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Surfside condo’s history of issues, concerns grow

The 136-unit condominium was flagged for problems
Building Collapse Miami Rescuers
Posted at 6:29 PM, Jun 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-29 21:02:54-04

Day 6 in Surfside after the condominium collapse brought no luck, no miracles, and still no answers.

“There are no additional fatalities to report from the site this morning,” said Miami Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. The death toll stood at 11 with 150 people still missing.

But also on day 6 in this small beachside town turned global epicenter of a tragic and historic rescue and recovery mission, mounting questions. How did this 40-year-old condo tower crumble? Why and were the increasing signs of destruction and disrepair repeatedly ignored?

Rosalia Cordaro is a resident and owner at Champlain Tower South. She and her husband were back in New York for business when their beach condominium spontaneously collapsed.

“Someone called us at 6 o’clock in the morning and I thought it was a joke,” Cordaro before breaking down. “I’m so sorry, I’m just so angry.”

For at least one year, Cordaro said she had complained about issues in the building. Her front door didn’t close properly, she noticed cracks.

“Under our balcony was a big, big crack that we complained about but they just said they have to renovate everything so it will be ok, don’t worry,” she told Investigative Reporter Katie LaGrone over zoom from her home in New York.

But never, she said, was she told of serious structural problems that were described as “major structural damage” by an engineering firm hired to inspect the building as part of the tower’s county-mandated 40-year certification.

The damage which included drainage issues in the tower’s garage and under the pool deck were documented in a structural field survey in 2018.

“You were never told the building was unsafe,” asked Reporter Katie LaGrone.

“Absolutely not,” said Cordaro who said she and her husband had just sent a $95,000 check, their portion of the estimated $16 million dollar renovation to the building.

“Do you think we would give them money if the building was not good,” she asked.

Documents obtained by ABC below show the penthouse was denied but then an exemption was made allowing construction to continue.

8777 Champlain South Penthouse Co by ABC Action News on Scribd

“There were serious issues with this building, serious issues,” said Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett who was not Mayor in 2018 when the engineering report was released or when a former town building official described the condo as “very good shape” about a month after engineers flagged those “major” structural issues.

“We’re all disturbed to say the least, very disturbed,” said Burkett who added the town is in the process of digging through its archives and computer system to gather every document related to Champlain Tower South and its sister towers East and North.

Mayor Burkett also revealed on Tuesday the south tower was originally planned for 12-stories and suggested the 13th- floor penthouse may have been a last-minute addition. Town workers have yet to locate any plans for the 13th floor he said.

“You design a building for 12-stories and you add a 13th at the last minute, it’s not a great idea,” said Burkett

When Reporter Katie LaGrone asked the Mayor if the town dropped the ball on protecting residents from a troubled town, he said “we’ll find out. We certainly will find out if the town dropped the ball,” Mayor Burkett said.