A consultant engineer warned three years before the deadly collapse of a South Florida condominium building that there was evidence of “major structural damage” to the concrete slab below the pool deck and abundant cracking and crumbling in the underground parking garage, the New York Times reported on Saturday.
A large section of the 12-storey building in the Miami suburb of Surfside collapsed suddenly on Thursday as residents slept. The cause is not known.
Four people are confirmed dead and 159 are still unaccounted for, with search-and-rescue teams working around the clock through an unstable mountain of debris.
On Friday, as scores of rescuers used big machines, small buckets, drones and their own hands to pick through the rubble that had been Champlain Towers South, relatives of those who lived there could do little but pray.
Rachel Spiegel was anxious for any update on her missing mother, 66-year-old Judy Spiegel, who lived on the sixth floor.
“I’m just praying for a miracle,” she said. “We’re heartbroken that she was even in the building.”
Jeanne Ugarte feared a tragic end for her friends Juan and Ana Mora and their son Juan Jr.
“I know they’re not going to find them,” Ugarte said. “It’s been too long.”
Hopes rested on how quickly crews could complete their task in Surfside, a few miles north of Miami’s South Beach.
“Any time that we hear a sound, we concentrate in that area,” Miami-Dade assistant fire chief Raide Jadallah said. “It could be just steel twisting, it could be debris raining down, but not specifically sounds of tapping or sounds of a human voice.”
From New York, the Times said consultant engineer Frank Morabito’s October 2018 report helped shape plans for a repair project set to get under way soon, but more than two and a half years after building managers were warned.
The paper said the complex’s management association disclosed some problems in the wake of the collapse. But the release by Surfside officials late on Friday of Morabito’s report made apparent the full nature of the concrete and rebar damage.
Most was probably caused by exposure to corrosive salt air along the south Florida coast, it said.
Morabito gave no indication the structure was at risk of collapse, but noted the needed repairs would be aimed at “maintaining the structural integrity” of the building and its 136 units, the Times said.
“Though some of this damage is minor, most of the concrete deterioration needs to be repaired in a timely fashion,” the Times quoted Morabito as writing about damage near the base of the 40-year-old building.
The paper quoted Kenneth S Direktor, a lawyer who represents the resident-led association that operates the building, as saying this week repairs had been set to commence, based on plans drawn up this year.
The Times added that Direktor said the process would have been handled differently if owners had had any indication that the corrosion and crumbling – mild instances of which are relatively common in coastal buildings – were a serious threat.
In Surfside on Friday, cranes were buffeted by winds and pelted by rain as they removed debris using large claws, creating a din of crashing glass and metal. A smoky haze rose from the site.
Once the machines paused, firefighters wearing protective masks and carrying red buckets climbed the pile to remove smaller pieces by hand in hope of finding spots where people might be trapped.
In the parking garage, rescuers in knee-deep water used power tools to cut into the building from below.
The Surfside mayor, Charles Burkett, said crews were doing everything possible to save as many people as they could.
“We do not have a resource problem, we have a luck problem,” he said.