Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says that the Miami-based sister building to the collapsed condo high-rise in Surfside may have to be evacuated so engineers can inspect it to make sure it is structurally sound.
The Republican governor explained during a press conference Saturday morning that the cause of the evacuation may be necessary because investigators have not yet uncovered why the first building, Champlain Towers South, suddenly collapsed early Thursday morning.
“It was built at the same time with the same designer, so they are looking at working with them, and I know they are considering potentially evacuating them, but that’s something that ultimately the mayor is going to have to make the call on,” DeSantis explained, referencing Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett.
The New York Times reported that while Burkett has expressed concern about the integrity of the sister building, he’s not “philosophically comfortable” with ordering residents to evacuate.
“I can’t tell you, I can’t assure you, that the building is safe,” he told city commissioners on Friday, according to reports.
At least five people were killed in the collapse, but another 156 are still not accounted for, as of Saturday evening. The search continues, however, those officials said sonar readings picked up only a few new signs of life earlier in the rescue.
While investigators have not yet found a cause for the collapse, a 2018 report from Morabito Consultants, an engineering company, revealed significant structural damage over the years after first being built in the early 1980s. At the time, the firm “inspected about half of the building’s 136 units as well as the roof, exterior and other common areas,” Fox News reported.
Engineers discovered “major structural damage” that required extensive repairs, according to the report, which added that “abundant cracking and spalling” was also found, The Associated Press noted.
That said, the report did not warn of an imminent building collapse and it’s not at all clear yet if the damage found is responsible for the building cave-in.
One portion of the report said that waterproofing under the pool deck was improperly applied and had failed over the years.
“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, going on to recommend the slabs be replaced as part of a major upgrade.
Underneath the pool deck “where the slab had been epoxy-injected, new cracks were radiating from the originally repaired cracks,” the firm noted in its findings.
In addition, the firm uncovered cracked tiles on several boundaries — evidence of structural decay underneath the surface, according to the report.
“The extensive soffit damage is a systemic issue that can only be repaired by removing all of the balcony tile, repairing the damaged concrete surfaces at the top and bottom of the slab and protecting the slab by installing a pedestrian waterproofing membrane,” the report notes.
Other issues, including maintenance problems such as improperly installed and leaking sliding glass doors and a lack of building hooks for window washers, were also found.
After the rescue operation concludes, a team of engineers and scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology will descend on the rubble in an effort to determine why the building tumbled.
Iliana Monteagudo, a resident of the collapsed building who survived, told the New York Post something told her “to run” seconds before it fell in.
Monteagudo, who is in her 50s, explained that she had gotten up from a restless sleep after hearing strange noises. She noticed that her sliding glass door to her balcony was open, but when she went to close it, the door wouldn’t shut.
“I ran and tried to close it but I couldn’t, I imagine because it was unlevel already because of all the movement,” she recounted. “I heard a crack and when I looked, I saw a crack traveling in the wall two fingers thick. Something told me, you need to run.”
After grabbing her identification and credit cards and a few religious items, Monteagudo fled the building in the nick of time.
Once outside, she said she began praying for her safety amid the smoke and debris.
“God help me, I want to see my children. God, please help me, don’t let me die like this,” she said.
“I lost everything now. I have nothing,” she added. “But I have my life and that’s all that matters. With life, there is hope, we can start again.”
She said she bought the two-bedroom, two-bathroom Unit 611 in December for $600,000, and was upset that she only learned of the structural damage after moving in.
“They never told us anything” Monteagudo noted. “Then they suddenly make us make an extra $1,000 special assessment for all these repairs they need to do. We are supposed to start paying in July. What happened?”
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