While rescuers are still holding out hope of finding survivors in the devastating condo collapse in Surfside, Florida that has left 11 people dead and 150 unaccounted for, new photographs have surfaced that point to structural issues in the building just days before the collapse.
Two days before the collapse, a contractor was on-site to inspect the area for a bid he planned to place on cosmetic restoration of the pool and new pool equipment.
The photographs taken show standing pools of water, damaged concrete and corroded rebar, according to a new Miami Herald report, and raised concerns that the sister buildings of the condo could face the same fate.
Sarah Blaskey, the Herald reporter who broke the story, appeared with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer to discuss the new photographs and the collapse.
The building seemed fine from the exterior, but when the contractor, who asked to remain anonymous, got to the basement level “[t]here was standing water all over the parking garage,” he told the Miami Herald. He highlighted the cracked concrete and seriously corroded rebar underneath the pool.
The contractor sent the photos of the inadequately maintained structure to his boss, saying that the site was “going to be a bigger job” than a cosmetic refresh of the pool Blaskey told Blitzer.
Blitzer called the photos “graphic and devastating,” and asked Blaskey if the photos echoed the 2018 structural survey report that called for many repairs to maintain the building’s integrity.
“Actually, what I understand from experts is these photos may even be worse,” said Blaskey.
The photos were taken on the south side of the basement. The area that succumbed to poor maintenance and collapsed was on the north side, something Blaskey calls an “important caveat” that makes it unclear whether or not the damage specifically photographed contributed to the collapse.
“Is the fear, Sarah, that these issues were pervasive, perhaps, in other parts of the building as well?” Blitzer asked the reporter.
“That is the fear. It’s by ‘severe structural damage’ or ‘severe damage to the structural slab,’ which is the phrase that was used in that 2018 report,” Blaskey replied.
The engineer who compiled the 2018 report noted that the type of damage exhibited to the structural slab is something that could contribute to collapse.
Some experts speculate that it’s possible the water photographed on the south side of the building reached the north side and caused further damage due to the building’s shape. It is also possible that the north side exhibited the same kind of damage on its own.
Chemicals could have leaked from the pool and caused further damage to the concrete as well, Blaskey explained, adding that it “is possible that this was an isolated, really bad situation, and maybe the other rebar wasn’t as bad. We just don’t know yet.”
Frightened resident Robert Lisman who lives in the sister complex of Champlain Towers shared photos he took with local news outlets after spotting the huge chunk of concrete missing from the column of Champlain Towers East. Rusted metal rebar, which could potentially lead to structural compromise, was clearly visible in the picture.
“I am afraid that there could be some issue in our building that will result in what we saw in Champlain Towers South,” Lisman told news outlet, Local10.
“I have concerns, but I’m not panicking. I know that there are things we need to address and look at, but there’s no imminent threat,” he elaborated to NBC6 saying he was ‘confident’ that Champlain Towers East was still structurally safe, but said of property engineers, planners and inspectors: “Their decisions have life and death consequences.”
“And so when I’m told there’s nothing to worry about, it’s trust but verify,” Lisman concluded.
Residents of the sister condos, Champlain Towers North and East have been offered the option to voluntarily evacuate if they feel unsafe.
Any evacuees will be provided temporary housing by FEMA until the buildings pass a full inspection and are cleared as safe.
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