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An Engineer Working To Find A Cause For Condo Collapse Says It Will Be A Long Process

Workers walk past the collapsed and demolished Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside, Fla., on Tuesday.
Lynne Sladky
Workers walk past the collapsed and demolished Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside, Fla., on Tuesday.

Updated July 7, 2021 at 12:56 PM ET

Structural engineers trying to learn what caused the collapse of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fla., are expecting a long-term investigation.

Allyn Kilsheimer, an engineer working for the city, tells Morning Edition that it's not clear how long it will take to find a cause – or multiple causes, if that's the case. There hasn't been anything uncovered so far that points to a reason for the condo's partial collapse on June 24, he says. Engineers have been at the site since June 25.

"Right now, we're limited in what we can do in a way because we're not going to interfere with the rescue folks that are down on the pile," Kilsheimer says. "So we're working with all of the other things we can, and when they're finished with their job, then we'll be able to get on-site to do some additional testing and observations."

While rescue workers search, structural engineers have been running models and performing other work, he says. And because the site is considered a crime scene by Miami-Dade police, engineers are not sampling materials there. "[Police] need to do their thing first, so that just means it takes a little bit longer to get to what we want to do," he says.

The number of confirmed deaths is now 46, and rescue crews are still searching the rubble for as many as 94 missing people.

Here are excerpts of the Morning Edition conversation, edited for clarity and length:

Realistically, how long will it take to figure out what the cause of this disaster was?

There's no way to give you an answer to that. The bottom line is there's thousands of things we're looking at. There's all kinds of engineering calculations we're doing, models of everything. And then when we get involved in a collapse — unless it's something like the Pentagon or the World Trade Center or Oklahoma City, and those you know what the trigger was that caused the collapse. Here we don't know what the trigger is. So we essentially are looking at all the things that could possibly go wrong in a building design or construction and then we eliminate them as we can, one at a time, factually from an engineering standpoint, not from an opinion standpoint.

We try to do everything factually, and when we get to the end, we may or may not know a trigger. My experience is there may be more than one thing and it may be contributed to by other things, and so we have to evaluate that. So if something wasn't done perfectly, and it was OK, when the trigger happened, if that would have been done correctly, would that have stopped the triggers. So it's a very long, involved engineering process.

Do you have a sense that Florida's building codes or code enforcement will have to change significantly at all depending on what you find?

I think the answer is the current Florida building code is one of the best in the country based on our experience. But until we know what actually occurred here we won't know if we're going to suggest that they might make additional changes to it.

Now that the remaining portion of the Champlain Towers South building has been demolished, does that make it easier or harder to do your job?

It just makes it a little bit slower. The bottom line is we have an additional debris pile that we want to look through and it just makes ... more things that we have to do. The bottom line is we will be able to do everything we have to do, it just takes time to do it.

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Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.