Florida building collapse investigation to begin structural testing

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The federal investigation into the deadly collapse of a Florida beachfront condominium building is entering a new phase that involves cutting and drilling concrete and steel to determine what role they played in the disaster , officials said Wednesday.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology said in a press release that so-called invasive testing will begin soon when investigators test samples of materials collected from the collapsed Champlain Towers South site.

“This is an important step in the investigation, one that we can only take after months of careful investigation and preparation,” said Glenn Bell, co-lead of the investigation.

The tests will help investigators find potential flaws in the structural elements of the 12-story building by looking at things like material density, porosity and whether there was corrosion, NIST said.

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The Surfside, Florida building collapsed without warning early on June 24, 2021, killing 98 people. Legal regulations of over $1 billion have been reached for the families of the victims and the owners of the 136 units, with a key approval hearing scheduled for next Thursday in Miami.

Concrete, steel and other materials from the collapse were stored in a warehouse in Miami-Dade County, where they were cataloged and used to create a 3D model of the building, according to NIST. Materials will be moved out of the warehouse to an undisclosed location for the next phase of testing.

“The process of preparing the materials for the move and then securing them in their new location is expected to take several weeks,” NIST said in the release, noting that this includes air sampling to detect fibers of harmful asbestos.

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Champlain South had a long history of maintenance issues and questions were raised about the quality of its original construction and inspections in the early 1980s. Other possible factors include rising sea levels caused by climate change and damage from salt water intrusion.

Florida will require statewide recertification of condominiums over three stories under new legislation Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the law into law last month in response to the disaster.

NIST also said investigators had developed a questionnaire for interviews with anyone who might have information about the collapse. This will be used in the development of “failure hypotheses” that the agency intends to analyze for possible causes.

Anyone with potentially relevant information, including photos and videos, can submit it through a NIST website. The agency said it could take years to complete its investigation into the collapse.

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