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1 year since Florida condo collapse: What happened?

Structural engineers warned of issues with the building prior to its collapse, but the exact cause remains unknown.

SURFSIDE, Fla — One year ago, in the middle of the night, a condominium in Surfside, Florida, partially collapsed; burying more than 100 people in a mess of concrete and steel.

Champlain Towers South fell in two sections, seconds apart, while people slept in 55 one to four-bedroom apartments. All that was left was a pile of rubble, while the side of the condo sat gaping open; exposing remnants of the lives that had existed there.

For nearly a month, law enforcement and rescue workers combed through layers of dangerous debris. At first, they were looking for survivors but soon shifted to a recovery operation. 

On July 23, 2021, firefighters declared the end of their search for bodies at the site of the collapsed building. The collapse killed 98 people —  families, elderly couples, young children.

In the year following discussions on condo safety reform, legislation and lawsuits against the tower owners have been made. Families, state and city officials, and engineers have searched for answers as to how the 12-story building, built in 1981, was able to collapse.

10 Tampa Bay breaks down what happened on that fateful morning, and the months following — as well as what caused the towers to fall in what is one of the worst structural failures in modern history.


One night before the collapse: Residents noticed issues with the residential towers before the collapse. CBS reported a resident of the tower's son said his mother woke up to creaking noises early the morning of the day before the collapse.

June 24, 2021: About seven minutes before the residential tower fell, the guest visitor parking and part of the pool deck collapsed into the parking garage below the condo. Residents and a security guard reported hearing loud noises prior. At about 1:30 a.m., the center portion of Champlain Towers South collapses. Another portion is seen swaying and then collapses seconds later. Fire and rescue teams rush to the scene.

That evening, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in Miami-Dade County, and President Joe Biden approved Florida's state of emergency.

By the end of the day, officials declare one person dead and 99 unaccounted for. Thirty-five people were pulled out of the structure and two from the rubble.

In one miraculous rescue, a passerby walking his dog heard a child's voice. Nicholas Balboa, 31, was taking photos of the wreckage when he heard the voice. He began climbing over a pile of glass and rebar in his flip-flops, finally seeing a hand waving from the rubble.

Balboa was able to direct rescuers to the terrified 15-year-old boy, Jonah Handler. His mother, Stacie Fang, was also recovered but later died in the hospital. A video of rescuers pulling him from the pile of cement played on the news repeatedly. 

June 25, 2021: Rescuers use heavy equipment, their own hands and rescue dogs to comb through the wreckage in search of survivors. Flowers are left in tribute at a fence near the tower and people watch from a distance, awaiting news about the search. 

Credit: AP
Gini Gonte visita el miércoles 7 de julio de 2021 un muro con fotografías y flores para recordar a las víctimas del desplome del edificio residencial Champlain Towers South, en Surfside, Florida. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald vía AP)

A class-action lawsuit seeking $5 million in damages is filed against Champlain Towers South Condominium Association. However, the lawyer who filed, Brad Shohn, says he's seeking more. 

The lawsuit alleges Champlain Towers South Condominium Association, Inc. failed to "secure and safeguard the lives and property" of those who lived in the building. According to the documents, the property owners failed to take steps to prevent the building's collapse.

Three weeks after the collapse: Over the next three weeks, the death toll steadily rises to 97, and victims are identified. Rescue teams shifted from rescue to recovery mode as they continue to sift through rubble and knee-deep, contaminated water in the garage. They work through impacts from Tropical Storm Elsa and despite structural concerns for safety. Communities across the world mourn the lost lives and share messages of support. 

July 23, 2021: The end of the search for bodies is declared by firefighters. The site was mostly swept clean and the rubble moved to a Miami warehouse for forensic scientists to examine. No more bodies were to be found at the site of the collapse. No survivors emerged after the early hours post-collapse. Ninety-seven people were reported dead, with at least one more missing person yet to be identified.

Fast forward to May 2022: A $997 million settlement is announced in the Florida condo collapse on May 11. This lawsuit was brought on by families of victims and survivors.

On May 25, Florida lawmakers passed a bill to address the Surfside collapse. HB 5-D would mandate more frequent condominium inspections, make condo records available to potential buyers and that reserve funding is secured by associations to make sure repairs and maintenance can be covered and not put off. 

Thursday: A judge gives final approval to a more than $1 billion settlement for those affected by the collapse.

Credit: AP Photo/Marta Lavandier
FILE - Workers pump water out of the foundation of the former Champlain Towers South building on May 12, 2022, in Surfside, Fla.

So, what caused the tower to collapse?

Reports of structural concerns and damages began coming out shortly after the towers collapsed. 

In a 2018 engineering report by Morabito Consultants, "major structural damage" to the concrete slab below the pool deck was noted. 

This was just one of the many deficiencies found. 

The waterproofing below the pool deck and entrance drive failed and was beyond use. It was laid on a concrete slab that did not allow water to drain — an issue from the building's original design, according to the report. 

"Failure to replace the waterproofing in the near future will cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially," the report read.

While there was no indication of collapse risk in the report, it was noted that required maintenance was needed to maintain the structural integrity. This report was a guide for a 40-year building repair and restoration project that was set to begin — but not soon enough. 

There was also "abundant" concrete cracking and spalling in the columns, beams and walls of the building's parking garage noted in the report. 

Credit: Morabito Consultants, town of Surfside
Cracking and spalling at the parking garage columns at the Champlain Towers South complex.

An investigation from the Miami Herald revealed further design failures, poor construction, damage and neglect.

Credit: Morabito Consultants, town of Surfside
Additional cracks and leaching at the Champlain Towers South complex.

Structural columns differing in size and strength, inadequately sized walls, and a pool deck sagging under its own weight, created what the Herald's consulting engineer, Lehman, called "a precarious equilibrium." 

That is until steel connections along the perimeter wall fractured, leading to the collapse of the pool deck and then the collapse of the tower that followed.

Its exact cause remains unknown.

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