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What we know about the damage and repairs to the partially collapsed Surfside condo building

As families mourn and worry for their loved ones, residents and officials are criticizing the management of the building, saying more should have been done to prevent the tower from crashing down in the middle of the night last week.

Officials say they still haven’t found what triggered the collapse, but engineers have told CNN it is likely the product of multiple factors rather than a single failing.

From an early construction halt to assurances that the building was fine, here is what we know so far about the damage and repairs to the building.

1980s construction halt

Before Champlain Towers South and one of its sister buildings opened, there was controversy around their construction, which violated local regulations, documents show.

“You are instructed to immediately cease any further construction on any penthouses at either of the Champlain Towers buildings,” Surfside’s acting town manager at the time, George Curti, told the tower’s contractor in a December 2, 1980, letter.

Surfside’s attorney had determined the penthouse violated town code, Curti wrote.

The following week, the Town Council granted an exception, allowing the penthouse construction to go forward, Curti wrote in a follow-up letter.

The issue was over the buildings’ height: The penthouses had not been in the original plans and they brought both buildings above the town’s 12-story height limit, The Wall Street Journal reported.

October 2018 report

Maryland-based Morabito Consultants performed a structural analysis as part of Champlain Towers South’s 40-year recertification effort — a stringent process for updates and improvements enacted after Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

The structural field survey highlighted “abundant cracking and spalling” in concrete columns and walls, “exposed, deteriorating rebar” and failing waterproofing beneath the pool deck and entrance drive that was causing “major structural damage” to the concrete structural slab. It warned of rapid deterioration if it wasn’t promptly replaced, according to the report.

“Morabito Consultants provided the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association with detailed findings and recommendations nearly three years ago regarding the structural repairs that were needed on the building to ensure the safety of the residents and the public,” a Morabito statement said this week.

November 2018 meeting

Then-Surfside building official Rosendo Prieto appeared not to stress the damage in a 2018 meeting, according to the meeting’s minutes.

Noting he had reviewed the Morabito report, Prieto said the “necessary data” had been collected for the recertification process “and it appears the building is in very good shape,” the minutes say.

Another lawsuit has been filed against condo association after the deadly collapse in Surfside

Prieto no long works for Surfside. He is on a leave of absence with his current employer, CAP Government, Inc., according to the city of Doral, which said it is reviewing eight projects to which CAP Government assigned Prieto. He has not responded to CNN’s requests for comment.

Surfside Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer doesn’t believe the condo association responded adequately to the Morabito report, she said. The association should’ve made concerns more clear to residents, she added.

“In hindsight, they should have made more noise,” she said. “They had a report. It said very clearly, ‘Your building is in bad shape.'”

The condo association declined to comment on specifics, but the association’s surviving members released a statement Friday, saying, “We know that answers will take time as part of a comprehensive investigation and we will continue to work with city, state, local, and federal officials in their rescue efforts, and to understand the causes of this tragedy.”

October letter

A nine-page October letter from Morabito Consultants to association board president Jean Wodnicki provided the scope of some of the damage in the pool area and the work being done to address it.

Video shows fallen debris and gushing water in the Surfside condo garage moments before collapse

Loose concrete around the perimeter of the pool pump room that showed signs of cracking, spalling and deterioration — presenting a “fall hazard” — had been removed, the summary said.

Morabito Consultants noted it could not perform all of the repair work in the pool area because of concerns about stability. The firm also needed access to the inside of the pool but had been told it needed to remain open during the work, the letter delivered last year said.

There is currently no indication that the concrete deterioration was a contributing factor to the collapse, but it does highlight major repair work needed at the Champlain Towers South condominium complex.

2021 photograph comparison

Engineers and experts compared a 2021 photo of concrete in the pool equipment room, published in the Miami Herald, to a 2018 photo of the same area and told CNN the condition appears worse in the more recent picture. The cause of the deterioration is not clear.

Champlain Towers South engineering firm failed to keep occupants safe, lawsuit alleges

The equipment room is in the same area — below the pool deck — where Morabito had warned in 2018 of failed waterproofing and concrete deterioration.

The progression seen in the crack portrayed in the two images could be the result of the waterproofing problem, or concrete could have fallen off in the three years following the 2018 photo, revealing a deeper fissure, experts told CNN.

“Once deterioration like this starts, it’s insidious. It just continues. Unless you do something about it, the whole thing is going to fall apart. All of the concrete is going to fall apart,” said Matthys Levy, a consulting engineer and author of “Why Buildings Fall Down.”

While stopping short of saying that the deterioration in the pool area could have caused the building’s collapse, many engineers said the damage was likely indicative of poor maintenance throughout the building.

“It just generally shows what a crappy condition the concrete was in. You can draw whatever conclusions you want — that maybe the rest of the concrete was just as bad,” Levy said.

April letter to owners

A letter sent earlier this year to the building residents said the “exponential” concrete deterioration had taken place between 2018 and 2021.

“The concrete deterioration is accelerating,” Wodnicki wrote. “The observable damage such as in the garage has gotten significantly worse since the initial (2018) inspection.”
The Surfside building department was placed under administrative review in early 2019 before condo collapse

While the estimate for repairs stood at roughly $9 million in 2018, the price had risen to about $15 million by April, the letter noted.

Disputes over the lackluster response in tackling the repairs led to five of the seven board members resigning in 2019, The Washington Post reported, citing board meeting minutes and a resignation letter from Wodnicki’s predecessor. Some of the members later returned to the board, The Post reported.

Efforts to reach almost everyone who had served on the board since 2018 were unsuccessful, the newspaper said.

Following Wodnicki’s letter, the condo board association approved the $15 million in repairs, costs slated to be paid by the residents.

CNN’s Eliott C. McLaughlin, Alta Spells, Francesca Giuliani-Hoffman, Casey Tolan, Rosa Flores, Camille Furst, David Shortell, Shawn Nottingham and Gregory Lemos contributed to this report.


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