(WSVN) - The Surfside condo collapse is an unimaginable tragedy, but it’s not the first time a building suddenly fell in South Florida. 7’s Karen Hensel has a look back in tonight’s 7 Investigates.
After the collapse of Champlain Towers South, there is renewed attention on the 40-year recertification of older buildings. It is a process born from the rubble of another deadly day nearly 47 years ago.
Kevan Cramer, survived DEA building collapse: “What I went through was nothing in comparison to the tragedy that we just saw in Surfside.”
Kevan Cramer is the Assistant Creative Services Director at Channel 7, but back in 1974, he was an 18-year-old working as a file clerk at the Drug Enforcement Administration’s federal office building in Miami.
It was the morning of Aug. 5.
Kevan Cramer: “I just remember the sound the most. It was like all the air had been sucked out of the room. The lights flickered. The ceiling tiles lifted. Dust was coming down.”
A portion of the building caved in, trapping people in a pile of steel and concrete.
Kevan was working in the part of the building that did not collapse.
Kevan Cramer: “All of a sudden, somebody came in and they yelled, ‘Clear the building!’ We were all pretty astonished at what we saw.”
Kevan still has the now yellowed newspaper articles from the days following the collapse. They reflect the same heartbreaking process of locating victims.
Sadly, seven federal employees died in the collapse.
Kevan Cramer: “It’s not that I knew anybody from their names, but you know that you probably saw some of these people at some point.”
The building used to be near what is now the Adrienne Arsht Center. One of the streets where it stood is named for two of the victims, who were DEA special agents.
But what binds this tragedy to the one in Surfside nearly five decades later can’t be found on a sign. Instead, it’s written into Miami-Dade County law.
John Pistorino, structural engineer: “It really is traumatic for all of us.”
Structural engineer John Pistorino was a county consultant in 1974. He investigated the DEA building collapse.
John Pistorino: “What I saw was that the concrete had cracked, and somebody had puttied it up or caulked it up and cosmetically covered the damage.”
After examining the building, Pistorino created the mandatory inspections of buildings that are 40 years old or older. This recertification process is still required in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
John Pistorino: “What I felt at that point was that we need to have detailed inspections on how to look at these buildings and to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
But now it has happened again, and as a result, Pistorino says, there could be changes coming.
John Pistorino: “If boards are not going to pursue this in a responsible manner, then of course I have no problem with it going to 25 years or 30 years. You don’t wait for 40 years and then turn around and say, ‘OK, is there anything wrong here?’ I mean, that’s ridiculous.”
Although the final report on the cause of the Champlain Towers collapse could take years, as one of the forensic engineers already hired to investigate, Pistorino expects answers much sooner.
John Pistorino: “I think we’ll know what the crux of it is within three months, is what I predict.”
Kevan Cramer: “I was just very lucky. I was very fortunate.”
For Kevan, the catastrophe in Surfside takes him back in time to what he lived through.
Kevan Cramer: “I’m sure the families of the people who died in the DEA building, they all share that same sorrow. My heart goes out to the families now.”
Two tragedies separated by decades, once again leaving a community heartbroken.
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