SURFSIDE, Fla. — A startling discovery awaited an engineer who drilled into the concrete slab on the ground in Champlain Towers South last year. He could not find waterproofing in two separate sections, the engineer wrote in a letter to the condominium.
Without the significant layer to a high rise facing the punishing Atlantic, rainwater and salt spray had probably seeped in for decades, slowly weakening the steel arm and concrete that held the apartment building. In fact, the engineer reported at the time that he saw significant concrete deterioration.
Less than a year later, in the early hours of June 24, part of the plate fell into the parking garage below. Within minutes, the east wing of the 13-story tower collapsed, killing 98 people in a disaster without modern precedent in the United States.
Since then, a picture has emerged of a tower that was bumped from the start. The people who oversaw its planning and construction about 40 years ago made cost-saving choices that generally met the building codes of that era but may have created long-term safety risks, a Wall Street Journal study found.
They jumped waterproofing into areas where salt water could seep into concrete, the available evidence indicates. They put the building’s structural slabs on thin columns without supporting beams in some places. They installed too few of the special heavy walls that help prevent buildings from toppling over, engineers say features that could have limited the extent of the collapse. And they seemed to have laid too little concrete over rebar in some places and not enough rebar in others, design plans and photos of the rubble indicate.
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