Miami Beach condo building evacuated near deadly collapse

Oct 27, 2022, 11:39 PM | Updated: Oct 28, 2022, 1:28 pm
An unsafe building notice marks the chained off beach entrance to the Port Royale building at 6969 ...

An unsafe building notice marks the chained off beach entrance to the Port Royale building at 6969 Collins Ave., after it was ordered evacuated Thursday due to concerns over its structural safety, in Miami Beach, Fla., Friday, Oct. 28, 2022. An evacuation order has abruptly forced out residents of a 14-story oceanfront building on the same avenue where a condominium collapse killed nearly 100 people last year. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

MIAMI BEACH (AP) — An evacuation order has abruptly forced out residents of a 14-story oceanfront building on the same avenue where a condominium collapse killed nearly 100 people last year.

The city posted an unsafe structure notice Thursday evening at the Port Royale condominium, Miami Beach spokesperson Melissa Berthier said in an email.

A structural engineering report prompted the evacuation of the 164-unit structure, which is in the process of undergoing a required recertification. An engineer discovered that a main support beam identified for repair 10 months ago had shifted and that a crack in the beam had expanded, and other structural supports may need repair as well, the report said.

One resident, renovation contractor Marash Markaj, who lived in the building for more than six years, said the damage extends beyond a single support beam.

“I’ve seen the issues for many years,” Markaj told The Associated Press. He said he tried to report the issues – including cracks in a column and water standing in the garage area for weeks at a time – to the building management and to the city’s building department.

“I was never able to get a response,” he said, adding that he was feeling “unsafe” living in the building and with the way the building’s maintenance was handled.

Inspection Engineers Inc. said in a letter to the city that it’s working to obtain a city permit so that “comprehensive shoring” can be installed within 10 days. That will be followed by another inspection of the building, which was constructed in 1971.

During an inspection about 10 months ago, engineers found “areas of concern that we designated as a priority to be repaired,” Arshad Vioar said in an email sent to the Miami Beach Building Department.

The building’s association selected a contractor and the repairs started about four weeks ago. The firm that inspected the building was asked to supervise the work and this week “noticed that one of the main beams in the garage had experienced a structural deflection of approximately ½ inch and also the existing crack that was marked for repair had extended,” Vioar said in the email.

The handful of condo residents who returned to the site Friday morning to see what was happening included Felicia Flores, 71, who lived in the building 15 years, and now has gone to stay with her daughter nearby. She swung by while walking her small dog. She said work was being done on the building for a few weeks but that something changed Thursday.

“It appears there was something more serious, so we had to leave all of a sudden,” Flores said.

Miami Beach officials said condo owners who rented out their units were on the hook under local laws to cover temporary housing for renters for up to three months or until the building was habitable again.

Samy Bosch, who lived in building for nine years, said the residents were given very little time to move out. They were told at 5 p.m. Thursday that they had to be out by 7 p.m.

“We don’t know exactly what’s going on inside there but we can’t stay. That’s it,” Bosch said, as he returned on a scooter to observe the scene on Friday morning.

The Port Royale is about 1.3 miles (2 kilometers) south of the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Florida, also on Collins Avenue, where 98 people were killed in a June 2021 collapse.

The disaster at the 12-story oceanfront condo building in Surfside drew the largest non-hurricane emergency response in Florida history, including rescue crews from across the U.S. and as far away as Israel to help local teams search for victims.

Other buildings in South Florida have been evacuated amid similar safety concerns since the Surfside collapse.

The disaster focused scrutiny on the structural integrity of aging condominium towers throughout Florida, especially along its coastlines, and the state has since moved to strengthen laws requiring inspections and periodic recertification of buildings.

Miami-Dade County had required the first recertification only after 40 years and the Surfside building was undergoing that recertification process when it collapsed.

New state rules signed into law in May require buildings to have their first recertification after 30 years, or 25 if they are within 3 miles (5 kilometers) of the coast, and then every 10 years thereafter.

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Miami Beach condo building evacuated near deadly collapse