Investigations and Possibilities for the Miami Condo Collapse

On June 24, at approximately 1:25 a.m. EDT, potentially the deadliest accidental building collapse in United States history occurred just outside Miami, Florida. Champlain Towers South, a 12-story beachfront condominium in Surfside, Florida partially collapsed killing 79 people while 61 still remain unaccounted for. Upon examining footage from a nearby surveillance camera it was determined the building fell in sections. The center of the building gave way first, followed then by a section of the back behind the center, and lastly the condominium’s eastern end fell six seconds later. The remaining, still-standing western end of Champlain Towers South was eventually leveled with a controlled explosion due to worries about its stability. Previously standing for four decades, now the structural designs of the building are undergoing investigation with engineers pitching in on possibilities for the sudden collapse.

One possibility is right next door. During 2019, heavy construction besides the Champlain Towers South could have damaged the building structure. In fact, a member of the condo board had gone to the city expressing “concerns regarding the structure of our building.” Another states that in this “progressive collapse”, the piece by piece spread of failures could have happened for a variety of reasons. From design flaws to the less robust construction allowed under building codes four decades ago, anything is a possible contribution. The prominent theory is that the failure started near the very bottom of the structure, either as far down as the parking garage or the first few floors. Since the condo fell mainly vertically in one piece, engineers think columns failed near the center of the building suggesting a foundation related matter. Corrosion or damage at a lower level could be the main culprit. However, engineers also mention that a design error that survived for 40 years cannot be ruled out.


Explanations for this initial failure near the bottom of the building have been pouring in. Some engineers say deep, reinforced concrete pilings on which the building sits could have failures set off by a sinkhole or an unknown void, which then compromised lower columns. Another theory is that the steel reinforcing columns in the parking garage or first few floors were so corroded they gave way on their own somehow. Furthermore, engineers contemplate whether the building could have just been designed poorly from the beginning, built with standard concrete or steel, or simply had been constructed without sufficient steel at critical points. Moreover, an academic study of the location a few years back showed that the entire coastline in the area of the building has been sinking at a rate of a couple millimeters per year. This leads other engineers to believe that something geologically under the building has caused the collapse, even if deep piles in the structure would have provided stability.

Currently, there is no chance of arriving at a definitive conclusion without further study. During the coming weeks, engineers will record each layer of the building photographically likened to an archaeological excavation. Collapsed portions of the building will likely be taken apart then pieced back at another location to enable experts to assess them carefully. In addition, the concrete will be studied chemically and microscopically in order to test its strength and quality. Analyzing the collapse of this building can help make sure something like this does not happen in the future, along with advocating to look out for warning signs.


Image Derived From: Many feared dead after Miami-area condo tower collapses - Los Angeles Times (latimes.com) Bibliography

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