Florida building collapse product of capitalist greed

By Steve Warshell
July 12, 2021
June 28 vigil for residents of Champlain Towers in Surfside, Florida, after building collapsed. “Serious degradation of the building’s structure was found three years ago,” said Anthony Dutrow, inset, Socialist Workers Party candidate for Miami mayor. “Owners were urged to get it fixed. This was never done.”
Above: Reuters/Marco Bello; inset, Militant/Amanda UlmanJune 28 vigil for residents of Champlain Towers in Surfside, Florida, after building collapsed. “Serious degradation of the building’s structure was found three years ago,” said Anthony Dutrow, inset, Socialist Workers Party candidate for Miami mayor. “Owners were urged to get it fixed. This was never done.”

MIAMI — “There are important stakes for the working class in looking at what happened with the deadly collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside and what caused it,” Anthony Dutrow, Socialist Workers Party candidate for mayor of Miami, tells workers as he campaigns across the region. “The weaknesses and serious degradation of the building’s structure was found in inspections three years ago, and the owners were urged to get them fixed. This was never done.”

Part of the 13-story building collapsed at 1:30 a.m. June 24, pancaking to the ground. As of June 29, 12 people have been confirmed dead and 149 were still missing, as rescue workers, including volunteers from a crack Israeli Defense Forces rescue team and volunteers from Mexico, continue searching for survivors or bodies.

Residents in the building included condo owners, some renters and others who used their units as vacation homes. “There was a beautiful mixture of cultures and people in that building,” neighbor Sergio Grobler, who has friends among the missing, told the press, “people from South America, Cuban Jews, American Jews, American nationals.”

Over 300 emergency personnel are poring over the wreckage. Requests from family members of those missing and other workers volunteering to help in the search have been turned down by authorities.

“We have all these able-bodied men, and we said, ‘Why can’t we come and help you? We’ll sign a waiver, we’ll help move debris, anything,’” Douglas Berdeaux, whose sister lives in the building and is listed as missing, told the New York Times. “I would think they would want as much manpower as you could muster under the circumstances.”

As facts about the design, construction and ongoing inspections and lack of repairs are coming out, it is clear that management, city officials and others knew about increasing dangers of disaster at the building and kept postponing any action.

Another part of the same building — Champlain Towers North — is still standing, and government officials have not ordered an evacuation. Some residents have left.

Engineer Frank Morabito, president of Morabito Consultants, inspected the building in 2018 and wrote a report for the board that “detailed significant cracks and breaks in the concrete” structure of the building and a “major error” in the building’s design. He warned of “major structural damage.”

He also said previous attempts to fix the damage were marred by poor workmanship.

The tower was put up during a 1980s construction boom in Surfside, as builders and others sought to profit from getting structures erected as fast as possible. The condominiums were built by a now-defunct for-profit Canadian company called Toronto Enterprises.

Morabito told the board that repairs would cost at least $9.1 million, maybe more once they got started. He bid for the job. Then he sent another note to the board, this time downplaying the danger. Rosendo Prieto, a town building official, went to the next board meeting, telling them he had reviewed the reports and the building appeared to be in “very good shape.”

Media reports say it took until 2020 for the board and Morabito to agree on a contract for repairs. In the meantime nothing was done. Tenant complaints about conditions increased.

Two researchers reported satellite images showed the building had been slowly sinking, as were others in the area.

In April of this year the board called a meeting of tenants. Board President Jean Wodnicki wrote them that the danger to the building would “multiply exponentially over the years, and indeed the observable damage such as in the garage has gotten significantly worse over the years.”

“When you can visually see the concrete spalling [cracking], that means that the rebar holding it together is rusting and deteriorating beneath the surface,” she wrote. “The concrete deterioration is accelerating. The roof situation got much worse, so extensive roof repairs had to be incorporated.” The letter reported Morabito had been hired.

Tenants were told they would have to pay a $15 million special assessment to cover the costs. Work began on the roof shortly before the building collapsed.

“These facts — which reflect the priorities and workings of the dog-eat-dog capitalist system and its profit-driven rents and mortgages system, regardless of the cost to working people — must be exposed and those responsible held to account,” Dutrow said.

Media at the site have reported hotel owners in the area have raised their rates as relatives of those missing, residents from the two buildings, rescue personnel, press and others have sought housing nearby.

The search has been hampered by a fire that burned inside the wreckage and bad weather. The scene reminded some residents of the collapse of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

The main difference is that the World Trade Center was attacked, while building management, inspectors and city officials here knew of the structural disintegration unfolding in Surfside for years and did nothing.

“The Socialist Workers Party calls for workers to take control of production, construction and inspections, the only way to protect workers on the job and all those who use what is produced under capitalism. Lives were needlessly lost,” Dutrow said.

“Working people need to organize and use our unions to fight for this,” he said. “And to reach out and organize all those exploited and oppressed by capital on a course to take political power into our own hands, to build a workers and farmers government.”