Surfside, Florida death toll, condo collapse climbs to 64 as search for survivors shuts down


Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the death toll in the fatal Champlain Towers South condo collapse in Surfside, Fla. Rose to 64 on Thursday, leaving 76 residents missing.

Memorial and watch wall installed in Surfside, Fla. (WSWS Media)

After two weeks of search operations to locate those missing in the rubble, first responders briefly interrupted their work at 1:20 a.m. Thursday and observed a minute of silence to honor the victims of the tragedy. No survivors have been found since the first hours after the June 24 collapse.

In light of the rising death toll and the inability to find survivors, authorities yesterday announced the operation was being reclassified from a “search and rescue mission” to a “recovery effort”, which means there was little or no possibility of saving additional lives. Rescue teams said scores of victims were found in their beds, with the collapse proving to be one of the deadliest construction disasters in U.S. history, not counting fires or attacks. terrorists.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett called the latest developments “extremely difficult” at a press conference Thursday. He said the announcement of the transition from a search and rescue operation to a recovery effort was the result of a consensus among rescue teams that the chances of finding living victims were “close to zero”. The teams worked continuously in 12-hour shifts, with the help of research experts and crews from Mexico and Israel.

Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Alan Cominsky suggested on Wednesday the “viability of living in the rubble” was low, while Mayor Cava told reporters authorities “were taking as much care as ever. “to find the remaining victims. She said authorities were working “around the clock” to put an end to the families and friends of those who fell victim to the collapse.

The overthrow of the 12-story condo produced immense shock and sadness in the Miami-Dade community, as hundreds of residents passed by the wreckage and visited vigils and shrines mourning the lost.

In the aftermath of the devastating collapse, fears grew that other condos and high-rise buildings were incredibly vulnerable to the type of structural failure seen in Surfside. Mayor Burkett sent a letter to condominium associations across town urging them to take action to keep their buildings safe. In copies of the letter shared with the press, Burkett said building managers should retain engineers to review infrastructure drawings and perform basement examinations, regardless of the age of the building. .

The letter also included a notice of inspection of the building foundations, a factor believed to be primarily responsible for the collapse of the Champlain South Towers. Burkett said the inspections were aimed at giving residents “some peace of mind” until forensic investigations into the causes of the South Champlain Towers collapse provide more information. Since the disaster, city and county authorities have launched hundreds of inspections of residential condominiums in the Miami area, and so far three have raised concerns.

In Miami-Dade County, inspections revealed at least one structural problem with three balconies. In Miami Beach, authorities authorized the evacuation of a three-story building. The biggest problem arose in a condo in North Miami Beach, where the 156 units at Crestview Towers South were evacuated last Friday after officials said the building was deemed structurally and electrically unsafe. As a result of the evacuations, around 300 people were ordered to leave without warning and with no other place to live. The Miami-Dade Homeless Trust chairman said CNN residents should grab what they can and just “move on.”

More details have emerged on the causes of the collapse of the Champlain South Towers, as scrutiny has increasingly shifted to the building association, with reports of potential negligence on the part of the building. officials. In a police report reviewed by CNN, a car crash occurred in the building’s basement garage in 2016, resulting in visible damage to a cement column. Damage to one of the building’s columns was one of the theories put forward by engineers as a contributing factor to the collapse.

Although investigations have so far identified no single trigger for the collapse, countless reports have highlighted structural damage to the towers, cracks in the concrete, and disputes over repair work such as factors that worsened the condition of the building.

The incident in the garage also accompanied theories pointing to more natural causes of damage to the base of the building, including the dangerous effects of sea level rise and climate change. The WSWS spoke this week with researcher Zhong-Ren Peng, professor / director at iAdapt: ​​International Center for Adaptation Planning and Design at the University of Florida, on some of these questions.

Dr Peng highlighted the potential damage to the lower part of the structure as the reason for the collapse. “From what I understood from the chipped concrete, it appeared that the structure had not been repaired for some time and that the coastal area was a very corrosive environment,” he said. He noted that salt water / moisture entering the concrete produced cracks around the lower part of the building and the foundation, leading to corrosion of the steel reinforcement. Although Peng did not visit the site for further examination, he said the weakening of the reinforcing steel over time was “probably” a major problem triggering the collapse.

Peng noted that when the steel in the concrete of a building weakens, it loses strength and is therefore susceptible to breaking. “In order to hold the concrete together, you have to have the steel inside to help maintain the stability of the building,” he said. Steel is also “very vulnerable to chemicals in salt water and when the two substances come in contact it produces rust”, which can develop from the increasing flow of salt water and cause more damage. cracks and chipping in concrete. “It attracts more salt water into the cracks, and therefore into the steel. So this process goes on and on, and in the end the damage can be quite severe, with all of the concrete and steel weakening. “

Dr Peng stressed the need for repairs to buildings whose bases can easily corrode. “That’s why when you see cracks, you have to be very careful about fixing them to avoid further damage. Dr Peng’s remarks echo warnings from scientists who have sounded the alarm bells on human-induced climate change and its impact on coastal buildings.

The past three decades of rising sea levels and corrosion of reinforced concrete have confirmed these warnings, raising fears that unless action is taken to improve civilian infrastructure, disasters like the Champlain South Towers will become more common. Peng stressed the need to raise standards for buildings and review existing building codes as well as take greater precautions for future construction in vulnerable areas.

“I think it’s really important that we review the effectiveness of building codes, while increasing the inspection and audits of existing buildings,” he added. Peng noted that safety protocols and requirements for new construction must take into account “not only hurricanes such as Hurricane Andrew in 1992, but also the impact of sea level rise and resolve the salt water intrusion problems “.

The past three decades have seen an explosion of high-rise buildings and other condominiums along seaside regions, with many worried that the motives for such development could put more lives at risk.

“There is a strong demand for development in coastal areas, such as beaches. So there is an incentive for landowners and real estate companies to lead new developments in these areas, ”Peng said. However, climate change has exacerbated the flow of water surrounding coastal buildings and, Peng noted, “some areas will be inundated by rising seas in the future, as early as the next twenty, thirty or forty years,” which will only increase the dangers for the inhabitants of these neighborhoods.

There are significant economic gains from real estate development in coastal areas, but Peng warned that “we need to think about what is most important here” because of the risk to human life of developing infrastructure at such. ladder.

“Forty years ago there was an excuse for all this construction because we didn’t know the sea would rise so fast,” he continued, “but now we know it. Science has proven that sea level has risen and will continue to rise. So the question is whether the government should continue to grant building permits for new developments in these coastal areas? If so, what adaptation measures should be necessary to ensure the safety of the building and the residents 40 years later? It’s a conversation that I hope we start to have given the Surfside condo collapse.

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