ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
What caused the deadly Surfside condo collapse that left 64 people confirmed dead and 76 more missing? It's been two weeks, and we still have very few answers. But NPR has found that nine months before the building fell, an engineering firm inspected the structure and found troubling problems in the concrete. Town officials and the condo association say they were never warned of any danger. NPR's Brian Mann has been reporting on this and joins us now. Hi, Brian.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: What can you tell us about the problems this engineering firm found?
MANN: So NPR reported earlier on a study prepared by a company called Morabito Consultants about this troubled building back in 2018. A separate document we acquired from an anonymous source describes a later and far more extensive probe of this building by the same firm. This went on from June through October just last year. And what they found, according to this memo, was severely deteriorated concrete, including erosion that appeared to penetrate deep into crucial load-bearing structures called corbels. And experts we've spoken to say that kind of erosion is alarming.
SHAPIRO: You've reported that engineers shared that earlier 2018 report with town officials. Did they alert the town of Surfside to these findings?
MANN: Town officials told NPR they never heard about this later investigation, and they also say at no time after 2018 did Morabito Consultants alert building inspectors that there were public safety issues or structural problems that might be dangerous to residents. I asked Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett about this.
CHARLES BURKETT: There didn't seem to be any sense of urgency or emergency.
MANN: And a spokesperson for the condo association board, Max Marcucci, said residents, too, were never warned by Morabito Consultants.
MAX MARCUCCI: At no time did the board ever receive any indication that there was any risk of imminent collapse to the building or that any evacuation was necessary.
MANN: What NPR found is that Morabito's team of engineers did report finding these serious problems. They reported that to the condo association. But those details were often mingled with more routine discussions of cosmetic problems, plans for upgrading the building's lobby and recreation area and parking. So what we didn't find in this memo or in other documents from last year was any statement that these were urgent issues.
SHAPIRO: How has this firm, Morabito Consultants, responded?
MANN: A spokesperson for the firm declined to answer a list of detailed questions sent by NPR, nor would he talk at all about that 2020 probe of the building. Instead, Morabito sent a prepared statement referring again to that earlier 2018 investigation, which did include language about repairs needing to be done - and I'm quoting here, Ari - "to ensure the safety of the residents and the public." Now, one interesting thing about this firm is that they built their reputation in part by helping save another Florida condo that was at risk of collapse 10 years ago. In their statement, Morabito said on this project, too, they acted responsibly, and they're now cooperating with investigations.
SHAPIRO: Is it clear that these findings are directly related to the building's collapse?
MANN: No, and the experts we've spoken to say it will take months to identify the chain of events that produced such a catastrophic building failure. And it's also important to say that some experts we spoke to believe these engineers did provide enough information, that the condo board should have acted faster. Greg Schlesinger is a Florida contractor and attorney who specializes in cases involving construction and building problems.
GREG SCHLESINGER: They failed to do what a reasonably prudent condo association board would have done under similar circumstances. That's the legal standard. They failed to do it. They failed.
MANN: And NPR did acquire some memos where the condo's leadership seemed aware of the gravity of the building's problems. But, again, Morabito Consultants - they were the experts who studied this building over a long period of time. So as these investigations go forward now, Ari, it's going to be important to learn exactly what this company saw before the condo collapsed and what it did with that information.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Brian Mann, who's in Miami Beach as part of our team reporting on the Surfside condo collapse. Thank you, Brian.
MANN: Thank you.
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