High-rise collapse in Florida: Danger from ailing building structure was ignored

After the collapse of the Champlain Tower South in Surfside, Florida, the official death toll rose to nine on Sunday. In the meantime, the search for victims and survivors continues in the rubble of the residential complex north of Miami Beach not far from the Atlantic coast.

Eight bodies have so far been recovered from the rubble, and one injured person has died in the hospital. More than four days after the sudden collapse of the 12-story, 40-year-old skyscraper in the early hours of the morning on Thursday last week, over 150 residents are still missing.

Among the victims identified so far are the pensioners Antonio and Gladys Lozano, who were married for 59 years and died in their sleep together in their apartment on the ninth floor. The body of Manuel LaFont (54) was recovered on Friday. LaFont, originally from Houston, Texas, was a businessman with businesses in Latin America. Stacie Dawn Fang, 54, the first victim identified Thursday, had been struck to death by blunt force when the apartment collapsed around her. Fang’s son, teenage boy Jonah Handler, is one of only a handful of residents who were rescued by first responders from the rubble.

Rescue and search work in the rubble of the Champlain Towers South residential complex in Surfside, Florida on Saturday, June 26, 2021 (AP Photo / Gerald Herbert)

The search was hampered by a smoldering fire under the rubble, which was finally extinguished on Saturday. In order to facilitate the rescue work, a 12 m deep, 6 m wide and 40 m long trench is currently being pulled through the heap of rubble made of concrete, steel and household items.

New reports keep surfacing that it had been known for several years that the building structure was dilapidated and no longer secure. It stands to reason that criminal negligence played a crucial role in the context of the disaster. However, any official investigation will result in whitewashing and no one will face serious consequences – although more than 150 deaths are expected.

As early as October 2018, civil engineer Frank Morabito reported on the condition of the high-rise to the managing director of the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association, which owns and manages the building. In his remarks, he warned that the concrete slab under the deck of the swimming pool and the driveway had “major structural damage” as a result of defective moisture protection. “If the waterproofing is not replaced in the near future, the concrete will erode to a considerable extent,” wrote the engineer.

The report published by the city of Surfside on Friday evening also found that the concrete columns and walls in the parking garage under the building had cracks on several levels and whole pieces had flaked off, as a result of which the steel reinforcement had already rusted in several places.