Search-and-rescue work has resumed at the Champlain Towers South condominium in the Surfside area of Miami Beach, after a reported 14-hour pause Thursday due to concerns that shifting debris could cause what’s left of the partially collapsed 135-unit condominium tower to further buckle. Structural engineers picked up on dangerous movement, threatening survivors who may be in air pockets, or “voids.” Unmanned robots, sonar, drones and sensitive microphones are being deployed in the search for survivors and victims.
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President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden surveyed the site Thursday. “They’re going through hell. And those who’ve survived the collapse, as well as those who are missing loved ones,” Biden said of the families touched by the condo collapse. “Jill and I wanted them to know that we’re with them and the country is with them. Our message today is that we’re here for you, as one nation. As one nation. And that’s the message we communicated.”
Biden added that the US government will pay for the entirety of search-and-rescue costs for the first 30 days after the Champlain tower collapse, with FEMA providing temporary housing and urgent necessities for survivors. Biden also directed expedited visas for family members of people touched in the collapse who live abroad.
In the wake of the building’s sudden collapse, details continue to surface. People with loved ones who may have been at Champlain Towers South on June 24 have been asked to call 305-614-1819 to help track tenants. Miami-Dade County has asked Champlain Tower residents who are safe to complete this Wellness Check form. For now, here’s what we know about the collapse of the condo, speculation why the building may have collapsed, what we know about the victims and who might be liable.
How many survivors and victims have been found so far?
As of Friday, it’s been reported that 20 people have died in the collapse, with as many as 128 residents still missing and 130 people accounted for. The dead and missing include retirees from New York, those who used the condo as a second home, a Colombian family on vacation, a nanny from Paraguay and several children, including the 7-year-old daughter of one of the firefighters assisting in the recovery.
Earlier this week, “unmanned robots” began to aid human rescue workers to help remove debris in the ongoing search and rescue mission, the Miami Herald reported. The Federal Aviation Administration has warned drone pilots who are not part of the investigation to stay away from the area until July 31.
Is there new information about why the Champlain Towers building collapsed?
Champlain Towers South, the condo residence that collapsed, is in a stretch of residential buildings located in the beach zone of the Miami area. Both the adjacent Champlain Towers North and East are still standing (more on this below).
A new video surfaced showing the partial collapse of the parking garage right before the rest of the structure fell, The Miami Herald reported. Experts were already honing in on the parking garage ceiling underneath the pool deck, where unusual amounts of standing water, cracking concrete and severely corroded rebar under the pool had been photographed by an unnamed pool contractor 36 hours prior to the collapse. Described as the “initiation point” of the structural damage, the video points to this area as a possible first point of failure.
What was the preexisting evidence that the building could collapse?
A report from a 2018 engineering-firm inspection warned of “major structural damage” to the building, according to the New York Times and other news organizations.
In April, Jean Wodnicki, president of the condo association’s board of directors, sent a letter to residents outlining proposed repairs based on the report, noting that damage to the building “has gotten significantly worse,” since the 2018 inspection, USA Today reported.
Environmental changes could have also contributed to the sudden failure. The land the Champlain Towers South building sits on is sinking, possibly from a sinkhole or rising sea levels, according to The New York Times. Deeper investigation into possible causes is expected to start after the rescue operation ends.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology — a sub-agency of the Department of Commerce that investigated the destruction of the World Trade Center after Sept. 11 — plans to launch a full investigation to determine what the cause of the failure was and decide what new laws and regulations need to be implemented to prevent this sort of disaster in the future. A former director of the NIST said that the investigation would yield new information within a matter of months, the Miami Herald reported.
Are the other two Champlain towers being evacuated?
Residents of two sister condo towers — Champlain Towers North and East — have not been ordered to evacuate their buildings yet. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is offering temporary housing for those who do decide to leave while the two remaining buildings are being inspected. The north tower was built in 1981, the same year as the south tower. The east tower was built in 1994.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said that the “likely demolition” of the unstable section of the structure is “a decision that we need to make extremely carefully and methodically,” according to the Miami Herald.
Which lawsuits are already filed?
Following the collapse, apartment owners filed a class-action lawsuit against the condo association, claiming the association failed to “secure and safeguard the lives and property.” The law firm bringing the suit said it expects injury-related lawsuits as well, NPR reported.
At the state level, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said she will have a grand jury investigate the disaster.
Rosendo “Ross” Prieto, a senior building official for Surfside, is on a leave of absence after the deadly incident, according to the Miami Herald and numerous other outlets. After reviewing the 2018 report about the building’s structural damage, he reportedly said the tower was “in very good shape,” according to the Herald. Prieto still hasn’t spoken publicly about what happened.
Katie Teague contributed to this story.