The latest on the partial building collapse near Miami

By Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes, Veronica Rocha and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 10:03 PM ET, Wed June 30, 2021
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8:57 p.m. ET, June 30, 2021

Woman whose sister is missing: "We're just trying to really hold ourselves together"

A woman whose sister has been missing since the condo collapsed Thursday said she's in "an absolute state of shock."

“It just tore my soul apart," Ashley Dean, whose sister Cassie Stratton is unaccounted for in the condo collapse, told CNN, recounting the moment she could no longer see her sister’s shared location on her phone.

Dean added: "You know, we're just trying to really hold ourselves together. We are in an absolute state of shock."

"We've just had a hard time processing what's actually happening and that it's happening to us. You know, we just fear that Cassie is gone. You know, it's really hard to swallow right now," she said.

9:46 p.m. ET, June 30, 2021

Florida insurance company for condo association to offer full policy to residents in civil suit, lawyer says

From CNN's Dave Shortell

A lawyer for an insurance company for the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association said Tuesday that the company would make its entire million-dollar policy available to claimants in a class-action lawsuit filed last week against the condominium association. 

In a letter filed before a Florida judge overseeing the suit, Sina Bahadoran, the lawyer, wrote that James River Insurance Company, the commercial general liability insurer for the association, “has made the decision to voluntarily tender its entire limit from the enclosed policy towards attempting to resolve all the claims in this matter.”

The insurance policy, a copy of which was included with the letter, contains limits of $1 million for each occurrence and a $2 million aggregate limit.

Justin Failoni, a senior vice president at the Florida-based insurance firm Collinsworth, Alter, Fowler & French who specializes in construction industry insurance, said that the insurance company would likely interpret the building collapse as a single occurrence, triggering the $1 million coverage. 

Condominium associations typically also have umbrella or excess liability insurance policies in addition to the commercial general liability insurance, which could provide additional coverage limits.

The letter came as part of the lawsuit filed last Thursday on behalf of Manuel Drezner, who lived in unit 1009 of the tower.

A hearing in the case, which was the first civil litigation filed after the collapse, is scheduled for Thursday morning, according to Brad Sohn, who represents Drezner. 

9:09 p.m. ET, June 30, 2021

2018 photo shows a crack in the concrete of the pool equipment room of Champlain Towers South building 

From CNN’s David Shortell 

2018 photo shows a crack in the concrete of the pool equipment room of Champlain Towers South building
2018 photo shows a crack in the concrete of the pool equipment room of Champlain Towers South building Tom Henz

A newly obtained 2018 photograph shows the earlier stages of a crack in the concrete of the pool equipment room in the Surfside, Florida, building that collapsed last week, contrasting an image of the same room that was reportedly taken just days before the collapse and has emerged as a key piece of evidence for experts working to determine the cause of the tragedy.  

The 2018 photograph, shared with CNN by Tom Henz, a mechanical engineer whose firm did an electrical and mechanical inspection of the Champlain Towers South building that year as part of its 40-year recertification process, shows a crack around the edge of a beam running along the top of the room.  

Engineers and experts consulted by CNN said it appears the same crack is visible in the 2021 photograph of the room, which was published earlier this week by the Miami Herald, although its condition appears worse in the more recent photograph.  

The cause of the deterioration is not clear.   

After inspecting the building in 2018, engineer Frank Morabito wrote in a report that “failed waterproofing” below the pool deck was “causing major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas” and warned that failure to replace it in the near future would cause “concrete deterioration to expand exponentially.” 

A 2021 letter to the building residents from the condominium association’s president confirmed that the exponential deterioration had indeed taken place in the interim years.  

“The concrete deterioration is accelerating,” wrote Jean Wodnicki, the association president. “The observable damage such as in the garage has gotten significantly worse since the initial [2018] inspection.” 

The experts CNN spoke to said that the progression seen in the crack between the two images could be an indication of the deterioration caused by the waterproofing problem described by Morabito. Or, some said, the concrete around the crack could have simply fallen off during the three-year gap to reveal the deeper fissure seen in the 2021 photograph.  

“It could be beneath the surface. Sometimes you have a spall and all it takes is a small wind or somebody tapping on it and it just comes right off. It's hanging by a hair basically," said Greg Batista, a Florida-based structural engineer and construction manager. 

In the days since the building’s collapse, which has left at least 18 people dead and 145 others unaccounted for, the tower’s base has emerged as a potential point of failure. In addition to the Morabito report, two witnesses have also claimed to see the collapse begin by pool deck. 

On Tuesday, a resident of the tower who escaped just before its collapse told CNN she saw the garage, which sits in part beneath the pool deck, fall first before the rest of the building. The account mirrored that of another woman, Cassondra Stratton, who told her husband in a phone call from a condo in the tower that she saw a sinkhole where the pool used to be, her husband told the Miami Herald. 

Spalling, or cracking, can occur when steel reinforcements inside concrete begin to rust and expand due to exposure to air and water. Its spread is often compared to a cancer.   

“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 books including "Why Buildings Fall Down." 

The engineers consulted by CNN were not in agreement that a failure in the area of the pool equipment room or around the pool deck could have caused the building’s collapse, but many noted that the damage seen in the room was likely indicative of poor maintenance throughout the whole 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.

8:50 p.m. ET, June 30, 2021

Teams from several states activated to assist in search efforts

From CNN’s Rebekah Riess

Several states have activated their task force teams to assist with search efforts in Surfside, Florida.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf tweeted that 70 members of the state's task force 1 will leave tonight to assist with search and rescue efforts at the site of last week’s deadly building collapse.

“It will be dangerous work. But the ability to bring closure to families and friends of the victims of this collapse is a tremendous blessing,” Wolf said. “Thank you to the men and women of PA-TF1.”

Earlier in the day, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced that the state's task force 1 would also be deploying to Miami tomorrow morning.

Additionally, Ohio Task Force 1 announced it deployed Wednesday evening with approximately 80 members and several canine search teams, who will be assisting in the search efforts. 

Indiana Task Force 1 has also been activated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to respond with an 80-person search and rescue team, according to the task force.

 

8:22 p.m. ET, June 30, 2021

Officials confirm the identities of 4 additional victims in Surfside collapse, including 2 children

From CNN’s Rosa Flores and Rebekah Riess

Miami-Dade Police identified four additional victims who died in the Surfside building collapse last week in an update Wednesday night.

The victims identified include 10-year-old Lucia Guara, 4-year-old Emma Guara, 42-year-old Anaely Rodriguez, and 21-year-old Andreas Giannitsopoulos. All victims were recovered on June 30, according to police.

“The Guara sisters were only 4 and 10 years old,” Miami-Dade Police said in a tweet. “Please keep their families and loved ones in your prayers.”

8:04 p.m. ET, June 30, 2021

Building collapse victim's son: "He wasn't just my dad, he was my best friend"

From CNN's Lauren M. Johnson and Alisha Ebrahimji

Nick Altman describes his dad Michael, 50, as a selfless man who had a love for life, racquetball, and his family.

“He wasn’t just my dad, he was my best friend, and I would tell him about everything,” Nick said. 

“Every success I had I would grab my phone or drive by to see him, every troubling situation, I spoke to him right away.”

Michael would text his son twice a day to check in, once in the morning and once at night, and the morning. After the collapse, the chilling silence of his phone told Nick something was wrong.

“He was a selfless, happy person who always sees the light no matter how deep in the trenches he is,” Nick said.

Nick told CNN his dad was a dual citizen and came to the US from Costa Rica when he was four, and the condo on the 11th floor of the building had been in their family since the 1980s when it was built.

Michael was a champion racquetball player in his younger days, according to Nick, and shared that gift with his two sons, who frequently let him use his skills against them.

“Playing racquetball with my dad is one of my favorite memories,” Altman said.

“He taught me and my brother Jeffery how to play racquetball and playing games of 21 trying to beat him… we never beat him once.”

Michael was also a great friend to his neighbors in the complex. Nick said several survivors asked for him when he got to safety.

“He’s just a one-of-a-kind guy, no one can ever replace him or be like him in my life, I’ve never met someone as lovable as him,” Altman said.

Michael is survived by his sons, his parents Anita and Allen, and his sister Debbie.

8:47 p.m. ET, June 30, 2021

Debris and water seen gushing into Surfside condo garage moments before collapse

From CNN's Keith Allen

Adriana Sarmiento and Roberto Castillero were staying at a nearby Surfside hotel in the early hours of Thursday morning when they recorded video of debris and water gushing into the underground parking garage of the Champlain Towers South, moments before a portion of the building collapsed.

"I never thought that it really was going to collapse because in America, that never happen before. I said don't worry about it. It's not going to collapse," Castillero told CNN.

In video obtained by CNN, you can see into the parking garage from what appears to be the north side of the complex.

Watch the video:

7:41 p.m. ET, June 30, 2021

Federal safety agency announces investigation into Florida building collapse

From CNNs Chris Boyette and Rebekah Riess

A National Construction Safety Team has been established to investigate the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium, James Olthoff, director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, announced at a news conference Wednesday.

Olthoff said the inquiry will be a fact finding, not fault finding technical investigation and will not interfere with any ongoing search and rescue operations.

"Based on the information that we have collected, we are able to recommend a full technical investigation under the National Construction Safety Team Act. We will now establish a team to begin the painstaking process of collecting and analyzing any and all information that might help us determine the technical cause of failure," said Judith Mitrani-Reiser, who is leading the NIST team on site.

7:16 p.m. ET, June 30, 2021

Condo owner shares video from 2018 of water leaking from pipe in garage

Water can be seen leaking from a pipe in the building's garage in a video provided to CNN by attorney Adam Moskowitz.

Moskowitz told CNN that his client has been complaining about things she has seen in the building for years.

Moskowitiz said his client sent a complaint to the condo association regarding water leaking into the parking garage in August 2018.

CNN does not know the conditions surrounding the leak or the video, or if and how the building responded to the complaint. It is not known if issues raised in the video played a part in last week’s collapse. 

The video was not included as part of the lawsuit filed this week, but is an example of complaints that had previously been made, a spokesperson for Moskowitz told CNN.

When reached for comment, a spokesperson for the condo association told CNN they are not responding at this time due to pending litigation.

“She's been complaining for months, for years, Raysa has been telling the building- in photographs and video — she's been saying the building is falling apart. She has video of the garage. There's dripping on her car. Every week her and her friends are complaining and nobody listened to her. Nobody. And they said ‘Your building is fine, your building is safe, don't worry.’ This is just ridiculous. That's why we filed a class action lawsuit because it needs to start now. These people need to grieve, but we need to start preserving the evidence. We need to start getting a receiver involved if there's claims that the homeowners have. We need to make sure the insurance money is frozen and nobody take it, because this is just horrible. The conduct is so atrocious, I’ve never seen this,” he told CNN.

Watch the video: