U.Md. professor discusses possible causes of Florida condo building collapse

Figuring out why a condominium building near Miami collapsed earlier this week could take months. But a University of Maryland professor who specializes in structural engineering, has some theories.

Professor Chung Fu with the A. James Clark School of Engineering said sea level rise could have led the 13-story building, which was built on reclaimed wetlands, to shift.

Another possibility is salt damage to the building’s structure.

“Reinforcement inside concrete will rust due to the seawaters,” said Fu.

A study published just last year found the condo had been sinking for decades.

“Sinking, if it’s uniform, it’s not a big deal. It happens to all the coastal buildings,” Fu said, adding that its uneven sinking that you have to worry about. “If there’s an uneven settlement, you lose one of the columns and you’ll probably lose the building.”

Fu said the tragedy could lead to new building codes and requirements, especially in the area of Florida where it happened.

“This is a big warning for building owners,” he said.

When he first learned of the disaster, Fu said his thoughts turned to the possibility of foul play or a Sept. 11 style attack. He changed his mind after learning more of the facts, and said investigators have much more to learn about what happened.

“Engineers, we don’t forecast. We don’t predict,” Fu said. “We want to use the evidence to tell the story.”

Michelle Basch

Michelle Basch is a reporter and anchor at WTOP.

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