The Miami-area apartment building that crashed to the ground in a horrifying early-morning collapse Thursday had been experiencing “issues” for years, and it was even the subject of a scientific study last year that warned of it sinking into the earth.
The Champlain Towers complex in Surfside, Florida, was the subject of at least one lawsuit over the maintenance of the structure’s outer walls. In addition, the building attracted the attention of scientists alarmed over flooding and land erosion.
According to a Florida International University professor who co-authored a study focused on the issue last year, the complex had been sinking into the earth bit by bit since the 1990s, at one point at a rate of about 2 millimeters per year.
Professor Shimon Wdowinski and co-author Simone Fiaschi were examining increases in flooding frequency, and found that in addition to rising sea levels, flooding was “significantly higher” in areas along the southeastern coast that had been sinking into the earth due to urban development and compacted sediment on what was (at least in part) reclaimed marshland. At the same time, Wdowinski pointed out that “land subsidence,” or a settling of the ground, “in and of itself likely would not cause a building’s collapse.”
The collapse at Champlain Towers left at least four people dead, although authorities are still combing through the rubble and expect the number of fatalities to rise. At least 35 survivors have been pulled from the rubble. Another 99 people remain unaccounted for.