An intensive search failed to turn up more survivors of the collapsed Surfside condo by early Saturday evening, as questions multiplied over a 2018 consultant’s report that warned of “major structural damage” at the base of the building.
Working in heavy protective gear in 85-degree-heat, rescuers used cranes, sensors and search dogs to look for survivors. A fire deep inside the building hampered the work, creating a gray haze and filling the air with the smell of smoke.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Saturday the rescue work would go on, insisting there was still hope.
“We are continuing our search and rescues because our first responders believe there’s still a possibility,” she said. “There are crevices, so there is air. They’re able to pick through. But right now obviously we’re trying to stabilize the situation because of the fire and the smoke.”
Rescue work is slowed down on Saturday by fires in the building at site of the 12-story oceanfront Champlain Towers South Condo, at 8777 Collins Ave., that partially collapsed about 2 a.m. on Thursday in Surfside.
The number of missing remained 159, although officials have said some of the people unaccounted for may not have been in the building. The confirmed death toll remained four.
“You wake up in the morning hoping that more and more people have been pulled out,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference Saturday at the scene. “And that news hasn’t been what we had hoped.”
Although the focus remains on the rescue, at least two lawsuits have already been filed and questions have grown about how a concrete and steel highrise could suddenly go down.
A 2018 report to the condo association by Morabito Consultants said “failed waterproofing” below the pool deck and entrance drive at Champlain Towers South had led to significant deterioration of the concrete. Replacing the waterproofing would be “extremely expensive,” the report stated, because it would require removal of the concrete slab above it.
“Failure to replace the waterproofing in the near future will cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially,” said the report, which was signed by Frank Morabito, the company’s president.
The report was posted on the Town of Surfside’s website, along with inspection reports and other documents about the collapsed building. It’s unclear whether the damage identified in the report was addressed by the condo association or whether it had anything to do with the building’s collapse, a disaster that experts say will require extensive investigation and may involve multiple causes.
The report identified a “major error” in the building’s construction in 1981 that left it open to water damage. The concrete slab beneath the pool and entrance drive was not sloped, which allowed water to pool on top of it until it evaporated.
Permits posted on the town’s website gave no indication that any work was done to address these defects.
Morabito Consultants issued a statement Saturday offering prayers and saying the firm was “deeply troubled by this building collapse.”
After completing the 2018 report, the firm was hired in June 2020 to create plans for the repairs, which would be done by another company.
“At the time of the building collapse, roof repairs were underway, but concrete restoration had not yet begun,” the statement said.
At the Saturday morning news conference, Cava said the county wasn’t aware of the warning in the engineer’s report.
“We are obviously very interested in all of the evidence that’s coming to light and we’re going to be including it in what happens after the rescue,” she said. “In the meantime, we’re taking actions to make sure other buildings are safe.”
Miami-Dade County will conduct an “audit of all buildings at the 40-year point and beyond” over the next 30 days, she said. She and DeSantis said a sister building to the one that collapsed stands in Surfside, having been built by the same developer.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said he was working on a plan to temporarily relocate residents of the Champlain Towers North, the collapsed tower’s “sister building,” which was constructed in the same year and stands near the ruins, according to the Associated Press.
Burkett was trying to arrange an emergency inspection and until that happened, he said he can’t tell residents whether they’re safe in their homes.
The mayor said he didn’t plan to order residents to evacuate, but if he lived there, “I’d be gone.”
Pope Francis sent a message of consolation Saturday through an envoy to Archbishop Thomas Wenski.
“The Holy Father has asked me to express his deep sadness at the grievous loss of life resulting from the condominium collapse in Surfside,” the message said. “He offers heartfelt prayers that Almighty God will grant eternal peace to those who have died, comfort to those who mourn their loss, and strength to all those affected by this immense tragedy.”
Another lawsuit was filed Saturday, this one on behalf of Steve Rosenthal, who lived on the seventh floor and was rescued after the collapse. The lawsuit cited the 2018 engineer’s report and what it said were other warnings that the association failed to address.
The complaint stated the association knew or should have known “the entire structure was deteriorating and becoming susceptible to catastrophic loss by collapse.”
Condo association lawyer Donna DiMaggio Berger told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that the Champlain Towers South condo was undergoing roof work at the time of its partial collapse after an engineer who conducted its 40-year inspection made it a priority because the 2021 hurricane season began.
“The roof was the first because we’re in a hurricane season,” DiMaggio Berger said. “If the roof flies off, we’re not having a building.”
Berger said a preliminary report from the building’s inspection had been compiled by the engineer and submitted to the town of Surfside, which had not indicated that any additional testing was needed.
There is no indication that the roof work had anything to do with the collapse, DiMaggio Berger said.
She denounced a lawsuit filed Thursday against the association by attorney Brad Sohn on behalf of Manuel Drezner, owner of a 10th-floor condo, who was not in the building at the time. She called the lawsuit “despicable,” saying the association’s vice president was still missing and the president narrowly escaped the building alive.
“So Mr. Brad Sohn has managed to figure out what’s going on — even though FEMA doesn’t know and the county doesn’t know?” she said. “But he has somehow figured this out?”