Crews will ‘not stop’ as search continues for 159 missing: What we know about Florida building collapse

SURFSIDE, Fla. – The search continues for survivors two days after a 12-story beachfront condominium building collapsed just north of Miami, killing at least four people and leaving 159 more unaccounted for. 

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told USA TODAY the rescue efforts will continue “until we pull everybody we can out of that rubble.”

“We will not stop. You can count on us to continue this search until we find every person who’s alive in that rubble.”

Late Friday, a burning electrical smell filled the air and photos of missing people hung on a fence night near the rubble. Officials said a fire continued to burn underneath the rubble, despite efforts to put it out.

Around 1:30 a.m. Thursday, a wing of the residential building in Surfside, Florida, came down with a roar. On video footage captured from nearby, the center of the building appeared to fall first, with a section nearest the ocean teetering and coming down seconds later as a huge dust cloud swallowed the neighborhood.

It remains unclear why the building collapsed. Researchers and engineers interviewed by USA TODAY pointed to a variety of possibilities, including sea level rise, the corrosive effect of saltwater, the stability of the ground beneath or more mundane matters like shoddy construction or lax oversight.

Late Friday, the town of Surfside posted several documents to its website relating to the collapsed building. None of the documents appeared to contain details that would explain the beachside building’s collapse but do reveal multiple potentially serious issues.

Here’s what we know Saturday:

First victim identified as Stacie Fang

The death toll from the collapsed condominium building is at four as of Saturday morning. On Friday, relatives issued a statement identifying one of the deceased as Stacie Fang. Her son, Jonah Handler, was rescued from the rubble hours after the collapse.

Fang, 54, died at a hospital from blunt force injuries, the medical examiner’s office told NPR.

The boy was rescued by Nicholas Balboa, who was walking his dog near the buildings around midnight when he heard the ground shake, followed by a loud crash. He approached the piles of concrete and metal and heard a scream. 

Balboa said he spotted little fingers pop out through the broken concrete and heard a boy’s voice say, “Can somebody see me?” Balboa said he climbed over rubble to reach the boy, later identified as Handler.

“He was just saying, ‘Please don’t leave me, please don’t leave me.’ I told him: ‘We’re not gonna go anywhere. We’ll be here,'” Balboa said.

— Gabriela Miranda and Rachel Aretakis, USA TODAY

‘Please don’t leave me’: Boy trapped in Florida condo rubble rescued by man walking dog

Condo’s inspection reports detail ‘concrete deterioration’

A dozen documents were posted late Friday to the town of Surfside website dating to 2018. While none appeared to contain details that would explain the beachside building’s collapse, many do reveal multiple potentially serious issues.  

The reports, some only a few pages long and others more than 300, range from detailed plans to permits for concrete repair to a courtesy notice reminding residents to turn off exterior lights so baby turtles wouldn’t be confused when they hatched and not make it to the safety of the ocean.

An inspection report from Oct. 8, 2018, found “abundant” cracking and spalling of the columns, beams and walls in the garage under the tower that fell to the ground. Spalling refers to the deterioration of concrete, sometime causing flaking and the exposure of reinforcing steel bars known as rebar. 

“Abundant cracking and spalling of varying degrees were observed in the concrete columns, beams and walls” of the ground floor parking garage, according to a structural field survey report by Morabito Consultants.

It appears plans to correct these problems were not solidified until April of this year, despite the original report having been issued in October 2018.

“Though some of this damage is minor, most of the concrete deterioration needs to be repaired in a timely fashion,” the report noted. Read more here. 

— Elizabeth Weise and Kyle Bagenstose, USA TODAY

Four people are dead and dozens are missing after a condo collapsed near Miami. Here's what experts think caused the deadly collapse.

USA TODAY

Multiple factors could have contributed, experts say

Researchers and engineers are trying to figure out what caused the building’s early morning collapse and what that might mean for other aging high-rises along the Florida coast and the rest of the country.

For now, there are no clear answers. USA TODAY spoke Friday with more than a dozen experts without finding a consensus. Some pointed to sea level rise and the corrosive effect of saltwater brought with encroaching tides. Others wondered about the stability of the ground beneath or more mundane matters like shoddy construction or lax oversight.

On this point experts did all agree: It will take a long time to discern exactly how and why Champlain Tower South collapsed and that, once the answers are known, they’re likely to prompt changes to the building industry.

“The whole regulatory apparatus is behind the times, relative to current risks,” said Clinton Andrews, a professor of urban planning and director of the Center for Green Building at Rutgers University. “I think the case in Florida illustrates that problem.” Read more here. 

— Kyle Bagenstose, Elizabeth Weise, Erin Mansfield, Aleszu Bajak, USA TODAY

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