Engineers flagged concerns of “major structural damage” at a south Florida condominium complex three years before its deadly collapse, it was reported on Saturday.
A Maryland-based consultant found evidence of a failing concrete slab on the pool deck and “abundant cracking and crumbling” to an underground parking garage during a 2018 inspection, and recommended repair work that was never carried out, the New York Times reported.
The 12-storey Champlain Towers South in the Miami suburb of Surfside collapsed in the early hours of Thursday, sparking a round-the-clock search through unstable wreckage for survivors that by Saturday morning had yielded no success.
The official death toll increased to five on Saturday night, with the whereabouts of more than 150 residents unknown. Fire officials said there was a “deep-seated” blaze inside the 30ft pile of rubble, which was sending up thick plumes of smoke and hampering the rescue effort in tandem with poor weather.
The structural report was conducted by Morabito Consultants, which was contracted by the condominium’s owners’ association to assess the structural integrity of the oceanside complex of 136 apartments.
It warned that “the waterproofing below the pool deck and entrance drive as well as all of the planer waterproofing is beyond its useful life and must be completely removed and replaced”.
Ominously, the report warned: “The failed waterproofing is causing major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas. Failure to replace the waterproofing in the near future will cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially.”
Morabito gave no indication the structure was at risk of collapse, but noted repairs would be aimed at “maintaining the structural integrity” of the building.
“Though some of this damage is minor, most of the concrete deterioration needs to be repaired in a timely fashion,” Morabito wrote about damage near the base of the 40-year-old building.
The reason for the collapse is not yet known. Daniella Levine Cava, the mayor of Miami-Dade county, said on Saturday: “We did not know of this report.
“We are obviously very interested in all of the evidence that’s coming to light and we’re going to be including it in what happens after the rescue. In the meantime we’re taking actions to make sure that other buildings are safe.”
That includes a 30-day audit by county agencies of all high-rise buildings “at the 40-year point and beyond”, she said, describing it as “an aggressive review of, as well as situations in these buildings to make sure they are safe”.
Included will be an inspection of the sister Champlain Towers North building next door on Collins Avenue, also constructed in 1981 with apparently identical specifications and materials. The Surfside mayor, Charles Burkett, urged an evacuation of residents of that tower on Saturday, saying he could not guarantee the building was secure.
Alan Cominksy, the fire chief of Miami-Dade county, said the third night of rescue operations was briefly halted and subsequently hampered by the growing fire inside the wreckage.
“As we continue removing debris the smoke has been picking up,” he said during a briefing that took place amid thunder and torrential rain. “No smouldering fire, but obviously producing a large amount of smoke.
“The biggest thing here is hope, that’s what’s driving us right now … to continue our search and rescue efforts. It’s an extremely difficult situation.”
Search teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) and elsewhere arrived on Friday to help relieve the Miami-Dade rescuers who have been working non-stop since the collapse at 1.30am on Thursday. Giant cranes lifted larger sections of debris, while chains of workers removed smaller chunks in buckets.
Joe Biden signed a disaster declaration on Friday that sent federal resources and funding to Florida, after the state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, approved a similar declaration the day before.
DeSantis was questioned on Saturday about evacuating the fallen tower’s sister building.
“Ultimately the mayor’s gonna have to make the call on that,” he said. “Given the similarities, given the same age, they think that may be something.”
About 100 relatives of the missing waited nearby for news, some growing frustrated.
“It’s day three so I feel like we need to understand how the process is going,” said Rachel Spiegel, whose mother, 66-year-old Judy Spiegel, lived on the sixth floor. “I really do believe everybody’s doing everything in their power, but there are family members, time is of the essence.”
Others were losing hope. Jeanne Ugarte feared a tragic end for her friends Juan and Ana Mora and their son Juan Jr.
“I know they’re not going to find them,” she said. “It’s been too long.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report