On June 24th, the Champlain Tower South in shoreside, near Miami Beach, collapsed in the early morning. At the time of writing, nearly 100 bodies have since been pulled from the wreckage as of late Monday with many other building occupants still missing, now presumed dead.
As the story has unfolded, reports have shown there had been raised concerns over the building's safety leading up to the collapse, with one report from a pool contractor who had been in the building thirty-five hours before the incident. They noted significant standing water in the basement garage below the pool deck slab.
Former maintenance manager for the Florida building, William Espinosa, told Miami's CBS4 that water in the garage had been a problem since at least 1995: "It was so much water, all the time, that the pumps never could keep up with it."
He did not specify that the water was coming through a damaged slab, but rather said he thought most of it was coming up through the foundation.
And now, concerns over the stability of a cracked pool deck have been raising flags as far back as twenty-five years ago.
The pool deck at the Florida building is the new focus of a probe into the deadly collapse. The deck supposedly had 500 cracks that needed to be sealed and a twenty-square foot slab that needed to be replaced during a 1996 inspection, the Miami Herald reported on Tuesday.
Documents that were submitted to the town as part of permitting construction show the deck slab, which makes up the ceiling of the underground garage, needed 500 feet of cracks sealed and a twenty-square-foot slab replaced entirely just fifteen years after the original construction of the building.
"The scope of work will be concrete structural repair in the parking garage," wrote Rob Sommer, sales manager for Western Waterproofing Company of America to the Surfside Building Department in March 1996.
"This type of repair entails removing loose concrete overhead, treating steel rebar with rust inhibitive coating, and patching back with repair mortar. Also included in the garage will be urethane foam injection in ceiling cracks," Tong Le, the consulting engineer on the project, certified the $156,602 of structural concrete construction work and waterproofing in a 1997 letter to the town.
"I performed an inspection of different phases of the waterproofing of the deck and the repair of approximately... twenty square feet of spalls in the ceiling of the garage," Le wrote. "The repair has been performed under our inspections from the beginning to completion."
The pool deck above the garage has become a focal point for engineers investigating why the tower suddenly and catastrophically collapsed after a video showed the garage ceiling partially caved in shortly before the rest of the building went down.
The failed slab has been located at the edge of the pool deck and the north part of the building, where a large planter serving as a base for palm trees - this added more weight to the slab.
The 2018 report from engineer Frank Morabito indicated a "major error" in the original design of the forty-year-old building, which included improper drainage, subsequently causing "major structural damage" to the concrete slab below.
Dawn Lehman, professor of structural engineering at the University of Washington said the 500 feet of cracks that were cited in the documents "seems like a lot."
"I would have expected more. It suggests that they did not investigate the extent of the damaged concrete and instead only repaired what was visible," she said.
Other discrepancies she noticed included the rust-inhibitive coating for the rebar in his certification of the construction. These were all things the consulting engineer failed to mention between the original scope of work and the certification.
She added that the 1996 permit adds to the growing concern that the slab was a significant weak point in the building due to a long history of water intrusion and damage.
"This is a systematic issue for this building, which you can see they have been dealing with since the late '90s," she said.
According to the Miami Herald, records of the 1996 repairs don't show whether there was any further exploration of the damaged concrete or rebar beyond what was visibly obvious.