Florida town official said building was safe despite warning

A satellite view shows the Champlain Towers building before the collapse, in Surfside near Miami Beach, Florida, US, March 11, 2021.
A satellite view shows the Champlain Towers building before the collapse, in Surfside near Miami Beach, Florida, US, March 11, 2021.
Image: @Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS/ File photo

A month after an engineering report warned of “major structural damage” that required prompt repair in 2018, a Surfside, Florida, official assured residents of Champlain Towers South that their building was sound, US media reported.

The death toll from the partial collapse of a high-rise condominium complex near Miami rose to nine on Sunday, with more than 150 people missing, as rescue teams picked through the rubble for a fourth day without detecting signs of life.

What caused nearly half the 12-story, 156-unit building to cave in during the early hours of Thursday as residents slept has yet to be determined but a 2018 inspection found major structural deterioration in the parking garage beneath the 40-year-old tower, accordingly to an engineer's report.

But later a Surfside town inspector met residents of the building in 2018 and assured them the building was “in very good shape”, according to the minutes of a November 2018 meeting reported first by NPR and then by several other US media outlets.

The inspector's comments directly conflicted with the engineering report from five weeks earlier, which warned that failed waterproofing in a concrete structural slab needed to be replaced “in the near future.”

At the Nov. 15, 2018, board meeting of the Champlain Tower South Condominium Association, a building official from the town of Surfside, Ross Prieto, appeared to discuss that report, NPR reported.

“Structural engineer report was reviewed by Mr Prieto,” the meeting minutes cited by NPR said. “It appears the building is in very good shape.”

Prieto is no longer employed by Surfside, according to NPR. He told the Miami Herald newspaper that he did not remember getting that report.

Reuters was not immediately able to contact Prieto.

The newly released 2018 report showed that an engineer found evidence of major structural damage beneath the pool deck and “concrete deterioration” in the underground parking garage of the 12-story oceanfront condominium, three years before it collapsed on Thursday.