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Death toll in Florida building collapse rises to 5

By Jason Hanna, Aya Elamroussi, Hollie Silverman, Ray Sanchez and Casey Tolan, CNN

The death toll in the Surfside, Florida, residential building collapse has risen to five, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a Saturday evening news conference.

“Today our search and rescue teams found another body in the rubble,” Levine Cava said. “And, as well, our search has revealed some human remains.”

The process of identifying the victims is difficult, the mayor said, and officials will be relying on DNA testing “and that is why we’ve already been gathering DNA samples from the family members,” she said.

Three bodies have been identified, Levine Cava said, but officials are not naming the victims at this time out of respect to the families.

There are now 130 people accounted for and 156 unaccounted for, she said. Officials have not determined a cause of the collapse.

About 55 of the 136 units at the building a few miles north of Miami Beach collapsed at around 1:30 a.m. Thursday, leaving huge piles of rubble on the ground and materials dangling from what remained of the structure, officials said.

“Our top priority continues to be search and rescue and saving any lives that we can,” the mayor added.

Crews are continuing an “aggressive search and rescue strategy,” in the rubble at Champlain Towers South, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said during the news conference.

Fire crews were able to contain the fire and minimize the smoke that was hampering search and rescue operations, Cominsky said.

“Currently we’re searching the entire debris field, we’ve separated it into multiple sections and we actively … are applying our search and rescue techniques.”

Engineer had raised concerns about structural damage

Nearly three years before Thursday’s deadly partial collapse, an engineer raised concerns about structural damage to the concrete slab below the pool deck and “cracking and spalling” located in the parking garage, according to documents.

A structural field survey report from October 2018 was included in a series of public documents published overnight on the Surfside town website. The New York Times was first to report about the field survey report.

The structural field survey said the waterproofing below the pool deck and entrance drive was failing and causing “major structural damage.”

“The waterproofing below the pool deck and Entrance Drive as well as all of the planter waterproofing is beyond its useful life and therefore must all be completely removed and replaced,” the report reads.

“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 the waterproofing was laid on a flat structure rather than a sloped concrete slab that would have allowed the water to drain. That resulted in water sitting on the waterproofing until it evaporated, in what the report identified as a “major error.”

The report further noted that “the replacement of the existing deck waterproofing will be extremely expensive…be disruptive and create a major disturbance to the occupants of this condominium building.”

The report, the goal of which was to “understand and document the extent of structural issues,” detailed signs of “distress/fatigue” in the parking garage.

“Abundant cracking and spalling of various degrees was observed in the concrete columns, beams and walls. … Though some of this damage is minor, most of the concrete deterioration needs to be repaired in a timely fashion.”

Spalling is a term used to describe areas of concrete that have cracked or crumbled.

The 2018 report also noted that “many … previous garage concrete repairs” were “failing.”

The report didn’t give any indication that the structure was at risk of collapse. It was completed by Frank Morabito of Morabito Consultants.

Consulting company says it was hired again in 2020

In a Saturday statement, Morabito Consultants said the company completed a report in 2018 that detailed “significant cracks and breaks in the concrete” and provided “an estimate of the probable costs to make the extensive and necessary repairs.”

The condominium association hired the firm again in June 2020 “to prepare a ’40-year Building Repair and Restoration’ plan with detailed specifications for completing the necessary repairs and restoration work,” its statement said.

At the time of the collapse, there were roof repairs taking place, but concrete restoration had not started, the firm said, adding that it “exclusively provides” engineering consulting services and does not provide construction-related services.

“We are deeply troubled by this building collapse and are working closely with the investigating authorities to understand why the structure failed,” it added.

‘Nothing like this was foreseeable,’ condo association attorney says

Abieyuwa Aghayere, a professor of structural engineering at Drexel University who reviewed the report, said its findings were alarming and should have spurred further review of the building’s integrity.

An attorney for the building’s condominium association, Kenneth Direktor, previously warned against early speculation. The building, he told CNN on Friday, had been subject to a series of inspections “over the last several months” as part of its milestone 40-year safety certification process.

“Nothing like this was foreseeable,” Direktor said. “At least it wasn’t seen by the engineers who were looking at the building from a structural perspective.”

CNN reached out to Direktor on Saturday for comment.

Surfside mayor: Evacuate nearby tower

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett on Saturday recommended residents of the nearby north tower evacuate out of “an abundance of caution.”

“I don’t think people need to live with the possibility, or the even the thought that their” building may collapse, Burkett told CNN.

Burkett said he has not seen the 2018 report, and that it’s still “unclear what steps the building was taking to address … cracks” mentioned in the document.

At an emergency meeting Friday evening, the mayor and town commission discussed the evacuation of the north tower — which Burkett described as “exactly the same property” in design as the collapsed tower — and the hiring of an engineer to investigate.

On Saturday morning, CNN asked Levine Cava, the Miami-Dade County mayor, about the report.

“We need all this information, we need all this evidence, and we are going to get to the bottom of what happened at this particular building,” she said.

The mayor later told reporters, “We knew nothing about this report.”

Levine Cava said Miami-Dade is conducting an audit of all county buildings at their 40-year point and beyond.

“We want to make sure that every building has completed their recertification process,” she said.

The building that collapsed was undergoing that recertification process, and the board only knew what the engineer’s certification report included in terms of repair work, she said.

Permit for roof repairs issued day before collapse

Donna DiMaggio Berger, an attorney for the Champlain Towers condo association, said board members had no information that would have foreshadowed Thursday’s disaster.

“Typical things that an engineer looks for in a certification report in Miami-Dade and Broward County, which are the two counties that require this kind of certification, is a review of the roof, the HVAC system, electrical, plumbing, and the building envelope,” Berger told CNN.

“But certainly, there was nothing hazardous that was outlined in that report, anything that would have proven to be a danger to life.”

The town of Surfside issued a permit for roof repairs on the Champlain Towers South building the day before the collapse, according to documents released Friday.

Wednesday’s permit was issued to a South Florida concrete company to “install roof safety anchors and provide stucco repairs.” The work included removal of the “existing roof down to concrete deck” and replacing it, the permit said. The building fell the next day.

The company set to perform the work, Concrete Protection and Restoration LLC, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.

Another document produced as part of the 2018 structural engineer’s report also noted that small portions of the building were “showing distress.”

The report, conducted by Morabito for the building’s condo association, noted that about “2% of exterior columns have experienced concrete spalling” and about “5% of the balcony structural floor slabs showed hairline cracking.”

A class-action lawsuit filed Thursday claims that the association of the collapsed condo is responsible for “failures to secure and safeguard” the lives and property of condo owners.

Direktor responded on behalf of the association saying, “I don’t know what caused this building to fall down … The engineers don’t know with certainty what caused this building to fall down.”

Families missing their loved ones

While anxious family members await news — and the search continues — officials remain hopeful. A boy who was under a mattress and bed frame was pulled out alive from under the rubble on Thursday.

“I am holding out hope because our first responders tell me they have hope,” Levine Cava told CNN.

A makeshift memorial to the missing was set up along a fence near the site of the collapse, with photos, candles and flowers.

Among the missing are Gil Guerra and his wife, Betty, who lived on the ninth floor.

“We’re doing our best to stay hopeful,” Michelle Guerra said of her father and stepmother. “That’s what they would want.”

Also missing was Vishal Patel, his wife Bhavna Patel, their 1-year-old daughter Aishani Patel, their niece Sarina Patel told CNN, adding that Bhavna Patel is four months pregnant.

Sarina Patel told CNN on Friday that she last spoke to her family June 20 to tell them she had booked a flight to visit. They were home at the time the collapse took place, Sarina Patel said.

“We have tried calling them countless of times and there’s just been no answers,” she said.

™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Rosa Flores reported from Surfside; Steve Almasy, Curt Devine, Rebekah Riess, Amanda Watts, Sara Weisfeldt, Theresa Waldrop, Ana Zuniga, Melissa Alonso, Jamiel Lynch, Camille Furst, Abel Alvarado, Kristen Holmes, Valentina Moreira, Gerardo Lemos and Radina Gigova contributed to this report.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - National

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