SURFSIDE, Fla — The site of what used to be the Champlain Tower South condominium along a pretty stretch of beach in Surfside, FL remains an empty, flattened crater of questions and mysteries.
“I have 8 zillion ideas but there’s no inkling at all,” said Allyn Kilsheimer when asked if he and his team were any closer to knowing what caused the tower to crumble.
Kilsheimer, of D.C.-based KCE Structural Engineers, is part of the team of national experts working to determine why the 136-unit building collapsed overnight on June 24th. The disaster resulted in the heartbreaking deaths of 98 people including men, women, and children.
“There was a trigger that started this from happening,” Kilsheimer said.
It’s known the 40-year-old building had its share of design flaws and structural concerns including “major structural damager” identified in the garage and under the pool deck. Chipping and eroded concrete have also been reported as ongoing issues in the building prior to its collapse.
But whether those issues were enough to bring the building down, Kilsheimer doesn’t have the facts yet to prove or disprove any theories.
“There could have been many, many things that alone look bad and sound bad but didn’t cause it to start collapsing. They could have contributed to the collapse if they wouldn’t have been “bad.” Maybe it wouldn’t have been as sensitive as it was, but you don’t know that, I don’t know that at this time,” he said.
Finding cause in any structural failure is timely and complicated but Kilsheimer, a world-renown expert in his field, said the investigation into the Champlain Tower South collapse is being made more complicated because he still hasn’t been granted access to critical data and debris.
“This is the most a-typical situation I’ve been involved in,” he said. Kilsheimer was hired by the town to investigate its collapse but the National Institute of Standards and Technology is leading the investigation. In addition, there are hundreds of lawyers involved and court cases determining when and who can access certain material at any given time.
When asked if the situation has become frustrating, Kilsheimer responded, “that would be an understatement.” Still, he expects his findings to be released before the first anniversary of the collapse.
According to Kilsheimer, structural debris from the site is being held in two warehouses off-site. About a week ago, he was granted access to view what’s left of the basement along with some debris off-site.
This month, he hopes to spend three weeks conducting critical tests on elements on and off-site.
But for now, answers into what caused the residential building to just fall taking nearly everyone inside with it, remains a matter of hyperbole, theory and few facts.
“I don’t know anymore than what I’m saying now,” said Kilsheimer.
On Monday, the National Institute of Standards and Technology will be providing an update on its investigation into the collapse but officials from the federal agency make it clear no findings or conclusions will be provided. More info here.