Surfside Collapse Exposes an Overlooked Threat: Saltwater Rising From Underground

Researchers are trying to sound the alarm about the danger rising seas could pose to coastal buildings

2-story Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Florida
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

More than seven months after the condo tower collapsed in Surfside, Florida, last June, leaving 98 people dead, there are no definitive answers about what caused the 40-year-old Champlain Towers South to fall. But Randall Parkinson, a coastal geologist at Florida International University, is one of several scientists who believe that the tower may have been damaged by saltwater seeping into its underground foundation. 

He and others had previously found that rising sea levels press underground saltwater closer to the foundations of coastal buildings. They also note that photos showed corroded columns and flooding in Champlain Towers South’s underground garage and that staff members reported pumping water out of the garage. 

In a December report, a Miami-Dade County grand jury investigating the collapse also theorized that saltwater intrusion had probably damaged the building’s foundation. 

Parkinson and other experts stress that they aren’t saying such damage brought down the 12-story building; the cause of the collapse, on a barrier island that includes Miami Beach, is under investigation by federal authorities. Champlain Towers South suffered from construction flaws and extensive above-ground corrosion. Residents complained that its foundation shook during the construction of a tower next door. An environmental scientist has documented that the building had slowly sunk in the 1990s. 

But even if saltwater intrusion wasn’t a cause of the collapse, experts say they want to spread awareness of an unseen and overlooked threat that could make many other residential towers on the Florida coast vulnerable to decay. 

Read the full story on here. 

Authorities in Surfside, Fla., released released police body camera footage on Tuesday that shows the initial emergency response to the condominium collapse that left 98 people dead.
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