While there are no clear answers on the cause of the deadly Florida condo collapse, early signs point to some failure in the lower reaches of the 13-story building, perhaps in its foundation, columns or underground parking garage, according to experts.
At least 11 people have died in the Champlain Towers Collapse, and 150 remain missing following the tragedy. More than 136 people have been accounted for, according to Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. The deceased victims range in age from 26 to 82.
Forensic engineers will need to examine the ground-floor columns in their investigation, Sinisa Kolar, a Miami-based engineering executive, told CNN.
He explained that samples of concrete will need to be tested to examine the condition and then those samples will need to be cross-referenced with structural drawings.
“The key element to this investigation, in my opinion, lies in that rubble, in those columns and condition of the structural elements,” Kolar said.
The investigation could take months or longer, according to Allyn Kilsheimer, the structural engineer hired by the town of Surfside. He has started to examine the building and will use a meticulous, computer-assisted process of elimination to attempt to identify the cause or causes, he said.
“Unless it’s a plane or a bomb that you know triggered this whole thing, sometimes you can’t get it down to one cause,” he said. “You don’t know what you’re going to end up with until you finish the whole study.”
A pool contractor who was servicing the condo pool 36 hours before its collapse told the Miami Herald he had seen standing water and cracks in concrete underneath the pool deck. He noted that it was not the area under the collapse site.
When he first entered the building, the pool area and upper lobby looked fine, but when he walked into the basement garage under the pool deck, he claims he saw lots of standing water and claims to have found cracks in the concrete in the pool equipment room, according to Miami Herald reporter Sarah Blaskey.
“He took a picture of that concrete to send to his boss, because he was there to do a little bit of cosmetic stuff to the pool, but he thought, ‘Wow, this is going to be a bigger job,’ took a picture, sent it to his boss,” Blaskey told CNN.
While families grieve and hope and officials investigate, the mayor of Surfside said the primary focus is to get victims out of the debris.
“The number one priority here is pulling these people out of the rubble and we’re going to focus only on that. The second priority is supporting the families,” Charles Burkett told CNN’s John Berman on Monday night.
Miami Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said the search efforts are “a slow process, but we’re definitely making progress.” Rescuers are working 12-hour shifts and efforts have continued nonstop since the collapse early Thursday morning.
Read more about the investigation here.