Sat, November 27, 2021


Condominium near Surfside collapse deemed unsafe, under evacuation orders

NORTH MIAMI BEACH - The city of North Miami Beach ordered immediate evacuations for a condominium building north of the Surfside collapse on Friday evening, after officials said the structure was deemed "structurally and electrically unsafe" amid an urgent citywide review.

"It's just the right thing to do during these times," City Manager Arthur Sorey III told reporters as people exited the building about a 20 minute drive from the ruined Champlain Towers South, where rescuers have spent a week searching for victims and survivors. Local authorities have scrambled to check other buildings after the condo's sudden collapse, which left at least 22 dead and 126 missing.

Crestview Towers - a 10-story, 156-unit building built in 1972 - is the first tower to raise alarms after the deadly Surfside collapse led North Miami Beach to launch a review of all condo buildings over five stories, checking their safety and compliance with the local 40-year recertification process. As the sun fell, residents from the building were still trickling out, pulling luggage, stuffing pillows and bicycles into their car trunks as Floridians prepared for Hurricane Elsa to potentially come their way.

"Upstairs, the neighbors are crying," said Karina Sobrino, 45, who owns two units in the condo building and helped her 70-year-old mother evacuate. "Because a lot of them don't have families. Don't have a place to stay."

Officials said the building was closed out of "an abundance of caution" while a full assessment is conducted. Crestview Towers should have been in the recertification process, Sorey said, but "hadn't complied" and submitted the problematic report dated Jan. 11 to the city on Friday afternoon.

"A lot of residents are upset. But everyone does understand why we have to do this," Sorey said. "In light of the hurricane headed our way, at least we know people are going to be safe," Sorey added.

Mariel Tollinchi, an attorney representing the condo association, said the group is not convinced that the report deeming the building unsafe is accurate and has requested a second review.

The board, made up a group of residents, thought the January report was submitted to the city by the engineer who wrote it and didn't find out the building was not in compliance with the recertification process until the audit following the Surfside condo collapse, Tollinchi said.

She said they have been making repairs for the past two years, and the recommended fixes would cost about $10 million, which they view as unreasonably high.

"There's just no way a homeowner is going to cough up $100,000 to make repairs to their home while they're not even living in their home and having to incur the expenses of living outside," Tollinchi said.

The city of North Miami Beach started an audit of all buildings on June 29, Sorey told The Washington Post. City employees found that Crestview Towers had failed to get both its 40-year and 50-year recertification, and requested that the condo association submit a safety report within 30 days.

At 2 p.m., Sorey said, the city received an engineer's report, dated January 2021, that indicated the building was not safe to be occupied. By 5 p.m., he added, police officers were on-site, knocking on doors.

The city is working with Red Cross and a local homelessness organization to house those unable to find other shelter; nobody will be allowed to reside in the building until it is deemed safe, he said.

Sorey told reporters he is not yet sure how many live in the condo, located at 2025 NE 164th St. Authorities are hoping to get people out in a couple of hours, he said, but will be there all night.

The city manager said he is not sure when repairs might start and added that the condo association is responsible for bringing the building up to code.

Asked about evacuations at a Friday evening news conference, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the city of North Miami Beach has "taken the steps that we recommended to review to make sure that the recertification process was being done on a timely basis."

Denasha and Kesha Alceus, 15 and 21, leaned over the back of their car Friday evening, talking to friends over the phone. Denasha said she had just woken up from a nap and was on her way to work when a man in a suit came knocking on their apartment on the fourth floor.

"They said we weren't safe," she said. "Nobody knew about this. Nobody even knew it was going on."

Sobrino's mother, who was sweating as she stacked boxes and luggage into a car, would be staying with her children in other parts of Miami, Sobrino said. She said the complex was occupied primarily by Latino residents, some of whom were very elderly.

"They're crying, they're afraid for their future, afraid about what to do with the furniture," she said. "But it's better to take care of the building," she added, shrugging. "Champlain Towers - it woke everyone up."

At 8 p.m., Crestview residents were still milling on their balconies. Local officials said police had cleared two floors of residents; the rest would have to leave later Friday night.

"We've deemed the building unsafe. By law, they cannot stay," said Michael Joseph, a North Miami Beach city commissioner.

Published : July 03, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Rebecca Tan, Meryl Kornfield, Hannah Knowles