SURFSIDE, Fla. – Haunted by the recent tragedy in Surfside, some residents of ocean-side apartments in South Florida have been searching for information about the structural integrity of their condominiums. The residents of a Collins Avenue building with prior warnings in Miami Beach said they are horrified about what they found.
The fear started after Champlain Towers South, at 8777 Collins Ave., turned into the epicenter of heartbreak and grief after a partial building collapse shortly before 2 a.m. on Thursday. Some of the residents of Champlain Towers South’s two sister buildings, Champlain Towers North and East, decided to evacuate.
On Monday, several residents at Maison Grande Condominium, an 18-story building with 502 apartments, said they are worried about the safety of the 1971 building at 6039 Collins Ave., in Miami Beach. They have photographs showing corroded steel and concrete spalling.
Records show there have been five inspections that determined the building is an “unsafe structure.” The building envelope is among the list of concerns. There were also warnings that the two-story parking garage and pool deck “have reached the end of their useful life and require repair, replacement,” or “a combination thereof.”
On Nov. 19, 2020, a city official wrote, “Structure with evidence of spalling concrete. Need to submit a report signed and sealed by [an] engineer to evaluate the structure together with methods of repairs.” Near an entrance, there is a Dec. 28, 2020 red “unsafe structure” violation notice.
“We use a red placard when a building violation is posted, which provides the language ‘unsafe structure’ per the County Code. This does not necessarily mean the building is unsafe or in imminent danger,” Melissa Berthier, a spokeswoman for the city, wrote in an e-mail on Tuesday.
According to Berthier, The Maison Grande Condominium applied for a 40-year permit on May 13 and there was a 90-day window to provide an inspection report to the city. Lilly Ann Sanchez, the president of the Maison Grande Condominium Association, said Berthier was wrong and added that the accepted 40-year certification letter from the city was issued in April 2015.
On Thursday, Berthier confirmed “a clerical error was identified and a permit was issued on May 26, 2021″ for the building.
A violation was first issued in November 2020, and the city was not pursuing compliance on non-life-threatening complaints due to the complications that arose during the coronavirus pandemic, Berthier wrote.
On Wednesday, people trusted Champlain Towers South was safe enough to sleep in. The 12-story northern section of the L-shaped building collapsed shortly before 2 a.m. Thursday. Residents of neighboring buildings said they woke up to loud noise. Some said their windows shook and there was a large white cloud of dust.
Fire Rescue personnel moved to evacuate trapped survivors who waited in their balconies for their turn to climb into a cherry picker. Survivors said it was an agonizingly slow process. An army of rescuers wearing hard hats moved in. Dogs started sniffing the scattered ruins. Experts from as far as Israel and Argentina arrived.
Search-and-rescue teams continued to tunnel through a compact mountain of pancaked concrete in hope of finding survivors Monday. They have been taking turns to search day and night while facing sporadic rain and spontaneous fires. Crews are using a crane to carefully remove hazardous metal and concrete. Authorities have a warehouse where they are keeping items recovered.
The death toll rose, as more than 150 people were unaccounted for. And as the world wondered how this could be possible in Florida, where hurricanes have forced officials to increase structural standards, a troublesome 2018 report surfaced. It shows engineers had reported there was structural damage at Champlain Towers South. Property owners were preparing to contribute their part in more than $9 million in projects.
Officials said the 1981 building was in the process of recertification, which is required every 40 years and involves scrutinizing every part of the residential property. Survivors filed a lawsuit against Champlain Towers South Condominium Association alleging there was negligence when a lack of maintenance led to the deterioration that they allege caused the collapse.
“It’s sad. And people ask me, ‘Where are you going to go? Where are you going to be?’ Well, for sure I am not getting a condo on the beach. That’s done,” said Steve Rosenthal, a survivor from Unit 705 who filed a lawsuit against the Champlain Towers South association.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said it’s going to take time to find out with certainty what exactly caused the tragedy. Engineers with The National Institute of Standards and Technology are collecting preliminary information to make a recommendation about whether or not a federal probe into the cause of the collapse is needed.
Related story: Geologist warned of instability in Surfside
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said the findings of the NIST probe and other investigations could allow federal and state lawmakers to make changes to prevent a future tragedy. As countless unanswered questions lingered, the Miami-Dade Police Department was slowly releasing the identities and ages of the victims.
Notice of violation
Existing conditions assessment
2015 recertification letter
2013 structural certification
Coverage on Monday
Coverage on Sunday
Coverage on Saturday
Coverage on Friday
Coverage on Thursday
Local 10 News Reporter Amy Viteri contributed to this report.
Editorial note: This story was updated on June 30 to reflect the city’s response to a Local 10 News’ request for information and the response from Lilly Ann Sanchez, the president of the Maison Grande Condominium Association.