Champlain Towers in Miami – a Third World Collapse

Faye Higbee
champlain towers

Champlain Towers South collapsed early Thursday morning. With a death toll so far at just 4, there are 159 others still unaccounted for. An upscale building on the beach at Surfside, Florida, the collapse brought up serious questions of how and why this could happen in America.

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The 12 story Champlain Towers South building had residents from Latin-America like Argentina and Paraguay, the US, even Russia. Even a family member of the leader of Paraguay was staying there.

The reason for its collapse will take months to determine after the rescue effort is completed. That doesn’t stop people from speculation on its cause. Miami-Dade County reportedly requires recertification of high-rise buildings every 40 years. Champlain Towers was built in 1981 and was currently undergoing the process. But the process was not yet finished.

The recertification process mandates that, once a structure turns 40, its owners must hire a registered architect or professional engineer to do electrical and structural inspections within 90 days of receiving official notice from the town.

If repairs are found to be necessary, the owner gets 150 days to complete them. The costs of repairs can be apportioned among the unit owners. And if the town’s building official determines the building to be unsafe, the case gets forwarded to the county’s Unsafe Structures Board for review.

Miami Herald

Shoddy workmanship? Salt in the air? Built on reclaimed marshland?

“Buildings like this do not fall in America. This is a third-world phenomenon, and it’s shocking.”

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett

The terrifying image of a building collapsing was reminiscent of the Twin Towers collapse of 9-11 following the jihadi attack. Pictures of the destroyed condo looked like photos of the bombing of the Edward R Murrow Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Though many speculated, the answer is nowhere near complete. The damage is the same, and the loss of life strongly dependent on how fast the rescuers are able to find survivors.

Sometimes the workings of government grind slowly, and the people can be in jeopardy because of it. Champlain Towers South was also being renovated with a new roof, work which started about 6 weeks ago, according to the Miami Herald. On what kind of land was Champlain Towers built? Was there a sinkhole? Questions that do not have answers yet.

2020 study on sea level rise and sinking land in buildings in Miami, Florida, and Norfolk, Virginia, found that some structures in the seaside cities were losing about 1 to 3mm per year since the 1990s. Most of the risk was found on reclaimed marshlands.

Florida International University Professor Shimon Wdowinski, one of the primary researchers on that study, told USA Today Thursday that his team had looked at the Champlain Towers South building specifically, although it is not mentioned by name in the final product.

“I looked at it this morning and said, ‘Oh my God,’” he told the paper. “We did detect that.”


In other collapses around the world, people have been located after around 72 hours from being trapped in air pockets. Both dogs and rescuers work against the clock to find those beneath the rubble of Champlain Towers South, even using sonar to detect signs of life. With 159 people unaccounted for, time is of the essence.


Featured photo: screenshot via Twitter

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