Damage to Chaplain Towers had ‘gotten significantly worse over the years’
Residents of the Surfside building that collapsed on Thursday, leaving at least 11 people dead and 150 unaccounted for, were warned in April that their building was in a desperate state of disrepair, The Wall Street Journal has reported.
In a letter dated 9 April, obtained by WSJ, the president of the Champlain South Towers condo association reportedly told residents of the dire situation and urged them to pay the $15 million in assessments required to address structural issues with the building.
The condo board president, Jean Wodnicki, had warned that the concrete damage to the building would “multiply exponentially over the years” and said “the observable damage, such as in the garage, has gotten significantly worse over the years”.
It comes after a pool contractor who visited the site of the now collapsed building days before the tragedy struck said he had noticed cracked concrete around the pool and water in the basement.
The contractor, who did not wish to be named, took photographs of corroded rebar and cracked concrete around the pool area just 36 hours before half the building caved in, killing at least 11 people.
“There was standing water all over the parking garage,” the contractor, who asked not to be named, told the Miami Herald. “I thought to myself, that’s not normal.”
Shocked by the building’s poor condition, he told his boss the job would be more complicated than expected. Days later, he has unsettling questions about what he saw.
“I wonder if this was going on in other parts of the building and caused this collapse,” he added.
EXCLUSIVE: There was nothing unusual about the lobby and pool area at Champlain Towers South Condo, which looked well maintained to a pool contractor who visited the building last Tuesday.
Then, he saw the basement-level garage. http://t.co/KYyQqZdNhH
— Miami Herald (@MiamiHerald) June 28, 2021
As search and rescue efforts continue at the residential building in Miami-Dade, residents and local officials are demanding answers.
“There was something obviously very, very wrong with this building, and we need to get to the bottom of it,” Mayor Charles Burkett of Surfside, where the disaster occurred, told ABC This Week.
With still no official cause given, some in the community have begun to question how such a horrific accident could occur in a developed and wealthy country.
“Buildings don’t fall down in America,” Mr Burkett said. “That is a third-world phenomenon.”
A structural engineer who inspected the garage last year told CNN he noticed damage to the building’s stucco facade and concrete balconies – although he said this was normal for an old building.
“I saw cracks and deterioration of the garage and plaza level, but those are all things that we’re accustomed to seeing,” said the engineer, Jason Borden.
“There could have been construction errors or design errors or design defects,” he added. “There was maintenance or repairs that needed to be performed. You know, all of those things together likely contributed to what happened here.”
Meanwhile, NPR has uncovered documents showing that a Surfside building official, Ross Prieto, told a 2018 meeting of the Champlain Tower South Condominium Association that the structure was in good condition.
“Structural engineer report was reviewed by Mr Prieto,” the minutes of that meeting say. “It appears the building is in very good shape.”
According to NPR, this directly contradicted the actual engineering report, given by Morabito Consultants just five weeks earlier, which warned of “major structural damage” to the building.
No investigation of the collapse has yet been completed, and it’s still possible the disaster had nothing to do with the building’s physical condition. But as the dust settles, questions about meetings and documents like these are likely to continue.