Engineering report showed 'major structural damage' before Surfside condo collapse

Report didn't warn of imminent danger to building
smoke rises from rubble of Champlain Towers South condo building, June 25, 2021
Posted at 8:54 AM, Jun 26, 2021

SURFSIDE, Fla. — A 2018 engineering report said that the oceanfront condominium building that collapsed this week near Miami had "major structural damage" to a concrete structural slab below its pool deck that needed extensive repairs.

The report was released late Friday by the city of Surfside as rescuers continued to dig through the rubble Saturday at the Champlain Towers South.

They were trying to find any of the more than 150 people who remain missing.

As of Saturday evening, five people are confirmed dead.

The engineering report did not warn of imminent danger from the damage. But it did note the need for costly repairs to fix the slab, as well as damaged concrete columns beams and walls in the parking garage.

Aerial view of workers searching rubble at Champlain Towers South after condo collapse, June 26, 2021
Workers search in the rubble at the Champlain Towers South condo, June 26, 2021, in Surfside, Fla.

"Abundant cracking and spalling of varying degrees was observed in the concrete columns, beams and walls," Frank Morabito, president of Morabito Consultants, wrote in the report. "Several sizeable spalls were noted in both the topside of the entrance drive ramp and underside of the pool/entrance drive/planter slabs, which included instances with exposed, deteriorating rebar. Though some of this damage is minor, most of the concrete deterioration needs to be repaired in a timely fashion."

The report concluded by advising that it would assist the Champlain Towers South condo in "understanding the required maintenance that is needed to properly maintain this existing rental property."

"We look forward to working with you in maintaining the structural integrity" of the condo, Morabito wrote.

John Pistorino is among the most recognized structural engineers in the state. He said the collapse "shouldn't have happened."

Pistorino's name is behind some of the most recognizable high rises in South Florida and he's consulted in a number of devastating structural collapses around the county.

He was also among the engineer masterminds who helped discover what caused the 2018 pedestrian bridge collapse at Florida International University.

FIU pedestrian bridge collapse, March 16, 2018
Crushed vehicles lie under a section of a collapsed pedestrian bridge near Florida International University, March 16, 2018, near Sweetwater, Fla.

The 175-foot-long bridge was still being built when a section of it collapsed on the heavily-traveled Tamiami Trail. The collapse killed six people and crushed eight vehicles traveling underneath it. The cause of that collapse was calculation errors.

Pistorino said he was recently asked to help consult over what brought down the Champlain Towers South.

What caused the tower to collapse will likely take months to fully understand. Pistorino isn't speculating, but questions have surfaced about climate change and building above rising seas.

A 2020 study by FIU professor Shimon Wdowinski identified the 12-story condo building as sitting on land where subsidence was detected from 1993 to 1999.

Pistorino is also credited for creating Florida's mandatory 40-year certification on buildings. He revealed to investigative reporter Katie LaGrone on Friday that his firm was approached by the Champlain Towers South's homeowners association in 2019 to take on the certification work but was rejected.

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

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

As for the forensic investigation into its collapse, Pistorino believes the structure's center will likely be a major focus.

"That main center section, that's the most culprit section because it looks like that brought down the rest of it," he said, referencing surveillance video from a neighboring building that captured the early morning collapse of the tower.

Starting the investigation will take time since rescue efforts are ongoing and there's so much rubble that needs to be cleared before engineers can get inside, analyze the tower's foundation and the earth beneath it.

"This is so unusual," Pistorino said. "It's just a mystery."

Morabito Consultants released the following statement regarding its 2018 report Saturday:

We at Morabito Consultants are saddened by the tragic events that have occurred at Champlain Towers South condominium. Our hearts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this event. We also want to express our deep gratitude to the first responders and search-and-rescue teams who are working tirelessly to save the lives of the many who are still unaccounted for.

As has been reported, Morabito Consultants was retained in 2018 by the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association to prepare the 40-year recertification of the condo building, as required by Miami-Dade County and the town of Surfside. We are a structural engineering firm with nearly four decades of experience providing professional design and inspection services for a wide range of building structures, from high-rise residential and commercial properties to educational and healthcare facilities, among others.

We completed our inspection and provided our report to the condominium association on Oct. 8, 2018, detailing our findings and recommendations. At that time, we also provided the condominium 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 the safety of the residents and the public.

Champlain Towers South Condominium Association engaged our firm again in June 2020 to prepare a "40-year Building Repair and Restoration" plan with detailed specifications for completing the necessary repairs and restoration work. At the time of the building collapse, roof repairs were underway, but concrete restoration had not yet begun. Our firm exclusively provides engineering consulting services. We do not provide construction-related services, such as building repair and restoration contracting.

We are deeply troubled by this building collapse and are working closely with the investigating authorities to understand why the structure failed. As we do so, we also continue to pray for all those impacted by this tragic event.