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Meet the engineer hired to get to the bottom of the Surfside collapse

John Pistorino has looked into other incidents like the FIU bridge collapse. He spoke Friday with Local 10 News' Jeff Weinsier.
John Pistorino has looked into other incidents like the FIU bridge collapse. He spoke Friday with Local 10 News' Jeff Weinsier.

SOUTH MIAMI, Fla. – He is considered the go-to guy when it comes to investigating issues involving structural failures, and engineer John Pistorino says he will soon be on the case to figure out what went wrong in Surfside.

He’s been retained by an attorney to investigate how the Champlain Towers South condominium suddenly partially collapsed Thursday morning.

“It’s unexplainable. I’m bewildered,” Pistorino said Friday in an interview with Local 10 News. “Concrete gives you a warning. It gives you a warning. It doesn’t fail that fast.”

He’s been a structural engineer for 54 years and actually wrote the 40-year building recertification process for Miami-Dade County. The Champlain Towers South happened to be in the middle of that process.

Pistorino has investigated the Miami Dade College garage collapse, the FIU bridge collapse and many others around the United States.

But he says this one is different, and he’s watched the striking surveillance video of the building going down about 100 times.

“That was an eye-opener,” he said. “The only other time I’ve seen something that dramatic, that quick was when we were imploding, demolishing buildings on purpose.”

Once the recovery process is done, a team of engineers will move in.

“They are going to have to pull pieces of the building off, one at a time, and we put it in a separate yard,” Pistorino said. “We kind of almost reconstruct the building and identify every piece where was, where it should have been. How did that fail? Was it the collapse or something else?”

They’ll look at the structural plans of the building, its history, repairs — even minor complaints from residents.

“We may have a geotechnical lab come in and do soil borings where we core into the bottom,” he said. “To see if there was any movement or problem with soil.”

But even before the work starts, the video tells a story.

“You had the center of the building. It looks like the bottom. It started at the bottom columns,” Pistorino said. “The east tower was still standing when the center went down.

“To me, the sequence of collapsing mechanism leads me right to the center area. This to me seemed like it was really underneath the building.”

Champlain Towers had hired Morabito Consultants to do the structural inspections for the 40-year recertification of the building that collapsed.

The firm has been in business for more than 37 years, with many big-name clients and offices in Maryland and Palm Beach Gardens.

Local 10 News on Friday tried to visit the Palm Beach Gardens addresses, which is a home behind a guard gate.

In a statement, Frank Morabito said: “We cannot comment at this time as our investigation is ongoing.”

This collapse has many wondering about high-rise safety.

“I think our buildings are fine,” Pistorino said. “We have no reason to fear if you are living in a high-rise. Something here is very unique. It is something I can’t answer right now, and that’s what’s bothering me.

His upcoming investigative process is expected to take a whole lot of time to come up with those answers.


About the Author:

Jeff Weinsier joined Local 10 News in September 1994. He is currently an investigative reporter for Local 10. He is also responsible for the very popular Dirty Dining segments.