A Florida high-rise condo that collapsed early Thursday was determined by a researcher at Florida International University to be unstable a year ago.
The building, constructed in 1981, had been sinking at a startling rate since the 1990s, according to a study in 2020 by Shimon Wdowinski, a professor in FIU's Department of Earth and Environment.
When Wdowinski heard that the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside collapsed, he immediately remembered it from the study.
"I looked at it this morning and said, 'Oh my god.' We did detect that," Wdowinski said, according to USA Today.
Wdowinski said that his research is not meant to determine the certainty of what caused the collapse. Instead, his research indicates that the building had been sinking at a rate of about 2 millimeters a year in the 1990s, which could have accelerated or slowed since then.
In Wdowinski's experience, the sinking of a building usually results in impacts on a building's structure.
But Daniel Dietch, who served as Surfside's mayor from 2010 to 2020, warned against drawing hasty conclusions.
"This is an extraordinarily unusual event, and it is dangerous and counterproductive to speculate on its cause," Dietch stated.
Surfside Town Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer said, "This was not an act of God. This was not a natural disaster. Buildings don't just fall."
Salzhauer added that no serious complaint about the building had been
brought to the town's attention.
"If a building had serious problems, we would certainly know about it," Salzhauer said.
But in 2015, a lawsuit alleged that the building management had failed to maintain an outside wall that resulted in water damage. The owner who filed that suit had previously sued over the same issue, according to a court filing. The management company paid for damages in the earlier case, according to records, according to USA Today.
According to Matthys Levy, a consulting engineer, and adjunct professor at Columbia University, cracked walls or shifting foundations can be clues that sinking has affected the stability of a structure.
''The fact that one part of it is still standing is important," Levy said. "The portion that collapsed might have been tipping compared to the other portion, which may not have been sinking as fast. So you have an unequal situation, and in between, things begin to crack and tilt.
''There has to be some trigger that occurs. If you have two parts of a building and one part is well-founded and doesn’t move that much and the other is not, then between the two, you get movement. That can cause distortion in the floor slabs. They can begin to crack; suddenly, you get cracking, breaking and fracturing,'' he added.
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