Investigators will search for sinkholes, degraded concrete in Miami building collapse

The building collapsed overnight in a seaside town near Miami.

Updated: June 24, 2021 - 3:23pm

Investigators combing through the rubble of a catastrophic building collapse overnight near Miami will examine concrete, search for sinkholes, and ask if anyone heard an explosion, security analysts and forensic engineers told Just the News.

"A lot of focus is going into teasing out what happened," a Homeland Security official said.

The likeliest reason the building collapsed is a combination of material, environment and age, according to one Florida-based structural engineer.

"This is a reinforced concrete building built in a salt air environment," said Orlando Ballate, an engineer who specializes in forensic structural investigations. "It's 40 years old. In the salt air environment, concrete deteriorates over time, meaning that the rebars inside the concrete corrode and they weaken the building."

Columns at the base of the building are particularly vulnerable to that type of damage, said Ballate. 

"I've been involved with investigations where the ground floor columns of concrete buildings in a salt air environment like Miami have deteriorated to the extent that they've weakened and cracked, and eventually failed," he said.

This type of failure will cause a partial collapse similar to what was portrayed on video from the scene, he said.

The 12-story, 130 unit building, the Champlain Towers South Condo, in Surfside, was completed in 1981, according to public records, placing it at 40 years old - offering enough time for weather and age to weaken the structure, according to one officer with the Army Corps of Engineers. 

The collapse could have been triggered by a sink hole or by vibration from any nearby construction, the Army officer said.

"The trigger effect could have been some kind of ground vibration," Ballate added. "And the second thing is, a potential sinkhole of the building, which Florida has numerous of those."

A more sinister possibility is that the building was brought down via sabotage, the Homeland Security official said. In that scenario, there would have been a brief warning in the form of a loud bang.

"People would have reported an explosion first, then the collapse," Ballate said. "So you would have to ask, did people hear an explosion, such as a gas explosion, for example."

One person so far has been confirmed dead, and dozens are injured or remain unaccounted for.

"This is a horrific catastrophe," Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told journalists. "In the United States, buildings just don't fall down."