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Surfside condo's history of issues, concerns grow

Was 13th-floor penthouse last-minute addition?
Surfside building collapse
Posted at 7:40 AM, Jun 30, 2021

SURFSIDE, Fla. — Tuesday in Surfside brought no luck, no miracles and still no answers in the tragic collapse of the Champlain South Towers condominium.

Tuesday's rescue efforts found no survivors and one additional fatality, bringing the death toll to 12. Officials say 149 people are still missing.

But Tuesday also brought mounting questions in the small beachside town-turned-global epicenter of a tragic and historic rescue-and-recovery mission. How did the 40-year-old condo tower crumble? Why 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 in New York for business Thursday when their beach condominium spontaneously collapsed.

Rosalia Cordaro speaks about condo collapse via Zoom
Rosalia Cordaro (right), a resident and owner at the Champlain Tower South condo, was in New York at the time of the building collapse.

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

For at least a year, Cordaro said she had complained about issues with 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 said over Zoom from her home in New York.

But she says she was never told of serious 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.

Inspection of collapsed building pointed to problems, Champlain Towers South illustration
An earlier report of the Champlain Towers South condo uncovered cracking and spalling of concrete columns, beams and walls.

"Absolutely not," Cordaro said when asked if she was ever told the building was unsafe.

She said she and her husband had just sent a $95,000 check to the building — their portion of the estimated $16 million renovations.

"Do you think we would give them money if the building was not good?" she said.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett admitted there were "serious issues" with the building.

Burkett was not the mayor in 2018 when the engineering report was released or when a former town building official described the condo as being in "very good shape" about a month after engineers flagged those "major" structural issues.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett speaks with Rachel Spiegel after Champlain Towers South condo collapse, June 26, 2021
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett (left) talks with Rachel Spiegel (right) who is looking for information on the Champlain Towers South condo building, June 26, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Spiegel's mother Judy lives in the building and is missing. Also shown are Spiegel's brothers Josh Spiegel, second from left, and Michael Spiegel, second from right, and her father, Kevin Spiegel.

"We're all disturbed, to say the least, very disturbed," Burkett said.

He added that 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.

Burkett also revealed Tuesday that the south tower was initially planned for 12 stories. He suggested a 13th-floor penthouse may have been a last-minute addition and said that town officials 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," Burkett said.

When asked if he thought Surfside dropped the ball in protecting residents, Burkett said he hoped to answer that soon.

"We'll find out," he said. "We certainly will find out if the town dropped the ball."

This story was originally published by Katie LaGrone on Scripps station WPTV in Palm Beach, Florida.