Surfside officials discuss building collapse: ‘Terrible tragedy’ will lead to changes

SURFSIDE, Fla. – Surfside officials held an emergency town commission meeting on Friday night, as the search-and-rescue efforts continued at the Champlain Towers South.

Before the partial collapse on Thursday morning, the 12-story building had ongoing projects. These were part of the town’s process of recertification, which includes inspections that every building needs to complete every 40 years.

“Hurricane Andrew changed the Florida building codes forever, so this terrible tragedy, which is a national tragedy, is going to change the building codes as they relate to certification,” James “Jim” McGuinness, the town’s building official, said during the meeting.

Rescue workers look through the rubble where a wing of a 12-story beachfront condo building collapsed, Thursday, June 24, 2021, in the Surfside area of Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

McGuinness also said that he had been inspecting the replacement of the Champlain Towers South roof’s anchors about 14 hours before a section of the building crumbled and turned into pancaked concrete.

“There was no inordinate amount of equipment or materials or anything on that roof that caught my building official’s eye that would make it alarming as to this place collapsing,” McGuinness said, adding that the cause of the collapse remains under investigation.

Rescue workers work in the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo is seen, Friday, June 25, 2021, in Surfside. The apartment building partially collapsed on Thursday. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Many residents of the oceanside town told officials that they were concerned about the structural stability of the high-rise buildings where they live.

Champlain Towers South, at 8777 Collins Ave., is part of a three-tower oceanfront condominium development. Some of the residents of Champlain towers East and North were frightened. The East tower is at 8855 Collins Ave., and the North tower is at 8877 Collins Ave.

“I am afraid that there could be some issue in our building that will result in what we saw in Champlain Towers South,” said Robert Lisman, who lives in Champlain Towers East.

“It would be imprudent not to take some types of steps to address that issue with the sister building,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said during the meeting.

Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer said the town needs to increase the requirements of the recertification process and requests other types of studies to prevent another tragedy.

Miami-Dade County officials still had hope that survivors could be trapped in air pockets. Dogs trained to find survivors were still sniffing at the site early Friday morning.

This photo provided by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, search and rescue personnel search for survivors through the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo in Surfside, Fla., Friday, June 25, 2021. The apartment building partially collapsed on Thursday. (Miami-Dade Fire Rescue via AP)

Family reunification center

The town was hosting those who are waiting for information about unaccounted relatives after the partial collapse at Champlain Towers South at the community center at 9301 Collins Ave. On Friday, they moved the relatives to the Grand Beach Hotel Surfside at 9449 Collins Ave. Levine Cava said relatives had two daily briefings.

For information or to report the status of a loved one who is unaccounted for, call 305-614-1819 or 305-993-1071.

Complete coverage

Coverage on Friday

Coverage on Thursday

About the Authors:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba. 

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.