SURFSIDE, FLA. (WSVN) - As search and rescue efforts continue at a partially collapsed apartment building in Surfside, an investigation as to how it happened is underway, but a local researcher’s work may shed light on one possible factor.
The Champlain Towers South Tower had 135 units in it. The building’s construction was completed in 1981.
So the big question is: why did the building collapse?
To see before and after pictures of the site is devastating. What was once a home for more than a hundred families is now partially rubble.
Shimon Wdowinski, a researcher at Florida International University, said satellite data from the 1990s showed the South Tower was slightly sinking.
“They showed some movement, and one of the areas that showed that is the building over there in Surfside that collapsed,” he said.
Wdowinski said that in the 1990s, the condo building sank by about half an inch.
“It was localized in this building, so it means that this building moved during the period that we have this data and not the neighboring buildings. It was pretty unique to that building,” he said.
Wdowinski did not say there is a direct cause and effect, and he doesn’t have data to show whether or not there was more recent sinking. However, he said sinking is a possible factor behind this tragedy.
Speaking to the media on Thursday, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said he would jog by the building often and noticed roof work was underway.
The 7Investigates Team can confirm that.
We found a Notice of Commencement dated April 5 of this year to re-roof the building.
“There was roof work being done, but there is roof work being done all the time, and it’s hard to imagine that could have been the impetus for such a catastrophic collapse,” said Burkett.
We searched through code violation records and did not find any active code violations for the building.
There was one earlier this year for a “violation of minimum fire standards,” but that violation was already corrected.
Besides that, we could only find a commencement for AC replacement in 2019 and another commencement for elevator work back in 2017.
The building was currently being inspected for its 40-year recertification, but town commissioners said no issues during the recertification process were flagged to them.
“There was no indication, there was nothing brought to our attention that there was a problem with the building or something that we should have known about,” said Surfside Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer. “No one had ever said anything or mentioned anything, and there are some other residents who live in the building, and they said they didn’t think anything was a problem, either.”
Until Monday, units in Champlain South were on the market for more than $600,000, with a homeowners association fee of over $900.
What was once prime beachfront real estate is now the site of a tragic collapse.
But Surfside’s mayor said he will be working on getting that answer.
“The first step is, it’s incumbent on us to try and determine what caused this,” said Burkett.
As Surfside investigates the cause, so will the 7Investigates Team. We have also requested all building permits for Champlain Towers.
Bruce Masia with KW Property Management & Consulting said the 40-year inspection is a thorough process and may soon provide answers.
“Those engineers go through a building with a fine comb looking at different areas, such as point tension cables, such as support beams and mechanisms in the building, that keep that structure sound,” he said.
Peter Dyga, with the Associated Builders and Contractors Florida East Coast Chapter, said for a building failure of this magnitude, it’s likely multiple factors were involved.
“We’re going to have to go back to the design of this building, to the foundation, to the structure, to the engineering calculations, to the building and the craftsmanship, to the maintenance and the HOA records,” said Dyga. “Everything about it is potentially a contributor, and it’s unfortunately going to be a very long time, probably, before we know the answers.”
The damage appears to be so severe that it is very likely what’s still standing will have to be demolished.
7Investigates talked to the attorney for the Champlain Towers’ homeowners association, and he said, because of that 40-year recertification process, the board had recently hired an engineer. The attorney said this engineer did not flag to them any grave dangers facing this building.
Those who live at the Champlain Towers South Condo are being asked to complete a Wellness Check Form as part of Miami-Dade County’s efforts to ensure all tenants of the building are located.
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