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Miami condo collapse prompts questions over role of climate change

Miami condo collapse prompts questions over role of climate change

Experts suggest vulnerability of south Florida to rising seas could lead to destabilization of further buildings

The shocking collapse of a 12-storey building in the Miami area last week has raised questions as to the role played by the climate crisis, and whether the severe vulnerability of south Florida to the rising seas may lead to the destabilization of further buildings in the future.

The exact cause of the disaster that befell the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside on Thursday has yet to be fully determined, although a 2018 engineering report on the structure warned of “significant cracks and breaks in the concrete” and that design flaws and deteriorating waterproofing could cause “exponential damage” via the expansion of these cracks.

At the time of the building’s sudden collapse, repairs on its roof were taking place but the restoration of concrete had not started on the 40-year-old condo. A total of 10 people are confirmed dead due to the crumpled building, with 151 people unaccounted for.

The disaster has highlighted the precarious situation of building and maintaining high-rise apartments in an area under increasing pressure from sea-level rise. Experts say that while the role of the rising seas in this collapse is still unclear, the integrity of buildings will be threatened by the advance of salty water that pushes up from below to weaken foundations.

“When this building was designed 40 years ago the materials used would not have been as strong against salt water intrusion, which has the potential to corrode the concrete and steel of the foundations,” said Zhong-Ren Peng, professor and director of the University of Florida’s International Center for Adaptation Planning and Design. “Cracks in the concrete allows more sea water to get in, which causes further reactions and the spreading of cracks. If you don’t take care of it, that can cause a structure failure.”