Florida building collapse investigation to start structural testing

Residential Condominium in Surfside, FL – Courtesy: Shutterstock – Image by Blueee77

The federal investigation into the devastating collapse of a beachfront condominium building in Surfside, Florida is entering a new phase that involves drilling and cutting into steel and concrete to determine what role the materials played in the disaster, officials announced on Wednesday.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology announced in a news release that what is known as invasive testing will start as investigators test out samples collected from the Champlain Towers South collapse site.

“This is an important step in the investigation, one we are able to take only after months of careful investigation and preparation,” said Glenn Bell, co-leader of the investigation.

The tests will help investigators find any potential flaws in structural parts of the 12-story building by looking into factors such as the porosity of the materials, their density, and if there was any corrosion, NIST said.

The building in Surfside, Florida, fell without any warning at an early hour on June 24, 2021, leaving 98 victims dead. Legal settlements of over $1 billion have been reached for the victims’ families and owners of the 136 units, with a key court approval hearing set next Thursday in Miami.

According to NIST, the steel, concrete, and other material from the collapse site have been kept in a warehouse in Miami-Dade County, where it has been specifically cataloged and used to create a 3-D model of the building. The materials will be transported out of the warehouse to an undisclosed location for the upcoming phase of testing.

“The process of preparing the materials for the move and then securing them in their new location is expected to take several weeks,” NIST said in the release, noting that includes air sampling to detect toxic asbestos fibers.

Champlain South had a long list of maintenance problems and several questions have been raised regarding its inspections in the early 1980s and the quality of its original construction. Other possible contributing factors include damage caused by saltwater intrusion and sea-level rise caused by climate change.

Florida will now require statewide recertification of condominium buildings that are over three stories tall under new legislation that Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law last month.

NIST added that investigators have developed a detailed questionnaire for interviews of those who have any additional information about the collapse. This will be used in the development of “failure hypotheses,” intended to be analyzed for possible causes.

Anyone who has relevant information, including videos and photos, can submit them through a NIST site. The agency has said the investigation could take years to complete.

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