As searchers still comb through the wreckage of Champlain Towers South, we remain hopeful that survivors may yet be found alive. We recall stories of miracles amid other tragedies, of survivors found two or even three weeks amid the rubble of earthquakes and building collapses, provided they had access to water. And we remember always the title of one of the great oral historian Studs Terkel’s works: Hope dies last.
But even though the hard work of search and rescue continues, we should not hold off for answers. How did this happen? We know a 2018 report found a “major error” in the design of the building and predicted that failure to fix the problems in the “near future will cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially.” We know that, on April 9, the president of the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association wrote in a letter that the crumbling concrete in the condo’s basement garage had “gotten significantly worse” since that 2018 report.
What we still do not understand is how the situation had been allowed to progress to such a dismal state. Given the dead and the pile of rubble, it’s clear the tower should have been condemned, much less repaired.
We cannot depend on self-interested parties who understandably fear blame for this tragedy to offer impartial analysis, whether that be building inspectors, the condo association or local government.
To find those answers, we recommend the following:
◘ We join in the Miami Herald Editorial Board’s call for a grand jury investigation. Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle has said she will ask a grand jury to examine the condo collapse. That should happen, and such an investigation should begin requesting documents and data as soon as possible. We recognize that such investigations can offer sweeping, at times illogical recommendations — recall that a grand jury looking into malfeasance at the Broward County School Board a decade ago suggested abolishing the entire board — but subpoena power will quickly open doors.
◘ We need complete transparency from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the federal agency tasked with investigating the collapse. That investigation could take years, and the families of the dead should not have to wait that long for at least partial answers.
◘ The feds are not enough. Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced at a Tuesday morning news conference that a building audit had resulted in the immediate closure of four balconies in a building in the northeast part of Miami-Dade County. We applaud the county’s rapid efforts, and we ask that Broward and Palm Beach counties follow suit. Lives could be at stake.
This editorial first appeared in The Sun Sentinel on Wednesday. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.