Condo Collapse is an Urgent Alert That Old Florida Structures Need Auditing | Opinion

BY FABIOLA SANTIAGO

JUNE 24, 2021 10:21 AM

A boy was pulled from rubble by firefighters after part of Champlain Towers South Condo in Surfside, Florida, collapsed around 2 a.m. on June 24. BY RELIABLE NEWS MEDIA

There’s a sense of déjà vu to the new grief in our community over the collapse of another structure in Miami-Dade County, this time a 12-story building packed with residents, Surfside’s Champlain Towers South Condo.

At least one life has been lost, many are injured, a child whose parents are missing has been rescued from the rubble and relatives across Florida and the nation desperately await news about missing loved ones.

How can a building, built in 1981, just collapse while its residents are innocently sleeping without a clue?

How can apartments in the pricey oceanfront condo of 130 units — there are many condos like this one along Collins Avenue — be sold even recently without unit inspections turning up some clues that something significant was amiss?

Condo sales inspections aren’t like home inspections where the entire structure is investigated at a point of sale, but maybe they should be.

Florida law only requires that buildings and properties be structurally inspected every 40 years, which is the process the fallen condo was undergoing before the collapse. That is far too long to go without an audit of conditions that affect hundreds of people, as this horrific collapse has demonstrated.

This, too, must change.

Ninety-nine people are still feared missing.

The trauma is unspeakable.

And the tragedy defies logic, common sense — and demands more than the thoughts and prayers for victims — and the praise for rescue workers — being delivered by politicians.

“Buildings need to be inspected much sooner than 40 years, especially in a county where sea level rise can affect a foundation,” tweeted Senator Annette Taddeo, D-Miami. “I’m heartbroken for all the families affected. We must prioritize infrastructure to keep our community safe.”

The horror we’re experiencing today should serve as an urgent alert that older Florida structures need auditing and stricter oversight by the government.

Just as the FIU bridge collapse taught us many lessons about ignoring cracks on new construction, and about raising structures while people are driving underneath it, this condo collapse must also come under the most rigorous of investigations.

And this time, instead of giving culprits a new lease on continuing to operate soon forgetting the victims of neglect, this new terrible chapter calls for a new playbook for the oversight of renovations and stricter review of old structures.

Common sense went unheeded with the new bridge, and although it will take time to know the specific reasons for the Champlain Towers collapse, a new roof was being installed and something was missed by somebody.

There are scores of buildings in Miami Beach even older than the Champlain Towers, which has two sister buildings, Champlain Towers North and Champlain Towers East.

To avoid other tragedies, the city of Miami Beach and adjacent municipalities like Bal Harbour and Surfside, which will surely come under scrutiny — and they should — must be proactive and shepherd a sea of change when it comes to structural auditing.

Buildings don’t fall for no reason.

“People have to remember, there are thousands of buildings of this height or taller in South Florida, millions worldwide ... This does not happen. Clearly something was wrong,” Peter Dyga, president and CEO of a Florida chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, a national construction trade association, told the Miami Herald.

He called the collapse “an oddity of biblical proportions.”

Yes, it is.

Today, we look in horror and grieve — and yes, we pray for the lost, for the injured, for the families suffering losses and we do praise the skill, commitment and bravery of our search and rescue — but, foremost, is accountability.

Don’t let this be another tragedy engulfed in political rhetoric but no substance.

Don’t let this be another tragedy without the kind of consequences that bring about real change to the can-do-no-wrong way the government often treats Florida’s construction industry.

The rules shouldn’t start with the premise of business first, safety later.

The way to win contracts shouldn’t start with pay-to-play politics.

Today’s and yesterday’s victims — including those suffering in the aftermath of preventable tragedies — deserve better.



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