miami building collapse

Surfside Condo Collapse: What We Know

The search has officially shifted from a rescue operation to the recovery of bodies.

The demolition of Champlain Towers South on Sunday night. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
The demolition of Champlain Towers South on Sunday night. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A high-rise condo building in Surfside, Florida, partially collapsed on June 24, leaving at least 95 people dead, with as many as 14 potentially still missing Tuesday afternoon. Search efforts continue, but no victims have been found alive since the morning of the collapse. The Miami Herald is compiling information about the dead and missing here, and has published a guide on how to help the victims and their families. Below is what we know about the disaster and its unfolding aftermath.

Where does the search go from here?

With the rescue officially called off, a debate now begins over how to approach the rubble at Champlain Towers South. According to Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky, the recovery phase will last two to three weeks, but that estimate is on a “sliding scale.”

As for the land itself, survivors and the families of the victims will decide what should be done with the land. “My clients are in favor of the site being a memorial,” attorney Robert McKee, who is representing several survivors and family members, told the Associated Press. “I can’t imagine why anyone would choose to live in a place where more than 100 people will likely have died.”

The rescue stage ends as officials continue recovery effort

On July 7, the Associated Press reports that Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told families in private the emergency crews would remove rescue dogs and sound devices from the rubble site and that after two weeks of rescue searches, emergency officials would officially switch to recovery. “Our sole responsibility at this point is to bring closure,” Jadallah said.

Ten more victims recovered from scene

Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told family members Wednesday that 10 victims and “additional human remains” were recovered from the collapse scene, according to reporting from the Associated Press. This puts the current death toll at 46 and 32 of those individuals have been identified.

Eight more victims recovered

The bodies of eight more people were pulled from the rubble on Tuesday, the Associated Press reports. Rescue efforts ramped up at the site as Tropical Storm Elsa continued its crawl toward Florida. “We’re now at 100 percent full strength, full-on pulling everybody out of that rubble pile,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told CNN on Tuesday.

One of the reasons the demolition was deemed necessary was to make it possible to expand the search to areas closer to the now demolished part building which was still standing, including an area where master bedrooms from the collapsed condo units were likely located. “Only dust landed on the existing pile” from Sunday night’s demolition, Miami-Dade County mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Monday, explaining that the controlled implosion of the building went “exactly as planned.”

Miami-Dade mayor insists every effort was made to rescue pets

Per ABC News, Miami-Dade County mayor Daniella Levine Cava emphasized in a press conference on Monday morning that there were repeated efforts to find and rescue any pets who had been left behind in the building before it was demolished:

Levine Cava emphasized that search and rescue crews “took every action we possibly could” to search for pets that remained in the building prior to the demolition. Multiple full sweeps of the building, which included searches in hiding places such as closets and under beds, were conducted “at great risk to first responders,” the mayor said.

In areas of the building that were not accessible, ladders were used to place live animal traps on balconies, and doorways were opened to give pets the means to escape if they were able to, Levine Cava said. Drones with thermal imaging were also used.

“We went to truly great lengths to take every step that we could,” she said.

Champlain Towers South has been demolished, search efforts have resumed

At 10:31 p.m. on Sunday, the remaining structure of the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South imploded via a controlled demolition. Local officials had decided to take down the still-standing towers of the 12-story condo building ahead of the possible arrival of Tropical Storm Elsa — citing concerns the wind and heavy rain would destabilize the structure and cause it to fall onto the rubble pile from the previously collapsed wing of the building.

Here is video footage of the demolition:

Search and rescue efforts were suspended on Saturday on account of the demolition plan, but resumed overnight Sunday soon after the demolition was completed.

Unfortunately, residents of the condo units in the remaining towers were never able to return to their homes following the evacuation of the building on June 24. Efforts were made to locate and rescue pets residents left behind, but not inside any of the units, since that was deemed unsafe. Shortly before the demolition on Sunday, someone tried and failed to obtain a court order to go into the building to collect pets:

Workers prepare the remaining part of the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building for a controlled demolition on July 4. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Search efforts suspended ahead of demolition of remaining Champlain Towers South structure

Surfside mayor Charles Burkett said Sunday that preparations were mostly finished for the controlled implosion of what’s left of the condo building, a measure deemed necessary out of fear that strong wind and heavy rainfall from the incoming Tropical Storm Elsa would further destabilize the remaining structure.

Authorities said Sunday evening that the demolition will happen sometime between 10 p.m. Sunday and 3 a.m. Monday morning. Residents of the surrounding area have been warned to stay indoors with their windows closed and air conditioners off after the countdown begins, in order to prevent dust produced by the demolition from entering homes.

Search efforts are expected to resume within an hour after of the demolition.

Another condo building evacuated, as building residents across region worry about safety

A low-rise 24-unit condo complex in Miami Beach, Florida was evacuated on Saturday night after a building inspector found a failure in the flooring system of a vacant unit. It’s the second Miami-metro condo building evacuated in the last few days.

Earlier Saturday, the Miami Herald had reported on the anxieties among condo dwellers in the area in the aftermath of the Surfside collapse:

Second to the grief that South Floridians feel for those who died in the Surfside collapse and their families, a feeling of uneasiness has washed over some residents living in older, waterfront condo towers. They are now sounding the alarm about what they fear may be potentially perilous conditions in their buildings. …

Spooked condo dwellers across South Florida have contacted their building associations or local municipalities seeking updates on planned renovations, or assurances that their high-rise homes are safe. Others shared photos and videos on social media of garages with deteriorating concrete and rust, drawing comparisons to widely shared photos taken inside the Champlain Towers South building before it fell, killing at least 24 people and leaving scores missing.

Death toll rises to 24, Miami-Dade mayor authorizes rapid demolition of remaining condo building towers

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine-Cava said Saturday that the death toll had risen to 24, after two more victims were recovered overnight Friday.

On Friday, Levina-Cava authorized the demolition of the remaining structure of Champlain Towers South, calling the still-standing building “a threat to public health and safety.” The demolition originally wasn’t going to be happen for weeks, but the timetable was moved up Saturday out of fear that now-Tropical Storm Elsa, which may impact the Miami area early next week, could destabilize the remaining towers and cause them to collapse on top of the existing debris pile. Now it seems the demolition of the building may happen as soon as Sunday.

It may not be possible to rescue pets residents left behind before the demolition

It’s not clear how many pets may still be inside the evacuated condos in the part of Champlain Towers South that remains standing, but it appears unlikely that rescue workers will be able to search for any animals inside the units before the building is demolished. Earlier searches have not found any pets, but due to safety concerns, the searches haven’t been conducted inside the remaining units, and won’t be, according to Miami-Dade mayor Daniella Levine Cava. She promised that additional efforts would be made to locate and rescue the animals, however.

North Miami Beach condo building ordered to evacuate

The city of North Miami Beach ordered the evacuation of another aging condo building on Friday after it determined that there were unsafe conditions there amid a county-wide audit of older buildings in the aftermath of the partial collapse of Champlain Towers South. Crestview Towers, which was built in 1972 and contains 156 condo units, was ordered to evacuate “in an abundance of caution,” the city manager said, after the property’s building manager submitted paperwork on Friday in which an engineer said that they had found the building unsafe.

Six firefighters working at collapsed condo have tested positive for COVID

The firefighters, from a Florida rescue team based outside of Miami-Dade county, are isolating and the task force they belong to was demobilized, Miami-Dade fire chief Alan Cominsky said Friday.

A rescuer visits the ‘Surfside Wall of Hope & Memorial’ near the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Florida, on July 2. Photo: Giorgio Viera/AFP via Getty Images

Hurricane Elsa looms

Though the storm is expected to weaken to a tropical storm before approaching Florida early next week, Elsa could still have impact on what’s left of Champlain Towers South and the search efforts underway there. Both wind and rain could threaten the stability of the rubble and the building’s towers that still remain standing. Depending on how the weather forecast evolves, the decision on whether or not to halt workers’ efforts at the site ahead of the storm will likely be made by the end of the weekend.

Tourist video sheds new light on collapse

A video shot by a tourist just minutes before the Champlain Towers collapse appears to show a crumbled slab that might mark the starting point of the building’s structural failure.

The Miami Herald reported that, “the slab shown crumbled in the video was located beneath a large planter on the pool deck, where in 2018, engineer Frank Morabito noted ’major structural damage.’”

The paper added, “The slab fell directly adjacent to the part of the garage where a pool contractor noted unusual amounts of standing water, indicating a potential problem in the area, 36 hours before the collapse.”

Adriana Sarmiento, who shot the video, went outside after hearing a loud sound. She recorded the footage after seeing the damage. The Herald reports that the timestamp on Sarmiento’s video read 1:18 a.m. and that 911 calls related to the Champlain Towers’ building collapse began at 1:26 a.m.

The Bidens visit Surfside, Trump plans a rally

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden traveled to Surfside Thursday to meet with the families affected by the condo collapse, who Biden said were “going through hell.”

“Jill and I wanted them to know that we’re with them. That the country is with them. Our message today is that we’re here for you, as one nation,” Biden said.

Biden announced that FEMA will be providing temporary housing for those displaced by the collapse and that the federal government would be covering the full costs of the search-and-rescue operation for the first 30 days. He added that the State Department will be expediting visas for family members of those affected by the crisis that are from other nations.

Biden met privately with the families for more than three hours, and the AP reports that the president told them that they would be in his prayers.

“The people you may have lost — they’re gonna be with you your whole life,” he said. “A part of your soul, a part of who you are.”

Biden also attended a briefing with local and state officials, including Governor Ron DeSantis who is considered by many to be a potential Republican challenger to the president in 2024. Despite being a frequent Biden critic, DeSantis publicly praised the president.

“Well, thank you, Mr. President. And you’ve recognized the severity of this tragedy from Day One. And you’ve been very supportive,” DeSantis said, as reported by the Miami Herald.

Of the meeting with DeSantis, Biden said, “We’re letting the nation know we can cooperate.”

There were reports, however, that DeSantis was having issues cooperating with former President Trump.

The Washington Examiner reported Wednesday that DeSantis “made a direct plea” to Trump to not hold a rally this weekend in Sarasota due to the ongoing crisis in Surfside.

His office later pushed back in a statement saying that DeSantis “is focusing on his duties as Governor and the tragedy in Surfside, and has never suggested or requested that events planned in different parts of Florida — from the Stanley Cup finals to President Trump’s rally — should be canceled.”

It remains to be seen if DeSantis, a loyal Trump ally, will attend the rally with the search-and-rescue operation still ongoing in Surfside.

Search and rescue teams look for possible survivors and remains in the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on June 30. Photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Recovery efforts pause over safety concerns

Early on Thursday morning, the search through the rubble of the Champlain Towers South halted over concerns that the remaining structure may topple. Per the Miami Herald:

… work reportedly stopped early Thursday morning after authorities voiced new, urgent concerns that the remaining structure of the 12-story Champlain Towers South could topple.

After 2 a.m., multiple police officers and rescue personnel said they were hearing warnings the vacant building was shifting and the new instability could lead to another collapse. That led to clearing people from the area around the rescue operation, they said.

Recovery efforts could be complicated even further by a tropical storm that may hit South Florida later this week.

Two victims, both children, were found on Wednesday

In a press conference on Wednesday evening, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine-Cava said that the bodies of two more victims were found, both children. They were later identified as 10-year-old Lucia Guara and 4-year-old Emma Guara. Their parents also died in the collapse.

More victims found overnight

In the last 12 hours, rescuers located four additional bodies in newfound tunnels in the rubble, CNN reported. “These tunnels that we found right now were almost the first to be big enough to enable people to stay between them,” Colonel Golan Vach, Commander of the Israeli National Rescue Unit said Wednesday morning. “Most of the collapse is very, very tight.”

In a press conference on Wednesday, Miami-Dade Mayor Levine Cava said the bodies pulled from the debris overnight have not yet been identified. “We are doing everything humanly possible, and then some,” she said.

Contractor expressed concern about garage two days before collapse

The Miami Herald reported on Monday that, two days before the Champlain Towers South collapsed, a contractor who visited the building was alarmed by the condition of its parking garage and pool equipment room. The contractor, who was at the building to price out a pool restoration that was part of a larger planned refurbishment of the building, told the paper that he saw “standing water all over” the garage. He said the deepest concentration of water was directly under the pool deck — an area the paper notes had been flagged as porous in a 2018 inspection report.

The contractor also noticed cracks and exposed rebar in the pool equipment room. He took pictures to show to his supervisor, which he later shared with the Herald.

He said he asked a building staff member about the problems he had identified, and was told waterproofing issues were to blame.

It will take weeks and months to unravel the causes of the building’s collapse. But the dilapidated condition of the garage may lend credence to the idea, shared by some engineers, that the implosion began near the bottom of the structure.

Infighting at the condo board dragged repair plans

Four condo board members quit from the seven-member board in 2019 in frustration over its sluggish response to major structural concerns that had been detailed in an engineer’s report, the Washington Post reports. Board president Anette Goldstein, among those that resigned, said in her then-resignation letter that “ego battles, undermining the roles of fellow board members, circulation of gossip and mistruths” makes it unable to “accomplish the goals we set out to accomplish.”

Surfside official reportedly said the building was safe following worrisome 2018 report

NPR reported Sunday that in the fall of 2018, a Surfside building official, Ross Prieto, told a board meeting of the Champlain Tower South Condominium Association that their building was safe, despite a then-recent report by an engineering consultant that had identified “major structural damage.” It’s not yet clear whether or not that damage was a factor in the building’s partial collapse. It’s also not clear precisely what Prieto, who left his job with the town a year ago, said about the report at the meeting, as NPR notes:

The engineering report was dated Oct. 8, 2018. At a Nov. 15 board meeting of the Champlain Tower South Condominium Association, a building official from the town of Surfside, Ross Prieto, appeared to discuss that report. “Structural engineer report was reviewed by Mr. Prieto,” the meeting minutes say. “It appears the building is in very good shape.” …

Speaking to NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro on Weekend Edition, Champlain Towers South resident Susana Alvarez says she was at the Nov. 2018 meeting, and said residents were told the building was safe.

“We sat there with the town of Surfside,” Alvarez said. “And the town of Surfside said to us that the building was not in bad shape. … The structural engineer has been around for a while[.] We took out $15 million to fix that building at his say so. No one ever, ever, ever told us that that building was in such bad shape. No one. No one.”

According to the Miami Herald, town records show that a condo board member had emailed Prieto the engineer’s report that fall, and the same board member, Mara Chouela, introduced Prieto at the meeting. Prieto had told the Herald on Saturday that he didn’t remember getting the report. On Sunday, he declined to comment further on the advice of an attorney.

Search and rescue continues, but no additional survivors have been found

At least 55 of the 136 apartments in the 12-story building collapsed, according to the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department leading the response. Rescue efforts on Thursday pulled 37 people from the building, including two people found in the rubble — but no one else has been pulled out alive since Thursday morning.

Photos of missing residents are posted at a makeshift memorial at the site of the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida on Saturday. Photo: Andrea Sarcos/AFP via Getty Images

The biggest obstacle search-and-rescue teams have faced is a fire under the rubble that they have been unable to isolate and extinguish.

The Miami Herald is compiling information about the people who are missing here. Family members of the missing were finally allowed to make a private visit the collapsed tower on Sunday, the Herald reports:

When they [arrived] at the site, several people yelled out names at the mountain of debris in hopes someone might hear, according to an official who accompanied the families. …

When their voices echoed through the rubble and what was left of the Chaplain Tower during one [of the] visits, officials eventually had to tell the families to keep quiet as the 240 rescue workers and their dogs continued their mission. For them, silence is what will save lives, as officials continue to rely on tapping and scratching sounds permeating from beneath the concrete, acting on crucial guidance on where to start digging.

Groups of ten to 12 rescuers are working in the rubble until they grow tired and a new team takes over. “They’re not going to stop just because of nightfall,” the state’s fire marshal, Jimmy Patronis, told Miami television station WPLG. “They just may have a different path they pursue.” Miami-Dade fire chief Jason Richard told CNN that crews are searching the site methodically, “making sure that there’s no movement, every piece of rubble that we move, we have to take, make efforts to stabilize the building, inch by inch.”

Why did the building collapse?

It is not yet clear what caused the 40-year-old building to buckle in on itself. Structural engineers, fire officials, and the Miami-Dade County Police Department will investigate the structure once search and rescue has finished. In the aftermath of the collapse, there have been reports of several structural issues at the building, though there is no confirmed link between any of them and the collapse, at least not yet. It could take months — or much longer — until the exact cause is confirmed.

On Sunday morning, Surfside mayor Charles Burkett emphasized in an interview that “buildings don’t fall down in America. There was something obviously very, very wrong at this building, and we need to get to the bottom of it, but not today, not tomorrow and not for a long time, because our first priority and our only priority is to pull our residents out of that rubble.”

The Miami Herald spoke with several engineering experts over the weekend to get their opinions on the cause for the collapse:

Six engineering experts interviewed by the Miami Herald on Saturday said that based on the publicly available evidence — including building plans, recent inspection reports, photos of debris, an eyewitness, and a surveillance video of the collapse — a structural column or concrete slab beneath the pool deck likely gave way first, causing the deck to collapse into the garage below, forming a crater beneath the bulky midsection of the tower, which then caved in on itself. …

Greg Batista, a professional engineer who specializes in concrete repair and worked on the Surfside condo’s pool deck in 2017, said that the way the building fell points to an initial collapse of the pool deck area into the parking garage, which then dragged down the other parts of the condo tower in a “domino effect.” Structural engineer and retired building inspector Gene Santiago agreed that was a probable trigger[.]

The Herald also produced a virtual rendering of the collapse.

The building was going through a county-mandated recertification process and was about to undergo extensive repairs.
A lawyer representing the resident-led association that operates the building has said that Champlain Towers South was about to undergo extensive repairs recommended by engineers, so that the building would meet structural standards in order to obtain a 40-year recertification. That recertification process, which is mandated by the county, requires buildings to hire electrical and structural engineers to inspect the structure, then perform the repairs they advise. Surfside officials had told reporters that they hadn’t received any documents regarding the recertification from the building yet.

Some of the multimillion-dollar repair work, on the building’s roof, had already begun. Concrete restoration was reportedly among the repairs that had not yet been started.

A 2018 report identified an important development error that was causing “major structural damage” to the building.
Records released by Surfside officials on Friday night revealed that a 2018 inspection of the Champlain Towers South condo by an engineering consultant identified a flaw in the original development of the building that was causing structural damage. It’s not yet clear whether or not the issue played a role in the partial collapse of the building, but the report now looms large as a potentially crucial warning sign regarding Champlain Towers South’s structural integrity.

The engineer, Frank Morabito, wrote in the report that the “main issue” at the structure was how the pool deck and outdoor planters had originally been “laid on a flat structure,” a “systemic issue” that was the result of a development error when Champlain Towers South was built. The lack of a slope prevented standing water from draining off the pool deck. Instead, the water sat on the waterproofed concrete until it evaporated, but at the time of the inspection, the pool-deck waterproofing had failed and was “causing major structural damage to the concrete slab below these areas.” The report also noted evidence of distress and fatigue in the concrete and columns, beams, and walls of the parking garage below the pool and planter deck.

The report warned that “failure to replace the waterproofing in the near future will cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially.” Morabito did not indicate that the damage could lead to the building’s collapse, only that the repairs were necessary for “maintaining the structural integrity” of Champlain Towers South.

Morabito also noted that replacing the waterproofing would be a time-intensive and “extremely expensive” undertaking that would “be disruptive and create a major disturbance” for the building’s residents.

For reasons which are not yet clear, it does not appear that the waterproofing and structural damage were addressed. In late April, Morabito’s firm prepared recommendations for the building’s 40-year recertification process, including “significant concrete repairs at the pool area as well as foundation walls,” according to the Miami Herald.

A woman, now missing, who was inside the building, reportedly told her husband by phone right before the structure collapsed that she saw the pool caving in.

According to the New York Times, a lawyer representing the condo association, Donna DiMaggio Berger, said Saturday that the condo’s board had not been warned that the damage posed a safety threat:

“If there was anything in that report that really outlined that the building was in danger of collapse, or there was a hazardous condition, would the board and their families be living there?” she said. She noted that one board member, Nancy Kress Levin, was missing in the collapse, as were her adult children.

The association had taken out a $12 million line of credit to pay for the repairs and was going through a careful, step-by-step process to get them done, Ms. Berger said. She said that such a process could seem more like moving a commercial tanker than a speedboat, always involving pushback and debate as board members decided on what to tackle first and how much of a cost to impose on homeowners. “Nobody likes a special assessment,” she said.

Surfside’s building department was forwarded a copy of the engineer’s report in late 2018, but the town’s mayor, Charles Burkett, said Saturday he didn’t yet know if or how the town followed up on the report. On Sunday, reports surfaced that a town building official had told the condo’s board that the building was safe a little over a month after the report was submitted, though the same official had told the Miami Herald he wasn’t aware the town had received it.

A recent study concluded that the building had been gradually sinking, though it’s not clear if that was a factor in the collapse.
A 2020 study by Shimon Wdowinski, a professor in the Department of Earth and Environment at Florida International University, found that the Champlain Towers South building had been gradually sinking due to land displacement in the area. Per USA Today:

Wdowinski said his research is not meant to suggest certainty about what caused the collapse. The building was sinking at a rate of about 2 millimeters a year in the 1990s and could have slowed or accelerated in the time since, he said. In his experience, even the level of sinking observed in the 1990s typically results in impacts to buildings and their structures, Wdowinski said. He said that very well could have been the case for the Champlain building in the 1990s, based on his findings.

Mayor of Miami-Dade County has ordered an audit of all older buildings

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced Saturday that she had ordered a 30-day audit of all buildings 40 years and older in the county.

Video footage of the collapse

Security-camera video from a nearby building captured the structure buckling at approximately 1:30 a.m. Thursday:

Survivors describe a harrowing night

Residents were jolted awake by the cacophony early Thursday morning, which some thought was a thunderstorm at first.

“I thought to myself, The roof is caving,” Bruno Treptow told the Miami Herald. “I turned to my wife, and she wakes up startled. And she says, ‘No, it can’t be,’” he said. “So I hug her. I give her a hug and say, ‘Listen, this is it. We’re gonna die.’” Two floors below, Alfredo Lopez opened his door to find nothing.

His home was about five feet away from calamity. Where the hallway with his neighbor’s doors should have been, there was nothing. Just billowing dust, sky and a dark beach. Half of a vertical community that stretched about 120 feet into the air had vanished.

“That complete side of the building was not there,” Marian said. “The apartments were gone.”

Dressed and ready to leave, Treptow stepped out of his unit. He faced the same surreal abyss. To one side, he saw only his neighbor’s doorframe. No door.

“Three families that I know well,” he later recounted, his voice cracking. He doesn’t expect that they’ll be found alive.

A class-action lawsuit has already been filed

Late Thursday night, a $5 million class-action lawsuit was filed against the building’s condo association by a resident in the tower, claiming it failed to “secure and safeguard” its residents. The suit seeks to compensate victims of the horrific collapse.

Photos of the aftermath

Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images
Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Photo: Wilfredo Lee/AP/Shutterstock
Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images
Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Photo: Wilfredo Lee/AP/Shutterstock

This post has been updated throughout to include new information.

Surfside Condo Building Demolished: Updates, Video