Jun 22, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Cause of Surfside building's collapse remains elusive after a year

Memorial signage lines a fence blocking the site of the building collapse that left 98 dead in Surfside, Florida.
A memorial on a fence at the site of the Champlain Towers South condos in Surfside, Florida. The building collaped on June 24, 2021, killing 98 people. Photo: Deirdra Funcheon/Axios

One year after a 12-story condominium building in Surfside, Florida, collapsed, killing 98 people, the federal agency in charge of investigating the accident has yet to determine the cause.

The big picture: There is no single, obvious trigger for the collapse, investigators have said, and conclusions could take at least another year.

State of play: So far, a team from The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has cataloged evidence from the Champlain Towers South and will soon begin "invasive testing" of physical evidence.

  • Investigators will cut into steel and concrete samples, and carry out chemical and corrosion testing.
  • They're also interviewing surviving residents, first responders, and others.

Between the lines: Tanya Brown-Giammanco, NIST's director of disaster and failure studies, wrote a blog post in March about why the institute's investigations can take years to complete.

  • "Our engineers and scientists feel a great responsibility to get them right because this work often leads directly to changes in codes and standards that are used when constructing new buildings or renovating existing buildings," Brown-Giammanco wrote.
  • Those code changes could save lives, she added.

By the numbers: While the federal investigation continues at a sluggish pace, two tentative settlements were reached last month involving families of the dead and surviving condo owners.

  • Families, who must now file claims justifying how much their loved one's life was worth, are poised to receive nearly $1 billion, while around $96 million will be divided among property owners.
  • More than 130 attorneys and staff who helped work out the settlements are now requesting about $100 million in legal fees.

Plus: In May, a developer from Dubai β€” Hussain Sajwani of DAMAC Properties β€” was the sole bidder in an auction to buy the now-cleared condo site, offering roughly $120 million. Sajwani plans to build a new luxury condo there.

What they're saying: Michael T. Fay of Avison Young's Miami office, the real estate broker who handled the site sale, told Axios he expects it would close sometime in July.

  • "We're glad to be able to bring some closure," he said.

But families are still frustrated.

  • "How don't we know what happened after a year? How don't we know who might be liable?" Martin Langesfeld, whose sister Nicole was killed in the collapse, told CBS Miami last week. "We need answers."

What's ahead: Surfside officials have planned a memorial at the site Friday, from 10am to noon.

πŸ—ž This is the first article by Axios Miami's Deirdra Funcheon. Subscribe to the Axios Miami newsletter (launching soon).

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