Engineers Cite Possible Design Flaws As Investigation Cuts Deadly Florida Condo Collapse

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Monday, Miami Herald released findings that rule out the opening of a sinkhole as the cause of the gruesome condominium tower collapse on a Florida waterfront at the end of June. “Cleared of tons of rubble…, the bare floor of the Champlain South towers garage seems to exclude at least one of the first suspects of its catastrophic collapse,” the article concludes. “There was no telltale sign of a sinkhole.”

Memorial and watch wall installed in Surfside, Fla. (WSWS Media)

The “sinkhole” that a condemned resident had identified during her last telephone conversation was probably not the result of a basement collapse under the building, but probably the first image of a catastrophic failure of the slab. concrete supporting the swimming pool, the entrance and the first floor of the tower. Ironically, this was the structural element cited as the main cause for concern in an inspection report by a consulting engineer prepared for the condominium association’s license review in 2018. Half a dozen structural engineers consulted by the Herald pointed to the same slab as the likely trigger for the collapse.

Frank Morabito, the engineer hired by the board, wrote that flaws in the original design and “failing waterproofing” under the pool deck “were causing major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas.” and warned that failure to replace it in the near future would cause “concrete degradation to expand exponentially.”

The “apparent triggering event of massive and still unresolved structural failure” could involve developers, designers, contractors, building officials and others in the fatal collapse that claimed 98 identified victims. But investigation into what could turn out to be a complex combination of causes has been blocked.

“The [garage] the slab appears to be intact and there is no obvious sinkhole, ”said Jennifer Huergo, spokesperson for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the federal agency responsible for investigating the cause of the collapse. Herald. “That said… our experts will be looking at all aspects, above and below ground, for potential triggers.” In its 80-year history, NIST has only conducted four similar investigations prior to this one.

The site has been labeled a crime scene by the Miami-Dade Police Department (MDPD), and County Mayor Daniella Levine-Cava has taken the unprecedented step of banning the medical structural engineer. Surfside’s legal officer, Allyn Kilsheimer, to test the site and the thousands of tons of concrete and other material removed and stored nearby. During his career spanning more than 50 years, Kilsheimer has been a consultant on projects around the world and has conducted over 100 similar forensic investigations, but never before has he been denied access to a site making l ‘under investigation.

Levine-Cava claims to be protecting evidence in a homicide investigation and has made the technical investigation into the collapse the exclusive jurisdiction of NIST. Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett has issued a series of strong protests highlighting NIST’s admission that its investigation will likely take three years before it can issue a report, and there are pressing public safety issues involved. in the potential that other structures may be exposed to similar conditions.

Last Tuesday, Burkett sent a letter to Levine-Cava which said: “We want it to be absolutely clear that we oppose access to the site being denied.” Levine-Cava responded with a statement saying that Surfside can access it, “as soon as it is possible to do so without compromising the site investigation.”

Then on Wednesday, as reported in the Engineering News-Record, the MDPD released an application for a forensic structural engineer under the county’s Fair Distribution Program (EDP), which has “a pool of” qualified local architects, engineers and landscape architects and provides a process to fairly allocate small county capital improvement projects. Such projects generally have a construction cost of less than $ 2 million and professional fees of up to $ 200,000.

All qualified businesses with a local Miami-Dade office can potentially participate in the EDP program, which is “not just a program for minorities and / or small businesses.” However, the ranking method favors small businesses with fewer work opportunities in the county, ”the county explains.

In its July 28 application, MDPD indicates that it is seeking a qualified EDP structure consultant who has “first-hand experience with structural assessment, including, but not limited to, conducting medical surveys. – legal, preparation of repair designs and preparation / submission of demolition engineering. design requests / permits.

The company, with a minimum of 20 years of experience, should be able to conduct a full investigation of all construction and design contract documents, inspection records, tests, substitutions, codes and the standards of the time and more, as the consultant “deems required, as well as a field inspection of the failing structure, in order to provide the MDPD with a forensic investigation report into the causes of the structural failure.” Interested companies were invited to inform the MDPD by email no later than Friday July 30.

The announcement is the first definitive sign that Miami-Dade County intends to conduct its own technical analysis of the collapse rather than wait for NIST’s findings.

“Why the county would be looking for a structural engineering consultant at this late date, especially since we have the best available, on site and ready to work from day one, is inexplicable,” Burkett wrote in an email. Wednesday in Kilsheimer.

In response, the county mayor’s office says the site must remain closed as the two investigations it approved – the one announced above by the police department and the one by NIST – continue.

Burkett visited the site himself Thursday, with the CEO and attorney but without his banned consulting engineer, after requesting access to the county in a phone call earlier Thursday with Levine-Cava and Miami-Dade Police Director Alfredo “Freddy” Ramirez.

On Thursday, the court-appointed receiver who ran the Champlain Towers South condo association sided with Miami-Dade and ordered county police not to allow the town of Surfside and its appraisers on the property. .

“This will confirm our conversation that no other person, entity or party other than NIST and those necessary for the county to carry out its criminal investigation should have access to real property while it is under county control,” Michael Goldberg, a Miami lawyer, wrote to Major Jorge Aguiar, head of the county’s homicide bureau. “This specifically includes, but is not limited to, the Town of Surfside and its employees and experts. “

Burkett says Miami-Dade officials said they expected the city to be a defendant in a lawsuit since the head of the Surfside Construction Department reportedly told residents of South Champlain that the tower was in “very good condition” in 2018.

Last week, the county’s senior prosecutor, Katherine Fernandez Rundle, said she would wait for the results of the NIST investigation into the cause of the collapse before considering a criminal investigation. While waiting for this report, she has launched a grand jury to explore possible reforms to prevent similar collapses from happening again in the future.

To date, the prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation into the deaths of six people in the Florida International University bridge collapse in 2018, according to a spokesperson. In 2019, the National Transportation Safety Review Board determined that design flaws and insufficient oversight led to this fatal collapse.


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