A former building inspector has denied he ever received the damning 2018 private engineering study which uncovered “major structural damage” at the Florida condo tower that collapsed last week, according to a report.
Board members of Champlain Towers South Condo in the town of Surfside reportedly held a meeting on Nov. 15, 2018, during which the report by engineer Frank Morabito was discussed.
In it, Morabito flagged “major structural damage” caused by a leaky pool above the building’s parking garage, though it was not immediately clear if the “major error” could have contributed to the deadly partial collapse, the Miami Herald reported.
“Structural engineer report was reviewed by [the inspector],” the Surfside building inspector told the tenants, according to the minutes of the meeting cited by NPR. “It appears the building is in very good shape.”
The inspector, Ross Prieto, who left his post last year, had reviewed the engineer’s report after condo board member Mara Chouela forwarded him a copy two days earlier, according to the Miami Herald.
Chouela sent Prieto two reports, according to an email posted on the town’s website, the outlet reported.
One was the “structural field survey report” by Morabito that detailed the building’s structural deficiencies, and the other was a mechanical and electrical engineering report by Thomas E. Henz. P.E., according to the Herald.
Chouela also introduced the building inspector at the meeting with five of the seven board members, along with property manager Alexandria Santamaria, condo board lawyer Marilyn Perez and some residents, it added.
But Prieto told the Herald on Saturday that he didn’t recall receiving the report from Chouela, who had also provided cost estimates for the repairs – and also said he was unaware the town had received the report, which cited “abundant cracking.”
“I don’t know anything about it. That’s 2018,” he told the Herald.
When asked about the November 2018 board meeting, Prieto declined to comment Sunday, citing the advice of an attorney.
Newly released records show that the morning after attending the meeting, Prieto sent an email to then-town manager Guillermo Olmedillo to say it “went very well” and that “the response was very positive from everyone in the room,” the outlet reported.
Prieto also said he was impressed with the condo association’s proactive approach to the forthcoming mandatory 40-year recertification.
“This particular building is not due to begin their forty year until 2021 but they have decided to start the process early which I wholeheartedly endorse and wish that this trend would catch on with other properties,” Prieto wrote, the Herald reported, citing records released Sunday by the town.
Olmedillo told the paper Sunday that he didn’t remembers getting the email from Prieto.
Meanwhile, emails released by the town Sunday also show Prieto dismissed concerns over possible damage to the structure’s foundation from a construction project in the area just two months after he reviewed the materials that described major structural damage in the tower’s lower levels, the Herald reported.
Chouela asked if a town official could check and attached two images of a backhoe working against a wall along the southern edge of the pool deck and parking garage.
“There is nothing for me to check,” Prieto wrote back 28 minutes later, according to the news outlet.
The best course of action is to have someone monitor the fence, pool and adjacent areas for damage or hire a consultant to monitor these areas as they are the closest to the construction,” he added.
Susana Alvarez, who said she attended the 2018 meeting, told the paper that Prieto’s confidence that her building “was in great shape” now haunts her.
“Lives were lost that should not have been lost,” she said.
In a statement Saturday, Morabito Consultants defended its work, which included efforts to help the building association prepare for its recertification work and to create a more detailed plan for repairs and restorations.
“Among other things, our report detailed significant cracks and breaks in the concrete, which required repairs to ensure the safety of the residents and the public,” the statement said.
On Monday, rescue workers continuing to dig feverishly for a fifth day stressed that they could still find survivors in the rubble — a hope family members clung to even though no one has been pulled out alive since the first day the structure fell.
The death toll rose by just four people Sunday, to a total of nine confirmed dead. But 152 are still missing.
Families of the missing rode buses to a site nearby from which they could watch teams at work Sunday: firefighters, dogs and search experts employing radar and sonar devices.
US Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said at a Sunday evening news conference that she had met with some of the rescue personnel and was able to “hear the hope that they have.”
“We obviously have some realism that we’re dealing with. But … as long as the experts that we trust are telling me they have hope to find people who might have been able to survive, then we have to make sure that we hold on to that hope,” she said.
Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai, head of a humanitarian delegation from Israel that includes several search-and-rescue experts, said the professionals have told him of cases where survivors were found after 100 hours or more.
“So don’t lose hope, that’s what I would say,” he said.
With Post wires