Why did the condo at Surfside in Miami-Dade County collapse?


On Thursday, a condominium, The Champlain Towers South, collapsed in a heap of rubble as about one third of the apartments present in the tower crashed. Although no reason has been put forth, a report revealed that the building had been sinking at a slow pace due to coastal flooding. The engineering consultant has also indicated that were no cracks in the building which was constructed in 1981. The building was to come up for review.


Professor Shimon Wdowwinski said that he instantly knew which building had collapsed when he first heard the news reports. He and his team had been investigating buildings that were sinking in the region. However, the report also said sinking could not be enough to cause the collapse of a building.


Last year, the research report had found that the ground beneath Champlain Towers was sinking at a rate of 1.9 mm each year. It had begun its downward descent in the nineties. A similar sinking has been seen at an area surrounding Park View Island which has stores and an elementary school.


The report also identified two sites in Flamingo/Lummus in South Beach. These areas were sinking at a rate of 2.2 and 2 millimeters a year. These areas consisted of a residential and a commercial district that is located east of the celebrity enclave of Star Island.


The study analyzed data using inSAR technology available through satellites through a period of 1992-1999. Locations around Miami Beach were sinking at rates between 1 to 3 millimeters each year in areas that had been reclaimed by wetlands. In Norfolk, the sinking was deeper and reached up to 8 millimeters per year both along the shore as well as inland.


Land subsidence, which is a slow setting of or sudden sinking of the earth’s surface, occurs when subsurface earth materials are removed or displaced. The areas in Miami and Norfolk were studied as they have seen excessive flooding in the past ten years or so.


Whatever may be the cause, the investigations on the collapse of the Champlain Towers will show the reasons behind the wreckage that may help prevent such collapses. These reasons could be used to prevent the loss of lives in future. Coastal flooding has increased, and this could be a result of  climate change. This flooding could continue to have an impact on the integral structure and longevity of buildings that are built in such regions.

PhotoUSAID U.S. Agency for International Development

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