Surfside condo that collapsed and killed 98 was not built to code, federal investigators say

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(SURFSIDE, Fla.) — Federal investigators looking into the Surfside, Florida, condo collapse that killed 98 people in 2021 said Thursday the structure did not meet building codes when it was erected 42 years ago.

“Our preliminary analysis of the original structural design of CTS shows that the building did not meet building codes in effect at the time, nor today’s building codes,” National Institute of Standards and Technology project leader James Harris said at a public hearing. “Furthermore, there’s evidence of errors in construction and renovations that compounded those deficiencies.”

NIST cautioned that these updates are preliminary. Investigators are placing a particular emphasis on the pool deck, with NIST’s Glenn Bell saying there were pervasive concerns with the deck’s design and misplaced slab reinforcement, along with possible problems with planter changes, the addition of fill and paving and slab reinforcement corrosion.

“Our analysis to date shows that even absent any sudden overload or obvious initiator of a failure on that tragic night of the collapse, the conditions that existed in the pool deck slab at that time represented a serious safety concern for the building,” Bell said.

NIST is hoping to find footage from Champlain Towers South’s surveillance cameras. It also plans to create a virtual reality model and conduct more testing.

Martin and Pablo Langesfeld, whose sister and daughter Nicole died during the collapse, spoke at the meeting.

“What many of the affected families find most troubling is the possibility of new development on the site of the collapse,” Martin Langesfeld said, referring to plans filed on Monday for new condominiums that could be built starting in 2024.

He went on, “You have repeatedly mentioned that NIST will inform the public if any signs of danger are discovered but how will this work if the building has already been developed?”

If approved and ultimately constructed, the new luxury development at the site of the collapse would be 12 stories tall, just like Champlain Towers South. In a letter to Surfside officials, an attorney representing the company proposing the new building said the project “will be a significant improvement to the property and a benefit to the area.”

The developer bought the property last year for $120 million.

NIST’s investigation will not be finished until May 2024 at the earliest. The final report could take an additional year.

“We do not need hypotheses. We need concrete answers,” Pablo Langesfeld said. “While I understand that a proper investigation takes time, it feels like an excessive delay.”

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