Surfside condo collapse: Residents of neighboring buildings mull evacuation after tragedy

Surfside condo collapse: Residents of neighboring buildings mull evacuation after tragedy
People look at a portion of the 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building that partially collapsed on June 24, 2021 in Surfside, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Following the devastating collapse of a Surfside condo in Florida, neighbors have decided to evacuate fearing similar tragedy befalling the other two buildings in the same development. The incident happened on June 24 in the Miami-Dade County town, where one of the three buildings of an oceanfront development called Champlain Towers partially collapsed.

The collapse of the 12-story building saw 55 units out of 136 wiped out in mere minutes. As of June 25, four people were reported dead, with 11 injured and some 99 people missing. At the time of its midnight collapse, 70 percent of the building's units were occupied, and in the aftermath, over 700 missing persons reports were made to a Miami-Dade hot line set up to track victims of the collapse.

Ever since, residents of sister properties in the same condominium complex have been afraid of meeting the same fate, and organized a community meeting to discuss evacuation and other issues.

The building that collapsed was Champlain Towers South, at 8777 Collins Ave, in South Florida. Shortly after, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett received complaints from residents of Champlain Towers North, at 8877 Collins Ave, and Champlain Towers East, at 8855 Collins Ave, who decided to evacuate. The complaints sent to Burkett requested for inspections and mandatory evacuations of the two remaining towers, one of them built in 1981, the same year as the now-collapsed building, and another built three years later, in 1984.  All oceanside buildings on Collins Avenue that are 40 years or older, will be inspected in the wake of the accident, said Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.


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“My concern stems from people asking me, ‘Is my building safe?’” Burkett said in the emergency community meeting held on the night of the incident, reports local channel Local10 and the New York Times. “Generally, I would say of course your building is safe. We all assume buildings are safe. Buildings in America don’t fall down, that’s a third-world phenomenon, not a first-world phenomenon." He further added: "The layout of the building is the same as Champlain Towers South. It has the same name. It was probably built by the same builder, and it was probably built with the same materials. I can’t tell you, I can’t assure you, that the building is safe."

Having not yet spoken with the residents of the buildings, Burkett added that the decision to evacuate should be voluntary. His decision came after discussing the matter with officials in Washington and in Miami, he said. Surfside's building department in charge James McGuinness also told commissioners that construction crews were busy working atop the building before it collapsed, but there was no evidence of the ongoing roof work resulting in the disaster. “There was no inordinate amount of materials on the roof that would cause this building to collapse,” McGuinness said. 

A portion of the 12-story condo tower crumbled to the ground following a partial collapse of the building on June 24, 2021 in Surfside, Florida. It is unknown at this time how many people were injured as search-and-rescue effort continues with rescue crews from across Miami-Dade and Broward counties. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

According to McGuinness, workers were repairing the roof and anchors on the corners of the building that held ropes used by window cleaners. The building's structural integrity and electrical systems had also been reviewed by engineers, he said. These inspections are required at 40-year intervals although work on the anchors was not related to the recertification process, he added. The town had also not received the building's 40-year inspection report from its owners. Commissioners at the meeting added that there was no indication that anything was wrong with the building.

Documents released in the wake of the disaster, however, showed a 2018 engineering evaluation had revealed “major structural damage” in a concrete slab below a pool deck. The concrete beams were crumbled and cracked, much like the columns and walls in a parking garage right beneath the slab.

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