At least 11 dead after partial building collapse near Miami

By Maureen Chowdhury, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 11:56 PM ET, Mon June 28, 2021
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3:45 p.m. ET, June 28, 2021

Condo owners in Surfside building were facing assessments for $15 million worth of repairs

From CNN's Casey Tolan

Condo owners in Champlain Towers South were facing assessments for $15 million worth of repairs – with payments set to begin just days after the building’s deadly collapse.

The building’s condo association approved a $15 million assessment in April to complete repairs required under the county’s 40-year recertification process, according to documents obtained by CNN. The deadline to pay upfront or choose a monthly fee lasting 15 years was July 1, a document sent to the owners of the building’s 136 units said.

Owners would have to pay assessments ranging from $80,190 for one-bedroom units to $336,135 for the owner of the building’s four-bedroom penthouse. 

An itemized list of planned repairs included new pavers, planter landscape and waterproofing – addressing some of the issues noted in a 2018 engineer’s report that warned how leaking water was leading to “major structural damage” to the building’s concrete structural slab. The most costly project listed was “facade, balcony and railing repairs” for $3.4 million.  

The 2018 report, prepared for the condo association, had previously estimated that necessary repairs to the building would cost about $9.1 million.

The big assessment bill came as an unwelcome surprise to some condo owners. 

“We struggled with it and everything,” said Isabel Aguero, who owns an 11th-floor unit in the part of the building that remained standing. She said she thought most of the line items appeared to be more for aesthetic improvements instead of structural fixes to the building – such as $722,000 for “hallway and public area renovations.” 

Aguero and her husband decided to go with the monthly payment, and sent in the paperwork last week Wednesday so the association would start adding $593 to their homeowners fees, they said. Early the next morning, the building collapsed.  

The couple bought the condo two years ago with plans to retire there. But they said they hadn’t spent much time in it, as their renovations and furniture deliveries were delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Their son, Albert, was in the tower vacationing with his wife and two children when it collapsed. They woke up to a horrific noise and shaking, and “when we opened the door, we realized just how much damage had occurred,” he said. “The apartment to the left looked like it had been sheared in half.”

He said that there had been work on the building’s roof since earlier this year “that would wake us up every morning with drilling.” But larger structural construction had not yet begun, according to a statement from the engineering firm that conducted the 2018 report.

Albert said he was distressed reading the warnings in the 2018 report – which he never saw until after the building fell. 

“I was pretty angry at that point, angry that innocent lives had to be lost,” he said. 

4:11 p.m. ET, June 28, 2021

Parents of missing 21-year-old say they hope for a miracle, though the chances are "slim" 

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

 Ilan Naibryf
Ilan Naibryf Courtesy Naibryf family

The parents of Ilan Naibryf, a 21-year-old college student who is missing in the rubble with his girlfriend Deborah Berezdivin, say they are holding out hope for a miracle while facing the dire reality of the situation on the ground. 

"I believe that the chances are very slim... because of the way that this collapsed... it was like a bomb," Naibryf's father, Carlos, told CNN Monday. "I understand that realistically it's very hard to have a miracle, it may happen."

"Four days have passed and they haven't made too much progress, not because they are not doing the right job, but because it's very hard," he added.

The missing student's mother, Ronit Felszer, also said she would not lose hope unless there was physical evidence to the contrary.

Ronit Felszer and Carlos Naibryf
Ronit Felszer and Carlos Naibryf CNN

"We want to believe in a miracle because we still don't have physical presence in part or in whole of our son, so we always have that window," she said. "Would I call it hope? Would I call it that I'd like a miracle?"

"We are realistic parents, we're grounded parents," she added. "We hope that we can have our son return to us and make the decisions accordingly."

Watch the full interview:

2:47 p.m. ET, June 28, 2021

Mexico rescue team joins search efforts following the Surfside building collapse

From CNN’s Karol Suarez in Mexico City.

Mexico's international rescue team, Topos Azteca, has arrived in Florida to join rescue efforts following the partial collapse of a Surfside residential building, the group confirmed to CNN. 

Héctor Méndez, aka "Topo Mayor," head of Topos Azteca, told CNN on Monday they have obtained permission from local authorities to join rescue efforts, adding, "we have to wait a couple of hours to get in."

"I've been on this since the earthquake in Mexico, and I've been all over the world; when you have already seen death, you have had the opportunity to rescue someone, when something serious like this happens, that instinct inside you awakes for the preservation of the human race," Méndez said.  

"Then you know that your mission in life is to come to help your brothers who are crying out for help. Life is short, but it has its roles. And as volunteers, that's the role we play; it's part of our mission in life," Méndez added.

According to Méndez, around ten rescuers from Topos Azteca will join rescue efforts. The rescuers are from Mexico, Guatemala, and the US.

Méndez, who also worked as a volunteer in the 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina rescue efforts, added: "I know the US way of work, you have to be patient and respectful, you have to wait for your turn because you're coming from another country, we got permission, now we're waiting for our turn."

Last Thursday, a Go Team comprising of some seven international volunteers from Cadena, a Jewish nonprofit rescue group based in Miami with multiple offices across Latin America, arrived in Florida to join in rescue efforts, according to their website. Israel also deployed a rescue team to assist with rescue and recovery efforts in Florida.

 

2:26 p.m. ET, June 28, 2021

Preliminary federal probe into Surfside collapse could lead to rare formal investigation

From CNN's Kristen Holmes

Emily Michot/Miami Herald/AP
Emily Michot/Miami Herald/AP

A six-person team of federal officials including scientists, structural engineers and a geotechnical engineer arrived in Florida late Sunday night to assess the condo collapse in Surfside, Florida. 

The team, sent from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, is conducting a preliminary investigation of the collapsed building’s materials, history and applicable building codes at the time the condo was built, the ground surrounding the building and numerous other factors, an agency official said.

“I was able to meet with the NIST folks today,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday.

The NIST is a non-regulatory federal agency within the US Department of Commerce, which was founded in 1901, according to their website. NIST works to “promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.” 

Democratic Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said NIST has investigated a “number of structural incidents around the country, and are the best of the best when it comes to making sure that they do a complete and thorough overview.”

DeSantis warned that investigation will take some time. 

“It is something that can be very thorough and it is something that is not going to happen in a day or two, this is going to take a long time, that's the time horizon they work on,” he said.

The agency will determine whether to open a formal investigation in the next two weeks, the NIST official said. If they do decide to launch an investigation, it will be significant — the agency has only launched four official investigations since it was given this power after Sept. 11, 2001. If a full investigation is conducted, its ultimate goal would be to determine the technical cause of the collapse and, if indicated, to recommend changes to building codes, standards and practices or other appropriate actions to improve the structural safety of buildings.  

Past preliminary investigations were the result of natural disasters such as earthquakes, fire and windstorms, or construction/design failures or terrorist attack. Most recently, NIST has sent preliminary teams to the Gulf area in 2017 for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria; to Paradise, California, after the 2018 Camp Fire, which led to an ongoing study; and now for the Surfside condominium collapse.

2:19 p.m. ET, June 28, 2021

Building collapse investigation should focus on potential failures near base of building, experts say

From CNN's Curt Devine

Engineers who have reviewed available information about the Surfside, Florida, condo collapse say investigations into its cause should focus on potential failures near the base of the building. 

The disaster most likely resulted from a combination of foundation and structural problems, according to Mehrdad Sasani, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University. He said the collapse likely started at lower floors of the condo and could have been influenced by “40 years of exposure to salt, water and salt air and the indication of some level of damage in the garage at the lower floors of the building.”

Sasani said a range of other factors could have contributed to foundation and structural failures, including vibrations from recent construction work, heavy equipment on its roof and water damage associated with the building’s pool. 

Joel Figueroa-Vallines, president of SEP Engineers, said he thinks it’s too early to reach conclusions, though he said video of the collapse appears to show that once the “pan-caking” of collapse began, columns at the center part of the building seemed to fail and a leaning effect occurred, followed by another part of the building falling. 

He called all of the current analysis speculative but said that speculation “is leaning toward to the fact that this did not topple over. This sort of came straight down,” Figueroa-Vallines said. 

He said he would focus an investigation on the foundation and the “podium level” of the pool deck. He also said he would look at the construction – “typically with pancake construction, there isn’t a lot of redundancy in the floor system.” “Flat slab systems generally have a little less redundancy. Not that that is the cause of the collapse, but once that collapse is initiated, that system will accelerate with gravity,” he said.

But he cautioned: "Typically in these cases there will not be what we call a definitive smoking gun; it's more of a contributing factor scenario.”

Gregg Schlesinger, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based contractor and attorney who focuses on construction design, said the focus of any investigation should be on the columns, beams and slab at the foundation of the building.

“Did the building fail structurally? Yes. What makes up the structure? Concrete and steel. Did that fail? Yes. Why did it fail? … It was compromised. What portions were compromised? In the pictures [in the 2018 report], we definitely see a column that’s structurally compromised,” Schlesinger said.

Other likely contributing causes: seismic loads from construction next door, which could degrade the structural capacity, as well as roof loading, which may have involved a “point load,” where equipment wasn’t scattered but was a dead load of equipment in one area that adds forces down through a compromised column. Also, the building is settling – the ground is settling and that could add additional forces to a compromised structure.

“Each one of these items is a straw. It’s a piece of evidence. It’s a clue. Can I say, ‘Well it was 23.3% responsible?' No.”

“You know who will make that determination? Jurors. There will be, what I expect, a couple-months-long trial,” Schlesinger said. 

 

2:13 p.m. ET, June 28, 2021

Mayor of Bal Harbour says all death-related Jewish customs are being practiced at Surfside collapse

From CNN’s Gregory Lemos

The Mayor of Bal Harbour said Monday that all death-related Jewish customs and laws are being practiced at the site of the Champlain Towers South collapse in Surfside, Florida. 

“To clarify, all of the Jewish customs and laws related to passing and the way you handle the deceased are being observed and respected,” Mayor Gabriel Groisman told CNN’s Poppy Harlow Monday. 

Groisman said there is a team of around 20 people on the ground who are ensuring remains and bodies are handled properly. 

“I just walked out of a meeting of about 20 people in charge of making sure that any remains or bodies that are found, from the moment they are pulled out of the site, are not just treated with respect but in accordance to Jewish law and it’s important for families to know that,” Groisman said.
1:54 p.m. ET, June 28, 2021

CNN is in Surfside answering your questions about the search and rescue effort underway 

At least 10 people are dead and 151 people are missing after a residential building partially collapsed in Surfside, Florida, Thursday. The cause of the collapse is still unknown, but new details are emerging about the integrity of the structure noted in an engineering report in 2018.

CNN's Rosa Flores was on the scene with the latest on the search and rescue operation:

1:40 p.m. ET, June 28, 2021

Biden supports Surfside collapse investigation, doesn't want to pull local resources for a visit 

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal

President Biden supports an investigation into the building collapse in Surfside, Florida, that left at least 10 dead and dozens more unaccounted for, the White House said on Monday. 

“The goal of course is to get to the bottom of what happened and of course have it be an instructive guide of how to prevent it from happening in the future,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a press briefing. 

She said the administration had sent numerous federal resources, but the President was not planning a trip to the area in the immediate future. 

“We always want to ensure that we’re not pulling from local resources, and we don’t want to draw federal resources that are needed during the ongoing search and rescue efforts,” Psaki said.

2:31 p.m. ET, June 28, 2021

Key things to know about the condo collapse investigation so far

From CNN's Hollie Silverman

A police officer stands guard at the intersection of 88th Street and Harding Avenue near the Champlain Towers South Condo in Surfside, Miami on June 28.
A police officer stands guard at the intersection of 88th Street and Harding Avenue near the Champlain Towers South Condo in Surfside, Miami on June 28. Emily Michot/Miami Herald/AP

City officials say the cause of the partial building collapse in Surfside, Florida, is still unknown, but engineering reports, researchers and residents have shed light on the integrity of the structure as rescuers continue to race to find survivors.

At least 10 people are dead, 151 are unaccounted for and 135 are accounted for in the collapse of Champlain Towers South as of Monday, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said during a news conference earlier today.

Here's what we know about the investigation so far:

2018 report raises alarm: A 2018 report completed by Morabito Consultants, a structural engineering firm, "detailed significant cracks and breaks in the concrete," a statement from the firm said Saturday. The group said it provided an estimate to "make the extensive and necessary repairs" to the condo association. The report didn't indicate whether the structure was at risk of collapse. Morabito was again retained by the condominium association in June 2020 for the building's 40-year repair and restoration process, according to the statement.

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. As we do so, we also continue to pray for all those impacted by this tragic event," the firm said in the statement.

A researcher says condo showed sings of sinking in 1990s: Shimon Wdowinski, a professor with Florida International University’s Institute of Environment, told CNN he determined in a study last year that the Champlain Towers South condo showed signs of sinking in the 1990s. The condo had a subsidence rate of about two millimeters a year from 1993 to 1999, according to his study. While Wdowinski said that this sinking alone would likely not cause the condo’s collapse, he said it could be a contributing factor. “If one part of the building moves with respect to the other, that could cause some tension and cracks,” he explain

Residents raised concerns over tremors during construction of nearby building: Eliana Salzhauer, one of three town commissioners for Surfside, Florida, told CNN Sunday night that survivors of the collapse she encountered have said they felt shaking during construction on a nearby building in recent years. Salzhauer said some of the survivors told her they were bothered by the shaking of their building that occurred while a high-rise was being constructed next door. They told her there was shaking, cracking and water leaking in the garage, she said.

Local leaders are now reviewing building protocols: The deadly collapse prompted nearby cities and towns to review their building recertification protocols. Less than five miles north of Surfside, the city of Sunny Isles Beach will begin sending teams to inspect buildings Monday after announcing Saturday that they would modify the existing process for 40-year recertifications of buildings, Vice Mayor Larisa Svechin told CNN.

On Friday the city of Miami sent a letter urging buildings that are over six stories and more than 40 years old to get an inspection from a qualified structural engineer, Stephanie Severino, Director of Communication for the City of Miami told CNN. They are being asking to respond within 45 days with any potential structural concerns.

Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer told CNN in an email Sunday that his city is creating "more stringent standards for certifications of buildings" following the Surfside collapse.

Read more about the investigation here.

CNN's Tom Foreman reports the latest details about the condo's structural integrity before the collapse: