Investigation for cause of Surfside building collapse could take over a year, engineer says

Published: June 25, 2021 10:03 PM EDT
Updated: June 25, 2021 11:14 PM EDT

Gov. Ron DeSantis called for a timely explanation after the beachfront condo collapse in the state. He was in Surfside Friday reassuring families they have the state’s support.

“You have your families that lost loved ones in this building collapse. They have a right to know,” DeSantis said publicly. “And then, I think there’s a lot of other people throughout this community and really throughout Florida who want to know what, how could a building just collapse?”

Rescue personnel work in the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo, Friday, June 25, 2021, in Surfside. The seaside condominium building partially collapsed on Thursday. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

We spoke to a local engineer Bob Rude Friday, who said the investigation of the collapsed portion of Champlain Towers could take a year or longer to find out what caused it.

After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Rude worked as a forensic engineer, looking at how structures on the east coast failed during that storm, and he explained to us how engineers will work to find out what went wrong in surfside.

Rude says the answer to what went wrong lies within a pile of rubble at the scene.

“The collapse started somewhere,” Rude said. “That portion is most likely buried under that pile of rubble. And so, the only way to get to that is really going to be by removing all the other parts and pieces.”

Rude says the failure point is likely near the bottom. He explained why that is using an example of pushing down on a table and kicking out the legs.

“That entire tabletop will drop first in that direction where the legs were missing,” Rude explained. “And then, it may or may not overload the other legs, which may collapse in a different direction. So, if you were trying to dismantle or figure out how that table collapsed, you’d take off that tabletop first, look at the direction the legs were pointing and figure out what went first.”

Rude says the biggest challenge is that search, rescue and recovery missions are still happening.

“The parts that are removed, they’ll be moved aside and put somewhere,” Rude said. “And there will be photographs that will be taken during the entire process.”

Rude says engineers will also look at the foundation, the soil conditions and the alignment of all the pieces, among other things. He expects more videos to surface, which will only help the forensic engineers in their investigation.

Rude told us other clues will come from how the building landed on the ground and videos of the actual collapse.

“We want to find out everything, every reason why and prevent that from happening again,” Rude said.