance. 
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is sending a Team Leader, geotechnical and structural safety specialists and debris removal experts to provide technical assistance.
  • A representative from the State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions is in Surfside to coordinate with federal response efforts and help facilitate visas for foreign family members of victims. 
  • In addition, FEMA has liaisons on the ground providing support to ensure information is available on federal assistance to survivors and families.

The President is expected to travel to Surfside with first lady Jill Biden on Thursday.

The condo collapse is on track to become the largest mass casualty event of the Biden presidency so far, with at least 11 people dead and 150 unaccounted for.

2:09 p.m. ET, June 29, 2021

Catch up: What to know about the preliminary investigation of the condo collapse so far 

After Champlain Towers South partially collapsed in Surfside, Florida, last Thursday, questions continue to be asked about the building’s structural integrity.

While the official cause of the collapse remains unknown, local and federal officials have begun efforts to try to determine why the building partially collapsed, and also prevent similar events from happening in neighboring buildings.

Here’s everything you need to know about the investigation so far:

  • Warnings before the collapse: An April 2021 letter from the condo's board president to residents said some damage observed in a 2018 engineer's report, including in the garage, "has gotten significantly worse." The 2018 report from an engineering firm documented severe structural damage to the concrete slab below the pool deck and "cracking and spalling" located in the parking garage. Spalling is a term used to describe areas of concrete that have cracked or crumbled.
  • The federal team: A group of federal officials from the National Institute of Standards and Technology is launching a preliminary investigation of the collapsed building's materials, history and applicable building codes at the time the condo was built, the ground surrounding the building and numerous other factors, according to an agency official. The six-person team includes scientists, structural engineers and a geotechnical engineer.
  • The timeline: Allyn Kilsheimer, the structural engineer hired by the town of Surfside to look into the reasons for the collapse, said his investigation could last a few months or longer, although an exact time frame is unknown. Kilsheimer said he has started examining the building and will use a meticulous, computer-assisted process of elimination to attempt to identify the cause or causes. "Unless it's a plane or a bomb that you know triggered this whole thing, sometimes you can't get it down to one cause," he explained. "You don't know what you're going to end up with until you finish the whole study."
  • Potential leads: Although it still remains unknown why the building partially collapsed, engineers who have reviewed the case say the investigation should focus on potential failures near the building’s base. According to Sinisa Kolar, a Miami-based engineering executive, forensic engineers will need to examine the ground-floor columns. In addition, Kolar expects investigators will test samples of concrete and cross-reference that with structural drawings. Meanwhile, Joel Figueroa-Vallines, president of SEP Engineers, said he thinks it's too early to reach conclusions, but also said he would focus an investigation on the foundation and the "podium level" of the pool deck. 
  • A possibly deadly combination: In addition to structural problems and “40 years of exposure to salt, water and salt air,” the collapse may have been influenced by vibrations from construction work, heavy equipment on the roof and water damage from the building’s pool, according to Mehrdad Sasani, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University.
  • What’s next: Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said she will be meeting with experts in subject areas like engineering, geology, construction and legal fields to prevent this tragedy from happening again. “They will advise me on issues related to building construction, chain of custody and requirements for reporting, condominium regulation and more, so that my staff and I can develop a set of recommendations for changes that need to be made at all steps in the building process to ensure a tragedy like this will never, ever happen again,” she said. 

Read more about the rescue efforts and investigation here.

CNN's Curt Devine, Hollie Silverman, Alyssa Kraus, Deanna Hackney and Jamiel Lynch contributed reporting to this post. 

1:09 p.m. ET, June 29, 2021

Miami-Dade County mayor says she will support a grand jury investigation

From CNN’s Gregory Lemos and Amanda Watts

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.
Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. Source: WPLG

The mayor of Miami-Dade County said Tuesday said she would support the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office opening a grand jury investigation into the catastrophic collapse at Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida.

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said, “the grand jury has not yet been impaneled,” but she has been speaking to Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. 

CNN reached out to Fernandez Rundle’s office, who said a statement is forthcoming. 

“We were talking about whenever it is moving forward, that we will be fully on board,” Levine Cava said.

“I am very supportive of the grand jury investigation,” Levine Cava said. “I have pledged my full cooperation, as she moves forward.”

Levine Cava noted that she is very familiar with the grand jury process.