Troubling photographs taken by a contractor in the basement garage of the Champlain Towers South condo 36 hours before it collapsed reveal cracked concrete, exposed and severely corroded rebar and pools of water on the floor.
“There was standing water all over the parking garage,” the commercial pool contractor, who snapped the startling images, told the Miami Herald.
The contractor, who asked not to be named, visited the building last week to prepare a bid for cosmetic work on the pool and to provide the cost of new equipment as part of a multimillion-dollar restoration project at the 40-year-old structure, the outlet reported.
The man said he had gone into “some scary places” during his decades of work, but was particularly struck by the lack of maintenance in the basement — and that the amount of water there was so unusual that he mentioned it to a building worker named Jose, according to the Herald.
“He thought it was waterproofing issues,” the contractor told the paper of the employee. “I thought to myself, that’s not normal.”
He said Jose told him they pumped the pool equipment room so often that the pump motors had to be replaced every two years, but that the man never mentioned any structural damage.
The contractor told the Herald that the deepest puddle was near parking spot 78, in an area right under the pool deck where engineer Frank Morabito in a damning 2018 private study flagged “major structural damage” caused by a leaky pool above the parking garage.
The pool contractor said he didn’t photograph the standing water in that section because he was in the building to check the pool and what was under it.
Meanwhile, the contractor saw another problem in the pool equipment room on the south side of the underground garage — exposed and corroding rebar in the above concrete, according to the Herald.
He took some photos and sent them to his supervisor along with a note expressing concern that the job might become more complicated and would require the removal of pool pipes to allow access to concrete restoration experts.
Two days later, the building partially collapsed.
“I wonder if this was going on in other parts of the building and caused this collapse,” the contractor told the Herald.
William Espinosa, a former maintenance manager for the building, said he had raised concerns about ocean water regularly inundating the parking garage — and that the flooding struck him as “just not normal.”
Espinosa recalled having to often use pumps to get rid of potentially corrosive seawater seeping into the underground parking garage, news station WFOR reported.
“Any time that we had high tides away from the ordinary, any King Tide or anything like that, we would have a lot of saltwater come in through the bottom of the foundation,” Espinosa told the outlet.
“But it was so much water, all the time, that the pumps never could keep up with it.”
Maxwell Marcucci, who represents the Champlain Towers South condo association, declined to comment to the Herald on whether it was aware of the issues the pool contractor cited.
Mohammad Ehsani, an engineer and concrete restoration expert who reviewed the contractor’s images, told the Herald: “You can see extensive corrosion of the rebars at the bottom of the beam. That is very serious.”
Ehsani, who invented the QuakeWrap technology to reinforce old concrete columns, said the images showed the worst damage he had seen documented in the building so far.
The equipment room runs along the tower’s southern wall in an area that did not collapse.
“If the condition of the beam in the pool guy’s photo is something that was also happening under the building, that is a really major concern,” Ehsani said, adding that in that case, it “absolutely” could have contributed to the catastrophe.
But Ehsani also cautioned against rushing to the conclusion that all beams in the doomed structure showed similar levels of damage to those exposed to chemicals from the pool.
He noted that the 2018 report that cited “severe” structural damage to concrete in the garage under the pool deck did not include images of anything nearly as startling as what the pool contractor saw.
Meanwhile, a man whose mother and grandmother are among the 150 still unaccounted for in the tragedy reacted to the photographs in an interview with CNN.
Pablo Rodriguez told the network he received a call from his grandmother the night before the collapse in which she complained of creaking noises from the building.
“This just confirms the maintenance was not done over the many years,” he told CNN’s Erin Burnett.
“The board collects over a million dollars of maintenance fees from the unit owners every single year. Where was that money going? Because it wasn’t going to maintenance,” he said.
“You see these pictures. How did they not tell people that it was in this horrible of a condition? The rebar was exposed, the contractor confirms that the maintenance doesn’t happen overnight like that — it’s, it’s shocking that they allowed it to get into this. It’s negligence and their negligence caused a lot of death here,” Rodriguez added.
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