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Cause of Surfside building collapse could take months

'That main center section. That's the most culprit section,' engineer says
Surfside Building Collapse on June 25, 2021
Posted at 4:47 PM, Jun 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-25 18:32:38-04

SURFSIDE, Fla.  — On the second day of the search for survivors in the rubble of this Surfside condominium, questions still remain on the cause of the tragedy.

"This collapse is something so unusual. It takes the cake," engineer John Pistorino said.

MORE: Surfside building collapse: How did this happen?

The how and why this happened are obvious questions.

Pistorino literally wrote the book on Florida building codes and inspections.

He is among the most recognized engineers in the state and built some of its most notable high rises.

Engineer John Pistorino discusses Surfside condo collapse
Engineer John Pistorino shares his thoughts on the partial collapse of the Champlain South Towers condominiums.

Pistorino has investigated his share of devastating structural collapses, including the 2018 bridge collapse at Florida International University.

He said he's now been asked to help uncover what brought portions of the 40-year old building to the ground and killed at least four people.

MORE: Victims file $5 million lawsuit against condo association

"I don’t know [how this happened]," Pistorino said. "I think it's improper to speculate."

Speculation is already raising questions about climate change and building above rising seas.

In a 2020 study, Florida International University professor Shimon Wdowinski found that over a six-year period in the 1990s that the Surfside condo subsided a half an inch.

"The building moved at a very slow rate, but it still moved," Wdowinski said.

It’s too early to know if that movement had any impact on the building's collapse or if the new hotel next door aggravated its foundation.

Strict Florida building codes and inspections, specifically for Florida’s wetland typography, make any collapse that much harder to understand.

Florida International University professor Shimon Wdowinski
Florida International University professor Shimon Wdowinski discusses his 2020 study on the Surfside condominium.

Pistorino's said his focus will likely be on the structure's center.

"That main center section, that's the most culprit section because it looks like that brought down the rest of it," Pistorino said.

The building was in the process of undergoing its mandatory 40-year recertification.

Pistorino said in 2019 the condo's HOA asked his firm to submit a proposal, but they were rejected.

"They basically said we were too expensive, and so we didn't go forward with it," Pistorino said.

Surfside building collapse aerial view, June 25, 2021
In this aerial view the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo is seen, Friday, June 25, 2021, in Surfside. The apartment building partially collapsed on Thursday.

The firm that did get the job, Morabito Consultants, a Maryland-based structural engineering firm with an office in Palm Beach Gardens, was in the early stages of that work. The company has been tight-lipped since the collapse.

The company's president and founder said the following in a text message Friday:

"I am sorry, but we cannot comment at this time as our investigation is ongoing.”

Any investigation into the building structure is taking a back seat at the moment while search and recovery efforts continue.

Answers on the cause may still be months away.

The town of Surfside is working to publicly release documentation on the building’s history including permits and inspections.

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