SURFSIDE, Fla. – Myriam Caspi Notkin served for the condo association of the building that collapsed for about half a decade. She was frustrated about the association’s board inaction, and when she had enough, she decided to quit.
Notkin, 81, and her husband, Arnold “Arnie” Notkin, 87, are among the more than 150 people who remained unaccounted for Tuesday. Relatives believe they were in Champlain Towers South when the 12-story building collapsed Thursday in Miami-Dade County’s town of Surfside.
Notkin, 87, was a retired physical education teacher, and Notkin, 81, was a former treasurer of the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association. A Champlain Towers South survivor said she felt powerless towards the end of her tenure as treasurer from 2014 to 2019.
“She said, ‘I am finished. I cannot fight. They don’t hear me. They don’t listen to me. Enough is enough! This is the end of it!’ They made her life miserable,” said the resident, who did not want to be identified over a fear of reprisal. “There was fighting constantly.”
Notkin, 81, was worried about the effects of the dysfunctional dynamic. A troublesome 2018 report shows an engineer warned the board there was major structural damage. She sent an e-mail to the board in 2019 calling them to action: “Doesn’t it bother you to see this building what it has become?”
Notkin was not alone. There was instability in Champlain Towers South Condominium Association’s leadership. In the past five years, the condominium association had five presidents and vice presidents, state records show.
The association’s board first approved more than $9 million for major renovations. They later approved $15 million. The Wall Street Journal reported Jean Wodnicki, the president of the association, warned residents on April 9 that the deterioration was accelerating.
“A lot of this work could have been done or planned for in years gone by. But this is where we are now,” Wodnicki wrote in the April letter. “We have discussed, debated, and argued for years now, and will continue to do so for years to come as different items come into play.”
Some residents complained the assessments that were needed to complete the projects were too high and the deadline was coming up. Officials said the building was undergoing recertification, which requires structural inspections every 40 years.
John Pistorino, an engineer with Pistorino & Alam Consulting in South Miami, helped to write the recertification requirement in 1974. The veteran structural engineer said the maintenance should have been ongoing since 1981 when the building was built.
“You don’t wait 40 years to do your building. The code requires you to maintain the building as you go. Every year, you need to scrutinize the building, anything that is coming up needs to be done,” Pistorino said. “You don’t wait for 40 years.”
The Notkins purchased Unit 302, at 8777 Collins Ave., in 1994. After the section where they lived collapsed, an army of rescuers wearing hard hats focused on the scattered ruins. Dogs started sniffing for clues.
Search-and-rescue teams found access to the compact mountain of pancaked concrete from the parking garage. Groups of 10 to 12 tunneled through with sonar devices and cameras looking for signs of life.
The teams worked day and night while facing sporadic rain and spontaneous fires. The tech used during the operation also included drones and robots. Experts from as far as Israel, Mexico, and Argentina traveled to the site. Some still hold hope for a miraculous story of survival.
Crews used a crane to carefully remove metal, concrete, and other hazardous debris that could fall on rescuers from above. The rescue effort continued on Tuesday afternoon, and authorities had yet to determine the Notkins whereabouts.
Editorial note: Wodnicki didn’t respond to requests for comment in time for the deadline of this story.
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