The collapse of a high-rise condo tower in South Florida early Thursday morning has left at least four people dead and 159 more currently unaccounted for. Now, as the search for survivors continues, a critical question looms: What caused the building to fall?? asks CNN on Saturday.
Officials are promising an urgent inquiry as engineers have said it is impossible, at this stage, to pinpoint a precise reason. Local officials familiar with the condo complex, which is only four decades old, have repeatedly shot down rumors that it was in any unusual state of disrepair.
An attorney for the building's condominium association, Kenneth Direktor, warned against early speculation. The building, he told CNN, had been subject to a series of inspections "over the last several months" as part of its milestone 40-year safety certification process
"Nothing like this was foreseeable," Direktor said. "At least it wasn't seen by the engineers who were looking at the building from a structural perspective."
The only repairs that recently took place, he added, were work on the roof.
At a press conference on Thursday, Surfside, Florida, Mayor Charles W. Burkett dismissed the suggestion that the rooftop repairs should have been a red flag. (It is unclear if the engineer's inspection process located any other concerns or recommended any other work).
"There's no reason for this building to go down like that unless someone literally pulls out the supports from underneath, or they get washed out, or there's a sinkhole or something like that because it just went down," Burkett said. "There was roof work being done, but there's roof work being done on buildings all the time."
Experts who observed footage of the disaster say the footage provided some baseline understanding of what happened, but little more.
"This collapse is a classic column failure. Which means the building itself was supported by a series of pillars. If the pillars fail, everything fails," said Kit Miyamoto, a structural engineer and California Seismic Safety Commission chairman.
Determining what set off that failure is a test that awaits federal, state and local engineers.
"The building was in the condition you would expect for a building that is 40 years old, that is located on the Atlantic Ocean," Direktor said.
But that proximity to the sea -- and the saltwater coming up off the ocean -- has been a recurring issue for experts trying to make sense of the disaster.