Residents of the Miami condo building that collapsed in the early hours of Thursday were warned in April that they would have to pay $15million in repairs, it emerged on Monday – as new documentation showed a penthouse was added at the last minute in violation of planning rules.
The Champlain Towers South condo was due this year for its 40-year inspection, as mandated under Florida law.
On April 9 the condo board president, Jean Wodnicki, wrote to inform residents that the concrete damage to the building would ‘multiply exponentially over the years, and indeed the observable damage such as in the garage has gotten significantly worse over the years.’
She said that a 2018 report, commissioned in readiness for the 40 year inspection, suggested the repairs could be $12million.
Wodnicki said that the building’s state may well have deteriorated since Frank Morabito provided his assessment.
Rescue workers are seen shifting through the rubble on Monday, as 150 people remain missing
The mangled wreckage of the building is seen on Monday, as it emerges that a $15 million upgrade was needed to get the building fit for its 40-year inspection
South Florida Urban Search and Rescue team look through rubble for survivors on Monday
A twilight vigil was held on Monday evening for those still trapped in the building
Authorities in Florida say that 150 people are still unaccounted for inside the tower. Eleven bodies have been recovered
‘It is impossible to know the extent of the damage to the underlying rebar until the concrete is opened up,’ Wodnicki wrote.
‘Oftentimes the damage is more extensive than can be determined by inspection of the surface.
‘When you can visually see the concrete spalling (cracking), that means that the rebar holding it together is rusting and deteriorating beneath the surface.
‘The concrete deterioration is accelerating. The roof situation got much worse, so extensive roof repairs had to be incorporated.’
Wodnicki concluded: ‘A lot of this work could have been done or planned for in years gone by. But this is where we are now.
‘We have discussed, debated, and argued for years now, and will continue to do so for years to come as different items come into play.’
Morabito on Monday released a statement saying he recommended the changes three years ago to the condo association – a board of seven volunteers, five of whom were living in the building and one of whom remains missing.
The cost of the repairs he suggested was $12million, which would have had to have been paid for with money raised through condo fees.
‘Morabito Consultants was retained in 2018 by the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association to prepare the 40-year-old recertification of the condo building. We completed our inspection and provided our report to the condo association on October 8, 2018, detailing our findings and recommendations.
‘We provided the condo association with an estimate of the probable costs to make the extensive and necessary repairs. Among other things, our report detailed significant cracks and breaks in the concrete, which required repairs to ensure safety of the residents and public.
An attorney for the condo association, Donna DiMaggio Berger, told The Wall Street Journal on Sunday that the 2018 report was fairly routine and didn’t raise alarms.
‘Concrete spalling, rebar deterioration – these are not unusual events when you have buildings exposed to corrosive conditions,’ Berger said.
Also on Monday, it emerged that a penthouse was added to the building plans after they were initially submitted.
The plans for the 1981 building proposed 12 floors of residential units.
The developer decided to add a penthouse, which increased the building’s height by about nine feet with an additional floor.
The penthouse made the tower slightly above the town’s legal height ordinance at the time, but the Surfside town commission granted a special exemption to local height limits.
It was too early to say whether the penthouse would have affected the building structurally, and investigators will be probing all aspects of its construction and design.
Manuel Jurado, an engineer who worked on the Champlain Towers South project, told The Wall Street Journal he was skeptical of criticisms over the design and engineering work.
‘If there was a major error, it would have surfaced within a year or two,’ he said.
‘There were no problems that presented themselves’ in the design process, he said, and the project unfolded smoothly.
It has now emerged that the collapse began in the bottom of the building and brought the rest of it down with it in a ‘domino effect’.
Officials won’t yet comment on what exactly brought the 40-year-old tower down but experts who have viewed footage of it say it started with a problem in the bottom of the building – perhaps the parking garage – and once that crumbled, huge swathes of the building came down with it.
Some experts say it could have been the result of eroded columns collapsing under the weight the building. The cause of the erosion could have been spalling, which occurs when salt air gets into the column and rusts the steel inside.
The bottom center of the building was the first to collapse at around 1.30am on Thursday morning. The bottom gave out and then the other parts of the building followed seconds later
The rear of the center column was second to collapse, just a few seconds after the front of it crumbled from the bottom
The eastern part of the tower was the last to fall, six seconds after the center began crumbling from the bottom
In his October 2018 report, engineer Frank Morabito told the condo board association of spalling in the parking garage columns that needed repair. Experts told DailyMail.com on Monday that such spalling in concrete columns in the parking garage could have caused the collapse, and that it was likely caused by sea air rusting the steel inside the columns
The collapse began at 1.30am and was over in less than ten seconds. It started in the center front portion, next to the pool, in the basement or the parking garage where an engineer had identified spalled concrete columns. Next, the hind portion of that middle section fell, before the east section collapsed
Frank Morabito, the engineer who was hired by the condo board in 2018, released a statement on Monday to insist he did warn the condo board of cracks in the building but that nothing was done
MODEL SAW SINKHOLE FORM NEXT TO POOL SECONDS BEFORE COLLAPSE
Model Cassondra Billedeau-Stratton said in a phone call with her husband Mike Stratton that she had seen a sinkhole where their pool used to be before before the line cut out.
‘It was 1.30am, I’ll never, never forget that,’ Mr Stratton, a 66-year-old Democratic political strategist, told The Miami Herald.
Model Cassondra Billedeau-Stratton said in a phone call with her husband Mike Stratton that she had seen a sinkhole where their pool used to be before before the line cut out
Billedeau-Stratton, 40, had felt sudden shaking from her fourth-floor balcony and called her husband screaming before saying that there was a sinkhole, reports the newspaper.
Mr Stratton, who was in Denver at the time of the call, told the Washington Post that she screamed that she had seen the pool deck cave in and ‘then the phone went dead.’
‘She screamed bloody murder and that was it,’ Mr Stratton told Billedeau-Stratton’s older sister Ashley Dean.
Ms Dean told the Washington Post that her sister ‘knew something was wrong’ in the says before the collapse as she had complained to her family about water damage in the building and heavy equipment being lifted to the roof for repairs.
She said it is hard to hold out hope for her sister to come back to her.
‘I want to have hope,’ she said, ‘but I’m a realist. I don’t want to hold on to false dreams.’
Billedeau-Stratton is among the 151 people who are missing after the 12-story condominium building in suburban Miami collapsed early Thursday morning. Ten deaths have been confirmed so far.
A structural engineer who inspected the Champlain Towers last year told CNN that the hole witnessed by Billedeau-Stratton ‘definitely’ could have been a factor in the sudden collapse.
Jason Borden said that if the pool deck or a structural slab near the building failed or had been compromised, ‘it could have contributed to the end result’.
The only work that was underway was on the roof but officials say that did not contribute to the collapse.
‘There was no inordinate amount of equipment or materials or anything on that roof that caught my building official’s eye that would make it alarming as to this place collapsing,’ Surfside’s building official James ‘Jim’ McGuinness said, adding that the cause of the collapse remains under investigation.
A lawyer for the board who last week told DailyMail.com that it was unfair to lay the blame with the volunteers did not respond to requests on Monday afternoon.
Meanwhile, engineering and construction experts who have studied video of the collapse say it indicates the columns in the parking garage buckled, and triggered a ‘domino effect’ catastrophe.
‘When caustic salt air works its way in though and rusts out the steel, the structural bearing capacity of the column is compromised.
‘That can set off a chain reaction of failures which then leads to beams, slabs and other things, and you have a domino effect of collapse.
‘The idea behind is that it failed in the middle from the columns up – that is what that video is showing.
It’s indicative of potentially the columns towards the middle being structurally compromised and potentially, underground the piles and the way in which they are embedded into the bedrock might have been compromised.
‘There was a structural failure… I’m not so keen to commit to why, when, where and how it failed but this is certainly something worth considering. The video is compelling,’ Gregg Schlesinger, a general contractor and construction lawyer, told DailyMail.com on Monday.
‘We’ve seen a 2018 report that says it had rusted out. That is typically the effect of salt air and erosion.
‘If a building isn’t maintained over this time period and is allowed to get to the point where you have spalling, what should have been done in 2018 is at least an additional exploration demo work, you demo a small area, the single column that’s in the picture to reveal the level.
‘It wasn’t done.
‘If proper maintenance occurred it would never have gotten to this point.
‘They put it off and they were getting ready to do it 3 years later… it’s unacceptable,’ he added.
Seconds before the building collapsed, model Cassondra Billedeau-Stratton woke up to the building shaking.
She called her husband and told him she could see what looked like a sinkhole forming next to the pool.
Moments later, the line went dead.
Her husband has since said he’ll ‘never forget’ that she called at exactly 1.30am. He was out of town.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said on Monday morning that the cause of the collapse was secondary to the rescue mission.
‘There’s been some discussion about why this happened, that’s an issue for another day.
Right now we have to pull our family and friends out of that rubble.’
‘He will get to the bottom of it,’ he said.
‘We continue to work the pile, we have over 80 rescuers at a time that are beaching the walls in a frantic effort to rescue those that are still viable and to get to those voids that we know exist in these buildings.’
Rescue teams have not yet found any survivors in the rubble but they have pulled bodies from the debris. Above, rescue teams next to a body on Monday
Search and Rescue teams look for possible survivors and to recover remains in the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on June 28, 2021 in Surfside, Florida
A body is hoisted out of the rubble on Monday as search and investigators worked through the rubble
Workers search the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo, Monday, June 28, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Many people were still unaccounted for after Thursday’s fatal collapse
Workers search the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo, Monday, June 28, 2021, in Surfside, Florida. Rescue teams say they are confident they may still find people alive
Part of the building remains in tact but there are fears it may collapse or will have to be entirely torn down
People embrace at a makeshift memorial outside St. Joseph Catholic Church, in Surfside, Fla., Monday, June 28, 2021, near the collapsed building for people still missing or dead. Many people were still unaccounted for after Thursday’s fatal collapse
THE MIAMI CONDO COLLAPSE VICTIMS IDENTIFIED SO FAR
54-year-old Stacie Fang
STACIE DAWN FANG
Stacie Dawn Fang, 54, was with her son Jonah Handler, a teenager, when the building collapsed. They lived on the tenth floor. The boy’s small hand waved through the wreckage as a man out walking his dog hurried to the site, climbed through a pile of glass and rebar and promised to get help right away.
Rescuers helped the boy out from under a pile of cement and carried him away on a stretcher to a hospital.
‘There are no words to describe the tragic loss of our beloved Stacie,’ members of her family said in a statement. ‘Many heartfelt words of encouragement and love have served as a much needed source of strength during this devastating time.’
Asked about the boy’s condition, a family friend, Lisa Mozloom told the AP ‘He will be fine. He’s a miracle.’
Manuel LaFont, 54
Manuel LaFont, 54, was a proud father, a baseball fan and a business consultant who lived on the building’s eighth floor.
He had a 10-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter with his ex-wife Adriana LaFont, the Miami Herald reported.
Adriana asked her friends on Facebook to pray the rosary for Manny before his body was found. ‘So many memories inside the walls that are no more today, forever engraved experiences in the heart,’ she wrote.
LaFont, a Houston native, coached his son’s baseball team, the Astros, at North Shore Park, just a mile away from the Champlain. He was a parishioner at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Miami Beach. The parish’s school parents gathered Saturday afternoon to pray for LaFont and his neighbors who were still missing.
An alumnus of Sharpstown High School in Houston, LaFont had worked across Latin America and the Caribbean for a manufacturing firm, leading a division focusing on roadway safety that built crash cushions and moveable barriers, the Herald reported.
‘I got into this industry specifically because I don’t want to sell widgets. I want to help people. I want to do something good in this world,’ he said at an industry conference in 2016. ‘When I die, I want to say that my life meant something.’
ANTONIO AND GLADYS LOZANO
Antonio and Gladys Lozano
Antonio and Gladys Lozano lived on the ninth floor. The two had known each other over 60 years and would have celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary on July 21.
Their sons told WPLG-TV that the couple had joked neither wanted to die before the other, because neither wanted to live without the other. Their one solace, the brothers said, was that they were together when they died.
Authorities confirmed on Saturday that Antonio, 83, and Gladys, 79, were among the dead.
Sergio Lozano said he had dinner with his parents hours before the collapse. He lived in one of the towers of the complex and could see his parents’ apartment across the way from his. That night, he said the heard a loud noise they thought could be a storm.
‘The building is not there,’ he said he told his wife. ‘My parents’ apartment is not there. It’s gone.’
ANA ORTIZ, HER HUSBAND FRANK AND HER SON LUIZ
Ana Ortiz, left, and her son Luis Bermudez and Leon Oliwkowicz and his wife Christina (right)
Luis Bermudez, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, had battled with muscular dystrophy for years and used a wheelchair. The 26-year-old man lived with his mother Ana Ortiz on the seventh floor of the Champlain Towers South.
His father, also named Luis Bermudez, texted the AP saying ‘my son is a hero.’ He also wrote on Facebook that he could not believe he’s gone.
‘Now rest in peace and without any obstacles in heaven,’ he wrote. ‘I will see you soon my Luiyo.’
Ortiz, 46, had just gotten married with Frankie Kleiman. Alex Garcia, the couple’s close friend, told The Miami Herald he had set them up on a blind date. Kleiman lived with his wife and stepson on the same floor as his brother Jay Kleiman, who was in town for a funeral, and their mother Nancy Kress Levin. The Kleimans and their mother are still missing.
50-year-old Frank Kleiman, left, was found on Monday. He was Ana’s husband
Ortiz was described as a woman who was committed to giving her son the best possible life.
‘She´s a rock star. And gorgeous,” Garcia told the Herald. “And on top of that a super mom.
Kleiman, 50, was the husband of Ana Ortiz, whose body was found alongside that of her disabled son, Luiz, over the weekend.
Leon Oliwkowicz, 80, and his wife Christina Beatriz Elvira Oliwkowicz, 74
Leon Oliwkowicz and his wife Christina were also identified as victims of the tower collapse on Sunday evening
The couple lived on the 8th floor of the condo tower for several years, according to Venezuelan journalist Shirley Varnagy, a close friend of their family.
They were among six Venezuelan natives caught in the building’s collapse. Still missing Monday were Moisés Rodán, 28; Andrés Levine, 27; Luis Sadovnik, 28, and his wife, Nicole Langesfeld, Varnagy said.
Varnagy said the Oliwkowicz’s daughter had been outside the building waiting for some information about their fate. Her husband answered their phone and asked to be left alone.
The couple’s daughter, Mrs. Leah Fouhal, works as a secretary at a Jewish school in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, where the couple donated a Torah in 2019 in a procession that included a vintage fire truck, music and a giant velvet and gold crown, according to COLlive.com, an Orthodox Jewish news outlet that covers Chabad-Lubavitch communities around the world.
Meanwhile, the parents of Rodán, Levine and Sadovnik live in Venezuela and traveled to the U.S. Friday. ‘Some did not have a visa, others had an expired passport, but with diplomatic collaboration they were able to arrive,’ Varnagy said.
MARCOS JOSEPH GUARA, 52
The body of 52-year-old Marcus Joseph Guara was recovered on Saturday
MICHAEL DAVID ALTMAN, 50
The body of Michael David Altman, 50, right, was also found
There is similar damage in the parking garage of Champlain Tower East that some residents fear may cause a collapse there. That building has been evacuated
Contractor, ex-maintenance worker shared engineer’s infrastructure worries
William Espinosa, a former maintenance manager at the Miami condo building, said its basement – which contains its foundations – was flooded on a monthly basis while he worked there between 1995 and 2000
Espinosa also said that he saw the exposed rebar all the time and staff would plaster over it with cement
A contractor who visited the Miami condo 36 hours before it collapsed said he was caught off guard by the sight of standing water and corroded rebar, as well as the fact that pool equipment room had to be replaced every two years and, therefore, must flood frequently.
‘There was standing water all over the parking garage,’ said the contractor, who requested not to be identified, in a Miami Herald article. He added that there was cracked concrete and rusted over rebar under the pool.
According to the Miami Herald article, the contractor visited the condo a week ago so he could put in a bid to restore the pool and its equipment as part of a recently launched multimillion-dollar restoration project.
He noted that he worked in the industry for decades and went to ‘some scary places,’ but was shocked by the infrastructure issues he saw at the Miami condo building’s lower level.
He raised his concerns to a building staff member, who told him it was just a matter of waterproofing the interior. ‘I thought to myself, that’s not normal,’ the contractor said.
The staff member also told him that they pumped water out of the equipment room so often that they needed to replace the pump every two years.
He took some pictures for his supervisor because, he said, the job required more efforts than he thought. In one snap shared with the Herald by the unnamed contractor, the rusted metal rebar can be seen poking out through the corroded concrete. It is not visible in undamaged concrete.
The building caved in two days later, before the contractor assembled his bid.
‘I wonder if this was going on in other parts of the building and caused this collapse,’ he told the Miami Herald.
The contractor’s claims appear to be backed up by a former maintenance manager who said the building’s basement – which contains its foundations – was flooded on a monthly basis while he worked there between 1995 and 2000.
William Espinosa oversaw the maintenance staff, including four housekeepers and three maintenance workers, of the Champlain Towers South Condo in Surfside.
‘Any time that we had high tides away from the ordinary, any King Tide or anything like that, we would have a lot of saltwater come in through the bottom of the of the foundation,’ he told CBS Miami, adding they had to use two large pumps to try and remove the rising water.
‘But it was so much water, all the time, that the pumps never could keep up with it so we always had to be replacing pumps and the water would just basically sit there and then it would just seep downward,’ he said. ‘It would just go away after a while. And I would think, where does that water go? Because it had to go in through somewhere. I’m talking about a foot, sometimes two feet of water in the bottom of the parking lot, the whole parking lot.’
The mayor continued: ‘We have found voids within the building that we’ve been able to penetrate – mostly coming from underneath on what used to be the garage. We have been able to tunnel through the building.
‘This is a frantic search to see that miracle, who we can bring out of that building alive. we are all holding out for that hope that we are going to be able to rescue somebody. The pile conditions are bad, obviously.
‘During the day, we’ve got the sun and humidity… it rains. The conditions are not ideal but nonetheless we are working tirelessly to try to bring victims that are underneath that rubble, to rescue them.
‘We have the latest technology in terms of equipment- underground sonar systems to detect victims, we brought in huge cranes to help us lift big slabs of concrete that we didn’t have at the beginning, basically turning the big pieces of rock into smaller rocks to get them off the pile.
‘We’re doing big lifts, getting big pieces off of the pile and that’s going to aide us to laminate this building almost like an onion so we can get inside and again find those voids that we know might possibly be there and rescue those people,’ he said.
Maggie Castro, a paramedic with the Miami-Dade county fire department, said: ‘I know the families ask why we are not going faster.’
Castro, a 52-year-old rescue specialist who has been with the department for 17 years, said that in a strange way it is hope itself, even now, that is slowing them down.
‘We have the potential for having void spaces, these pockets that can potentially be in the rubble where we can find live victims,’ she told AFP.
‘If we just jump on these piles and attack, we will collapse these spaces.
‘It seems slow but it’s as fast as we can go.
‘Heavy machinery cut large pieces and remove the ones that are safe to be removed.
‘When we come to an area where there would potentially be a void space, we work by hand, remove debris bucket by bucket until we get to the area we want to.’
With listening devices and sniffer dogs they strain for any sound that could lead them to life.
‘We hear falling debris, twisting metal,’ Castro said.
‘We have not heard human sounds.’
One of the main people who was allegedly involved in the construction of the building in 1981 was developer Nathan Reiber, who faced legal troubles in the 1970s in Canada, before turning his attention to south Florida.
According to a Washington Post report, Reiber and his partners couldn’t start construction of the now-collapsed tower because of 1979 moratorium, which was put in place because of faulty sewers in the area.
But they skirted around the moratorium and got their project approved by agreeing to pay half of the $400,000 tab for sewer repairs on the property.
This angered other developers whose projects were stalled by the moratorium and led to accusations that Reiber and his team received preferential treatment, the Washington Post report reported.
Reiber, who died of cancer in 2014, demanded that the campaign donations be returned when allegations of their pay-to-play scheme surfaced.
Reiber’s widow and two of his children did not return calls to the Washington Post.
In light of the tragedy, the City of Miami sent letters to condo associations of 40-plus-year-old buildings above six stories, urging them to get an inspection from a qualified structural engineer.
The City of Miami said that the reports must be carried out within the next 45 days and sent back a status report on the conditions.