Surfside condo's history of issues, concerns grow

Was 13th-floor penthouse last-minute addition?
Surfside building collapse
Posted at 5:56 PM, Jun 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-29 20:05:51-04

SURFSIDE, Fla. — Day six in Surfside after the condominium collapse brought no luck, no miracles and still no answers.

"There are no additional fatalities to report from the site this morning," Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Tuesday.

The death toll stood at 11 with 150 people still missing. By the end of the day, the death toll grew to 12.

But also on day six in this small beachside town-turned-global epicenter of a tragic and historic rescue-and-recovery mission are mounting questions. How did this 40-year-old condo tower crumble? Why and were the increasing signs of destruction and disrepair repeatedly ignored?

Rosalia Cordaro is a resident and owner at Champlain Tower South. She and her husband were back in New York for business when their beach condominium spontaneously collapsed.

Rosalia Cordaro speaks about condo collapse via Zoom
Rosalia Cordaro (right), a resident and owner at the Champlain Tower South condo, was in New York at the time of the building collapse.

"Someone called us at 6 o'clock in the morning and I thought it was a joke," Cordaro said before breaking down. "I'm so sorry. I'm just so angry."

For at least one year, Cordaro said she had complained about issues in the building. Her front door didn't close properly. She noticed cracks.

"Under our balcony was a big, big crack that we complained about, but they just said they have to renovate everything so it will be OK, don't worry," she told investigative reporter Katie LaGrone over Zoom from her home in New York.

But never, she said, was she told of serious structural problems that were described as "major structural damage" by an engineering firm hired to inspect the building as part of the tower's county-mandated 40-year certification.

The damage which included drainage issues in the tower's garage and under the pool deck were documented in a structural field survey in 2018.

Inspection of collapsed building pointed to problems, Champlain Towers South illustration
An earlier report of the Champlain Towers South condo uncovered cracking and spalling of concrete columns, beams and walls.

"You were never told the building was unsafe," LaGrone asked.

"Absolutely not," Cordaro said.

She said she and her husband had just sent a $95,000 check, their portion of the estimated $16 million renovation to the building.

"Do you think we would give them money if the building was not good?" she asked.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett admitted there were "serious issues" with the building.

Burkett, who was not mayor in 2018 when the engineering report was released or when a former town building official described the condo as being in "very good shape" about a month after engineers flagged those "major" structural issues.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett speaks with Rachel Spiegel after Champlain Towers South condo collapse, June 26, 2021
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett (left) talks with Rachel Spiegel (right) who is looking for information on the Champlain Towers South condo building, June 26, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Spiegel's mother Judy lives in the building and is missing. Also shown are Spiegel's brothers Josh Spiegel, second from left, and Michael Spiegel, second from right, and her father, Kevin Spiegel.

"We're all disturbed, to say the least, very disturbed," Burkett said, adding that the town is in the process of digging through its archives and computer system to gather every document related to Champlain Tower South and its sister towers East and North.

Burkett also revealed on Tuesday the south tower was originally planned for 12 stories and suggested the 13th-floor penthouse may have been a last-minute addition. Town workers have yet to locate any plans for the 13th floor, he said.

"You design a building for 12 stories and you add a 13th at the last minute, it's not a great idea," Burkett said.

When LaGrone asked the mayor if the town dropped the ball on protecting residents from a troubled town, he said, "We'll find out. We certainly will find out if the town dropped the ball."