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An American Tragedy: Timeline of the Surfside Collapse

Death toll hits 97 and sale of the site is approved, but the building’s troubled history is in the spotlight.

by | Jul 16, 2021 | Articles, Social Issues

The number of confirmed deaths in the collapse of the condominium in Surfside, Florida has reached 97. According to Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, 90 of those victims have been identified. Eight individuals are still unaccounted for. The cause of the collapse has still not been determined, however, building reports have caused speculation among experts and investigators.


Residential Building In Miami Partially Collapsed

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Over concerns of the structural integrity of the remainder of the building, rescue efforts were paused for 14 hours on July 1. Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava signed an emergency order to demolish the remaining portion of Champlain Towers South. Since then, crews have resumed rescue efforts on and off as Hurricane Elsa created weather and environmental hurdles.

On July 7, officials announced the shift in efforts from rescue to recovery after finding an additional 18 bodies in one day. Since then, more and more victims are found each day. According to officials, the recovery and identification processes have “become more difficult” with the increased debris and rubble. Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett announced on July 6 that the recovery operation is nearly complete and the chances of finding someone alive at this point is “near zero.”

911 Calls Released

On July 15, the 911 calls from the first moments of the collapse were released. The panic and disorientation from witnesses and residents are disturbing. Some reported that what was happening seemed like “an earthquake.” Others begged dispatchers for help in getting away from the building before it would fully collapse.

One news network obtained and transcribed the phone calls and released portions to the public. Some messages were just muffled screams, others told dispatchers they heard yelling from the rubble.

Site on Sale

This week a Florida circuit judge approved the sale of the property upon which Champlain Towers South once stood. All proceeds of the sale are intended to benefit the hundreds of victims of the apartment building collapse. Experts expect the site to go for somewhere between $100 million to $110 million.

Cause Speculation

Teams from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the town of Surfside, and the Miami-Dade County police have all launched investigations and are analyzing and evaluating the debris from the structure to identify what contributed to the collapse.

A 2018 report found there were major structural issues with the building. This included cracking in the parking garage and waterproofing flaws under the pool. Despite the engineer’s report, Surfside’s chief building official, Ross Prieto, told residents their building was “in very good shape.” In 2010 a Florida law was repealed that required condo buildings to plan for found repairs. According to experts, this repeal could have been a factor in the collapse.

Newly discovered documents from 1996 have exposed that the pool deck’s structure was an issue for a long time. Documentation submitted to the Surfside Building Department reported 50 feet of cracks to be filled along with a 20-square-foot section of the concrete that needed to be replaced. The problems were fixed for a price of $156,602. According to structural engineers, a big issue lies in the fact that these problems arose just 15 years after the building was completed; atypically too soon. The 2018 report also found such solutions back in 1996 to be “insufficient” in addressing the problems.

Initial records show that the penthouses built on top of the tower were not a part of the building’s original plans. It is possible the original structure was not suitable to support them.

This tragedy has caused other buildings in the area to evaluate and start repairs of their own. The North building of the Towers was thoroughly evaluated and was determined to be structurally sound. Another 82-year-old building in Miami-Dade County, however, had to be evacuated for “concrete deterioration.”

As law enforcement continues to investigate this tragedy, causes and correlations are expected to be shared with the public. Memorials and assistance funds have already been started to help families of those deceased and surviving victims. Items being recovered from the debris such as jewelry, photo albums, and other valuables and memorabilia are being meticulously sorted off-site by officials hoping to find their rightful owners.


Read more from Keelin Ferris.

Read More From Keelin Ferris

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