From ground to sky, US condo collapse probe gaining steam

From the soils underground to eyes in the sky, the federal probe into the deadly collapse of a Florida condominium building is gaining steam but is far from completion, officials said Monday.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology did not provide any firm timetable Monday for results on the cause of the June 24 collapse of the Champlain Towers South building. The disaster killed 98 people in Surfside, Florida, located north of Miami.

Public expectations for a swift conclusion are misguided, several members of a NIST construction safety advisory committee said Monday.

“Obviously, it’s the very early stages,” said Reginald DesRoches, chair of the committee. “We need to get this right. It’s not something that’s going to happen quickly.”

Armed with $22 million in supplemental funding from Congress, NIST has created six separate teams of experts to examine various aspects of the Champlain Towers collapse, said NIST investigation team leader Judith Mitrani-Reiser.

These include efforts to figure out how the building was initially designed, what changes were made and what deteriorated; what data was collected by aerial drones and remote sensors; inspection of hundreds of pieces of rubble for structural failure clues; and whether soils, underground rock or vibrations from nearby construction may have played a role.

For many victims and condo owners, the probe is not moving nearly fast enough. David Rodan, whose brother and cousin died in the collapse, said people like him remain almost entirely in the dark.

“Four months should be enough for a little more information,” Rodan told the panel. “I really hope in the next NIST presentation that we start getting some of these answers.”

Investigators are interviewing witnesses and asking people to provide any information, photos, videos or other material pertinent to the probe through a NIST portal.

Parallel to the NIST probe is an ongoing court case in which a Miami-Dade County judge has appointed a receiver to handle sale of the property, access to evidence for experts hired by lawyers and financial details such as insurance policies.

Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman has named a mediator to work through claims for compensation by condo owners and those who lost loved ones in the collapse. That process also is taking time.

Several NIST advisory committee members said their investigation will be lengthy because it is unique, with no obvious reason the 12-story building fell suddenly without warning.

Champlain Towers was just beginning a mandated 40-year safety review when it collapsed despite warnings years earlier of major structural deficiencies.

“Our work will probably extend beyond two years,” said Glenn Bell, associate lead NIST investigator. “It’s a very complex investigation. Everybody’s anxious for answers.”