Still looking for clues in the ruins after the collapse of the Surfside condo

Still looking for clues in the ruins after the collapse of the Surfside condo

Hurricane Nicole, a Category 1 storm, ordered the evacuation of more than a dozen condominiums near Daytona Beach last week after officials deemed the structures hazardous. In September, Hurricane Ian inflicted damage in Florida in excess of $40 billion. It is commonly predicted that insurance premiums in the Sunshine State will rise to pay the costs. Already, another catastrophe threatened to make housing unaffordable for many.

The 40-year-old Surfside condominium Champlain Towers South fell in the middle of the night one year ago. A total of 98 persons were killed. After more than a year, nobody knows why the building collapsed. We questioned why finding an answer was taking so long. Tonight, you’ll hear from the engineers leading the local and federal investigations and learn how the Surfside mystery affects condo owners in Florida.

The collapse is captured on surveillance footage from a nearby structure. Just beyond the pool, the condo’s center crumbles and disintegrates into dust. A few moments later, the ocean-facing wing appears to melt into the ground. Approximately 1:30 in the morning.

Champlain Towers South following its collapse

Raysa Rodriguez: I was completely sleeping when I heard a terrible sound that sounded like a mountain collapsing. Two seconds later, all I recall is being practically flung out of bed and falling in front of it.

Raysa Rodriguez resided on the ninth story of the building’s portion that was still surviving.

Additionally, there was a little balcony, Raysa Rodriguez. So I stepped outside, and my brain simply could not comprehend what I was seeing. I asked myself, “Where is the structure?” You know, yelling at this time, “Where is the structure?”

Raysa Rodriguez

The elevators had disappeared. The stairwells were obstructed by concrete.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Is it impossible for you to leave the building at this time?

Raysa Rodriguez: There’s no way out, and I suddenly realized, “Okay, this is the situation. I’m afraid. I don’t want to die tonight…”

Therefore, Rodriguez began piloting a descent. Assisting an elderly neighbor via cluttered stairwells and dim halls.

It took them more than two hours to reach a floor where they could be rescued by ladder.

Today’s location of Champlain Towers South

Today, this is all that remains of the building: a scar in the earth made of concrete. The victims’ names are listed on a fence surrounding the location. It consists of both retirees and young families.

Raysa Rodriguez: People slept that evening. In the most secure area in their planet, you reside. Your bedroom was not the safest place on earth.

Sharyn Alfonsi: What information are you seeking?

Raysa Rodriguez: What responses am I seeking? I want the truth for my deceased pals. They deserve a response.

The answer may lie in this enormous Miami warehouse where 800 tons of Champlain Towers debris are being housed.

800 tons of fragments of Champlain Towers are stored at the storehouse where they are kept.

The facility is exclusive to federal investigators only, who provided us with video. They have begun searching for clues among the mangled steel and concrete.

Glenn Bell is one of the leading investigators on the team. The federal probe is being conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, where Bell spoke to us.

When do you believe we will discover why the building collapsed, Sharyn Alfonsi?

Glenn Bell: Therefore, our timeline for this inquiry was to complete our technical findings by autumn 2023. Then, we must complete our report and recommendations. We anticipate this in the fall of 2024.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Many Floridians do not get why this process is taking so long.

Glenn Bell: I want them to know we are working as quickly as possible. Moreover, the consequences of our findings are enormous. We must do things correctly.

Bell’s team will recommend any necessary adjustments to national building rules or construction procedures based on their findings.

Over 600 parts of the construction will undergo extensive testing, as stated by Glenn Bell. And the more you put together, the more the puzzle pieces begin to emerge, as do the stories.

What is the tale that has emerged at this time, Sharyn Alfonsi? How much do you know?

Glenn Bell: Currently, we are researching almost two dozen possibilities regarding the potential causes.

Glenn Bell

Possible causes include poor construction, poor design, or defective materials. Bell, who was a member of the engineering team that analyzed the World Trade Center’s collapse after the 9/11 attack, came out of retirement to solve the Surfside mystery.

Glenn Bell: I’ve investigated failures for more than four decades. And I can state that this inquiry is one of the most complicated and hard ever conducted.

Sharyn Alfonsi: What gives?

Glenn Bell: Sometimes, the immediate causes of building collapses are readily obvious. After well over a year, no such apparent reason has been identified in Champlain Towers.

Last spring, investigators began scanning fragments of the debris into a vast 3D database. In August, preliminary laboratory tests on building materials began. Glenn Bell informed us that if investigators uncover anything that poses a threat to other structures, it will be disclosed immediately.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Is it feasible that you won’t know what caused the building to collapse after the investigation is complete?

Glenn Bell: I am convinced we will succeed. However, it will take a considerable amount of time.

Back in Surfside, Allyn Kilshiemer informed us that the probe need not take a further two years. The City of Surfside engaged him hours after the incident to conduct its own investigation.

Allyn Kilshiemer

Allyn Kilshiemer: We must reach the trigger immediately. I usually say that if you know how to listen, a structure will speak to you. And it either finds a means to maintain itself or says, “I give up. I can’t support it. I’m going to tumble down.”

Kilsheimer, a renowned engineer, participated in the investigations following the Oklahoma City explosion and the 9/11 Pentagon attack.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Where are you currently in the investigation? How far are we?

We’re almost eight months behind where I planned to be…

Kilsheimer is still haggling with federal investigators for authorization to do his own tests on the locked-up building samples in that warehouse.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Is this extraordinary?

Allyn Kilshiemer: I’ve never encountered it previously.

Not affiliated with the Pentagon? Not with the bombing of Oklahoma City?

Allyn Kilshiemer: I’ve never encountered it previously. It is really unusual.

Allyn Kilsheimer was not permitted to perform his first significant on-site test until August of last year.

We watched as his team employed 350 tons of steel plates to determine the load capacity of the site’s structural pilings.

Allyn Kilshiemer: This structure has been there for quite some time. Right? It has existed for forty years and has been populated for forty years. It has held automobiles for 40 years. Buildings do not simply collapse.

A monument at the site of the former Champlain Towers South

Neither Kilsheimer nor federal investigators have provided explanations, so victims’ families and survivors have developed their own hypotheses. One is that weeks of vibrations from the construction of the apartment with an oval form next door compromised Champlain Towers South. A 2019 email from a resident to the city stated the excavation was “…too close to our property and we have worries about the building’s integrity.”

Sharyn Alfonsi: Residents of the towers have expressed a great deal of concern with vibrations from the construction of the adjacent structure. Is that anything you’re investigating?

Glenn Bell: These are only a couple of the several failure possibilities we are examining. However, we are examining it very carefully.

The condo’s construction companies participated in a $1.1 billion settlement with victims’ families and survivors. The project’s insurers paid out $400 million, but stated that the development had nothing to do with its failure. The agreement offers Shannon Gallagher no solace. She resides in a Surfside condo adjacent to new construction.

Sharyn Alfonsi: How ancient is this structure?

1965, per Shannon Gallagher.

Sharyn Alfonsi: 1965. How secure do you feel?

Shannon Gallagher: I don’t believe so. I don’t.

Gallagher is concerned about the potential for vibrations from the construction planned just below her, and she has asked a Florida court to step in.

Shannon Gallagher: Do you observe this two-story structure? This structure will be replaced with a structure that will be substantially taller. It will be around 158 feet. The vibrations from the construction of the skyscraper can be felt from a greater distance. And you could; you could feel the building vibrate while standing.

Sharyn Alfonsi can hear Manhattan residents asking, “What’s the wrong with building next to each other?”

Shannon Gallagher: I understand development. However, consideration must be given to who you are building next to.

Jennifer Gallagher

Families of the fatalities have also accused the condo association of Champlain Towers South of not addressing serious structural damage immediately. In a 2018 assessment, a condo board-hired engineer identified poor waterproofing beneath the pool deck and column cracking in the garage.

They needed $15 million to fix the garage and building, according to Eric Glazer. They had $700,000 in assets.

Eric Glazer has practiced condo law in Florida for thirty years and believes that he has instructed 22,000 condo owners on how to handle their properties.

Eric Glazer: There are no prerequisite qualifications for board membership, such as being an accountant, an attorney, or having any commercial experience.

Sharyn Alfonsi: What transpires?

Eric Glazer: Occasionally, the budget is not well prepared. Occasionally, expenditure is not done properly. Frequently, improper repairs are carried out.

And according to Glazer, condo boards can be subject to significant pressure from neighbors, particularly retirees, to keep costs down. That is not simple. Two-thirds of Florida’s condominiums are at least 30 years old. In October, a 50-year-old condo in Miami Beach was ruled hazardous and its occupants were evicted after engineers discovered that a break in the primary support beam had grown.

Eric Glazer: Does no one believe that these structures will someday require maintenance?

Sharyn Alfonsi: The due date has arrived.

Eric Glazer: The bill has now become due.

Eric Glazer

The scrutiny of condominium boards prompted the Florida government to establish comprehensive condominium rules.

For condominiums with three stories or more, the new regulations mandate structural examinations by engineers or architects. All recommended repairs must be implemented, and condo boards must set aside sufficient funds for future maintenance.

Eric Glazer: You now have scenarios in Florida where individuals on a fixed income will be required to pay thousands of dollars that they do not have.

Sharyn Alfonsi: How will this affect who visits and resides in Florida?

Eric Glazer: Well, the days of granny and grandpa relying only on social security traveling to Florida with the intention of purchasing a condominium are over.

Glazer anticipates the arrival of the developers. who have already converted a large portion of South Florida’s beachfront into a canyon of glass and steel, will want to acquire older, unrepairable condos. Then, demolish them and replace them with a more lucrative luxury condo.

Robert Lisman: Less than a year after the fall of Champlain Towers, a development company made offers. What we were offered was substantially undervalued.

Robert Lisman and his family reside in a condo built by the same developers as Champlain Towers South, two doors down from the collapse.

Robert Lisman

Sharyn Alfonsi: Do you believe they believed, “These folks are desperate and frightened, therefore they will accept these offers?”

Robert Lisman: Unquestionably. They may purchase our flat or property for its fair market value and still make a fortune.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Are you concerned that another developer may approach you and say, “Hey, I realize that most of you won’t be able to afford this. May I buy your apartment?”

Robert Lisman: I’m certain that a number of owners are going to look at that price, compare it to the offer they’re presented with, and accept whatever they can get.

Raysa Rodriguez informed us that, as part of the settlement with the homeowners, she received less than market value for the unit she lost.

The attorneys who defended survivors and victims’ families received $70 million.

As for the property where originally stood Champlain Towers South? It was purchased for $120 million by a developer from the Persian Gulf, who intends to construct a luxury condominium.

Guy Campanile produced the work. Lucy Hatcher, associate producer Associate of broadcasting, Elizabeth Germino. Joe Schanzer edited this work.

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