As days pass and the search and rescue effort at a residential building that collapsed in Miami-Dade, Florida, residents and local officials are demanding answers.
“There was something obviously very, very wrong with this building, and we need to get to the bottom of it,” Mayor Charles Burkett of Surfside, where the disaster occurred, told ABC This Week.
As of Monday, the death toll from the Champlain Towers’ collapse has slowly increased to 11 people, with at least 150 still missing. With still no official cause given, some in the community have begun to question how such a horrific accident could occur in a developed and wealthy country.
“Buildings don’t fall down in America,” Mr Burkett said. “That is a third-world phenomenon.”
Meanwhile, some possible clues have emerged as to what went wrong. A pool contractor who visited the building two days before the disaster took photos of the basement-level garage, which showed cracks in the concrete, wet floors and exposed and corroding rebar.
“There was standing water all over the parking garage,” the contractor, who asked not to be named, told the Miami Herald. “I thought to myself, that’s not normal.”
Shocked by the building’s poor condition, he told his boss the job would be more complicated than expected. Days later, he has unsettling questions about what he saw.
“I wonder if this was going on in other parts of the building and caused this collapse,” he said.
Separately, a structural engineer who inspected the garage last year told CNN he noticed damage to the building’s stucco facade and concrete balconies – although he said this was normal for an old building.
“I saw cracks and deterioration of the garage and plaza level, but those are all things that we’re accustomed to seeing,” said the engineer, Jason Borden.
“There could have been construction errors or design errors or design defects,” he added. “There was maintenance or repairs that needed to be performed. You know, all of those things together likely contributed to what happened here.”
Meanwhile, NPR has uncovered documents showing that a Surfside building official, Ross Prieto, told a 2018 meeting of the Champlain Tower South Condominium Association that the structure was in good condition.
“Structural engineer report was reviewed by Mr Prieto,” the minutes of that meeting say. “It appears the building is in very good shape.”
According to NPR, this directly contradicted the actual engineering report, given by Morabito Consultants just five weeks earlier, which warned of “major structural damage” to the building.
No investigation of the collapse has yet been completed, and it’s still possible the disaster had nothing to do with the building’s physical condition. But as the dust settles, questions about meetings and documents like these are likely to continue.