Governor Ron DeSantis has issued a state of emergency and rescue crews are working desperately searching for survivors of the Chaplain Towers South Condo collapse in Surfside, Miami-Dade County, Florida. Federal funding can now be brought to bear, bringing additional recovery, cleanup, and shelter for families who have been displaced. As of this writing, 4 people are dead and 159 are missing with rescue crews entering the rubble through tunnels opened up beneath the wreckage, at extreme risk of their own lives.
Tragic Early Morning Collapse — Emergency Declaration In Effect
Florida Talk Show Host Andy Slater acquired surveillance footage of the collapse and posted it to Twitter.
JUST IN: Video I’ve obtained of the building collapse in Surfside, Florida. pic.twitter.com/BGbRC7iSI9
— Andy Slater (@AndySlater) June 24, 2021
Local station WSVN, reported that 102 people have been accounted for following the collapse, including 35 who were rescued from the rubble. The 12 story complex partially collapsed before sunrise on June 24th, while many residents were home, and most were asleep in their beds. In the emergency order from Gov. DeSantis, it notes that a large portion of the building “has been destroyed and the remainder of the structure has been rendered uninhabitable,”
Here’s the size of the partial building collapse in Surfside.
— Andy Slater (@AndySlater) June 24, 2021
Gov. DeSantis and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez toured the wreckage with Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie according to the Miami Herald,
“The TV doesn’t do it justice,’’ the governor said at the news conference that followed. “I mean it is really, really traumatic to see the collapse of a massive structure like that.”
The Governor spoke repeatedly of the courage of first responders who placed their own lives at risk by rushing into a dangerous structure with so many unknowns.
“They were on that scene before we knew whether there’d be more collapse,’’ he said. “We didn’t know whether the building had any structural integrity, and they were shepherding people to safety, and they absolutely saved people’s lives.”
According to The Daily Wire, DeSantis warned, “The first responders were able to save a lot of people. They are going to be going through more and, you know, it’s a really, really tragic situation so we’ll hope for the best in terms of additional recoveries, although we are bracing for some bad news just given the destruction that we’re seeing,”
Cause of Structural Failure Unknown — Theories Abound As Rescue Takes Priority
As fire and rescue personnel work round the clock to save as many lives as possible, the Monday morning quarterbacking and various theories related to the collapse are abounding. There are multiple suggestions at the time of this article but right now the priority is saving lives, so answers are unlikely to come any time soon, at least until the anxious rescue and the grim recovery phases of this crisis are complete.
According to Fox News, “Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Friday that three bodies were pulled from the rubble overnight, bringing the total death toll to four. Cava said so far foul play does not appear to have been a factor, but said investigators are not ruling anything out. ”
WPTV, a local NBC affiliate reported that witnesses described the collapse as “an earthquake and bomb rolled into one” and many reports have led with that but there is no indication at this time that the collapse followed an attack of any kind.
The same NBC affiliate also spoke to the Vice President of Kast Construction Jim Rhinehart who described the unique challenges of South Florida construction and the danger of structural corrosion.
He said, “Salt and chlorides are super corrosive to steel, which of course in a concrete structure like this is the reinforcing that’s all inside the concrete,” Rhinehart said. “So, if any of that gets exposed, the steel starts to corrode and it swells and it begins a long, slow path of degradation of the structure.”
The Construction expert also said that sinkholes that plague the sunshine state couldn’t be ruled out, nor could a more mundane explanation “like a truck hitting a building column that might have caused a progressive collapse of a section of the structure.”
Regarding the sinkhole theory, he said, “Essentially a building sitting on concrete blocks, sitting on piles that are driven down or drilled down into the ground … if the ground that all of that is relying on subsides, then there’s nothing underpinning the building,”
The building located at 8777 Collins Avenue according to CNN was built in 1981 and due for its forty-year structural recertification under Florida law. And “A study last year showed signs the building was sinking at a rate of about 2 millimeters a year between 1993 and 1999, said Shimon Wdowinski, a professor with Florida International University’s Institute of Environment.” The sinking issue was unique to this building and was not affecting surrounding buildings. However, in West Miami, built on reclaimed marshland this is somewhat common and didn’t raise much alarm.
Another serious consideration in Miami-Dade is coastal inundation events caused by storm surges from hurricanes which can be disastrous to the structural integrity of buildings. South Florida has been subjected to some of the deadliest hurricanes in history such as Hurricane Andrew which devastated the area around Surfside and caused the forty-year recertification and many other structural codes in South Florida to be created.
According to the Washington Post’s “100 years of hurricanes hitting and missing Florida, visualized,”, “In the 1980s, only a handful of storms made landfall in Florida. ” However, through the ’90s and early 2000’s that would change: the aforementioned Andrew struck in 92′, followed by Erin in 95′ and a disastrous side-swipe from Floyd in 99′. The 2000’s were a regular shooting gallery for the barrier island Surfside sits on with Charley, France, and Jean in 2004 followed by Navarre, Wilma, and Katrina in 2005, Hermine in 16′ and Irma in 17′. Why the long list? Think about cumulative damage.
“Until we understand really what the cause of this was, it’s difficult to try to think about how we turn that into sort of future prevention,” Rhinehart said. Right now it’s just too early to say. But for the families of 159 people today there is hope still, but it dims with each passing hour. We all must wait, and hope and pray. The “why” and “how” can wait for now. What matters right now are those people and families, and their rescuers.