MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — While rescue teams were still frantically searching through the rubble of the Surfside condo partial collapse, building inspectors in neighboring Miami Beach were already taking steps to make sure this tragedy did not repeat.
A two-pronged drive to re-inspect every high-rise in this tightly packed city of 92,000 began the day after the Champlain Towers South condominium building toppled, Miami Beach City Manager Alina Hudak told NBC News.
“We have over 5,000 commercial buildings in the city of Miami Beach,” Hudak said. “And we're obviously very worried.”
Hudak said they were spurred on by the “emotional scale” of the building collapse, which killed at least 60 people, and by the sight of the ruins, which sit just one block north of Miami Beach’s border with Surfside.
“The families and the victims, they're our friends, our neighbors,” Hudak said. “Obviously, our first and foremost priority has been to participate and to assist in the search and recovery, and be there for Miami-Dade County, and be a part of that.”
But now, as the unfolding drama in Surfside has shifted from rescue to recovery mission, Hudak said their goal in Miami Beach is “to make sure that everything that we can do aggressively to make sure these buildings are safe is being done.”
Eighty people were still missing two weeks after the Surfside building collapsed June 24. While the cause was still not known, investigators are looking into whether uncompleted repairs were to blame.
The first phase of Miami Beach’s inspection drive, Hudak said, was focusing on the 500 buildings that were already on the city’s radar.
“Those properties are currently going through what is known in South Florida as the 40-year recertification process,” Hudak said. “It's a pretty comprehensive process that the management companies or the condo associations are responsible for fulfilling.”
Teams of city inspectors were sent to the targeted buildings along with structural engineers to look them over.
If they found anything of concern, the building management team was given 48 hours to respond with a letter from their structural engineer certifying that any apparent deficiency was already in the process of being repaired.
“If there’s something that’s obvious to the eye, we’ve actually tagged those buildings,” Hudak said.
So far 15 of those buildings have been tagged and 10 are currently occupied.
“Those are mostly residential condo buildings,” said Hudak, who declined to divulge the addresses. “We're focused on residential buildings that are four stories and above.”
It's possible those residents might need to be evacuated.
“If we can’t get a letter from a structural engineer assuring us that the building is safe for occupancy ... we will have to pull that trigger,” Hudak said. “If I have to make that decision, I'm prepared to make that decision, and I have resources available to assist people with relocation. Obviously, we would hope that it wouldn't come to that.”
Any evacuation, Hudak said, “would be immediate.”
But so far, the building managers and condo associations responsible for running the tagged buildings have been cooperating.
“In most cases, we're finding that people have engineering companies on board and are doing what they need to do,” Hudak said.
Asked if she had a message for worried tenants, Hudak said: “We tell them that the City of Miami Beach government is being as proactive as possible. And this is the responsibility of the management companies and the condo associations of these buildings, and we’re going to do everything we can to hold people accountable.”
Sam Brock reported from Miami Beach. Corky Siemaszko reported from New York City.