Collapsed Florida condo building had been shifting since 1990s, geologist says


MIAMI, Fla. (WFLA) – A study of the land around the Chamberlain Towers which partially collapsed in the Miami area on Thursday showed the building was moving even as far back as the 1990s, a geologist from Florida International University told NBC South Florida.

“The data was collected in the 1990s, from ’93 to ’99, and we can see in that area, we identified that that particular building was moving between ’93 and ’99,” Dr. Shimon Wdowinski, an associate professor of Earth and Environment, said. “That was unusual because we didn’t expect to see movement in the eastern part of the city, mostly in the western part of the city. So we recorded that.”

Wdowinski’s research has focused on the development and usage of space geodetic techniques that can detect very precisely small movements of the Earth’s surface, according to his staff biography at FIU.

Wdowinski told NBC South Florida that the area Chamberlain Towers was built on in 1981 was generally pretty stable, but the area on the west part of the city was where they noticed movement. He says the area isn’t sinking, but that the movement could be caused by a few different things.

“What we recorded is that the building moved, so we collected more data, but it doesn’t mean the whole thing is moving, just the building itself,” Wdowinski said. “I think the issue is with the building itself. The situation is very unique to that building, that we identified in the study 20 to 30 years ago. It means that it’s not something that happened yesterday, it’s been going on for a long period of time.”

A wing of the 12-story beachfront condo building collapsed early Thursday morning. As of Thursday afternoon, authorities confirmed at least one person was dead and 99 others were unaccounted for. Crews had been working throughout the day to search for any survivors in the rubble.

The seaside condo development was built in 1981 in the southeast corner of Surfside. One survivor from the Thursday morning collapse said he had raised concerns several years ago about nearby construction and whether it was causing damage to the building.

“That particular building moved. It can be for different reasons. It can be because the foundation moved downward,” said Wdowinski. “It’s very localized, and we suspected it was something with the building itself and not the entire area.”

Wdowinski said the fact that the building was built on reclaimed wetlands did not factor into the tragic events. He said it was built on “pretty stable land.”

“The ground is very stable. I think the issue is with the building itself. The situation is very unique to that building.”

The movement the study detected was reported to a committee that dealt with subjects like sea-level rise, which was what the study was performed to research.

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