The death toll from the Miami building collapse has reached nine lives, and over 150 people are still missing. The accident occurred on June 24th at around 1:30 a.m. EDT when 55 of the 136 units in Champlain Towers South, a 12-story beachfront condominium in Surfside, Florida, collapsed. Huge piles of rubble remain on the ground, and the cause of the collapse is yet to be determined.
Search and rescue teams are hard at work trying to find and help survivors. According to Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, the process of identifying victims of the collapse is difficult. Officials are relying on DNA testing to uncover the identities of bodies, and DNA samples from family members have been taken.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said at a press conference that fire crews have contained the fire and minimized the smoke, which was hampering rescue operations. “Currently we’re searching the entire debris field, we’ve separated it into multiple sections and we actively… are applying our search and rescue techniques,” Cominsky said.
Residents near the collapsed building and family members of victims made a makeshift memorial with flowers, trinkets, candles, photos, and notes for their loved ones. 42-year-old Adriana LaFont was devastated at the sight of the collapsed condo. To her, it resembled a war zone.
Her 54-year-old husband was asleep when the building collapsed. “When I saw it, I almost died… It felt like those walls fell on me, too,” she said to USA Today. Many people expressed frustration at the slow pace of the search and rescue operations.
“I think a lot of the families are feeling desperate… I understand how they feel. When someone is frustrated, time feels very long, but I think the crews are doing the best they can. They are out there risking their lives too,” Gladys Perez, who lives one block away from the collapsed building, said to USA Today.
According to early reports by a local synagogue, at least 34 of the unaccounted people were Jewish. The Paraguayan foreign ministry reported six nationals missing. In total, 26 Latin American nationals were unaccounted for.
On June 24, the Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed an emergency declaration for Miami-Dade County. On June 25, President Joe Biden approved the emergency declaration and authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to coordinate all disaster relief efforts.
“FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency,” according to Biden’s statement.
Cause of collapse
The exact reason for the building’s collapse is not yet known. Roughly three years back, a structural field survey completed in October 2018 warned of structural damage to the concrete slab below the building’s pool deck, as well as “cracking and spalling” in the parking garage. The waterproofing below the pool deck, entrance drive, and the entire planter were deemed “beyond its useful life,” and the report recommended that they be completely replaced.
“The failed waterproofing is causing major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas. Failure to replace the waterproofing in the near future will cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially,” the report said. However, it did not give any indication that the building was at risk of collapsing.
According to a resident, the report was discussed by the condominium’s inhabitants in 2018. However, the condo association’s board was deterred by the high price tag of repairs. Even when a new board took over, the damages mentioned in the report were not addressed. The building was also due for its mandatory 40-year inspection.
Mayor Levine Cava has directed the county’s Department of Economic and Regulatory Resources board to begin an audit soon of all buildings in the region that are at least 40 years old. The task is to be completed within 30 days.
Meanwhile, a class action suit has been filed against the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association on behalf of plaintiffs Manuel Drezner and others seeking 5 million dollars in damages. The lawsuit accuses the association of failing to secure and protect the lives and property of those who resided in the building.
“A lawsuit is necessary to force all parties to preserve documents and records regarding this building and ensure a thorough investigation into this tragedy. We are committed to compensating these vulnerable families, whether they have lost a loved one, lost the place they called home, or suffered injury,” the Brad Sohn Law Firm, which filed the lawsuit, told Local10.