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Engineers Warned Of Widespread Structural Issues Before Surfside Collapse

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

It was another heart-wrenching day in Surfside, Fla., as rescue crews scoured the ruins of the condominium that collapsed early Thursday. No more survivors were found today, and 159 people are still missing. The day also brought news of a warning from three years ago. An engineer's report found widespread structural problems in the building. NPR's Brian Mann is in Miami Beach and joins us now. Hi, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: Brian, what does this report tell us about the condition of the building before it collapsed?

MANN: Well, what it doesn't say, Sarah, is, you know, that there's a clear smoking gun here. We still don't know exactly why this condominium fell. But this report does reveal really granular detail about a building that was in disrepair, not just cosmetically but real decay in some of the concrete beams. The foundation - really, throughout the structure, there were problems that the engineers felt needed to be addressed quickly. This was three years ago. Local officials and experts NPR has spoken through - to through the day - they tell us that these warnings did need to be looked at right away.

Again, important to say this investigation is still underway. We still don't have a solid answer. And what's interesting - today, officials have also launched an emergency 30-day audit of other older buildings throughout the area, looking to see if there may be other structural deficiencies in other buildings.

MCCAMMON: And now another day without finding any additional survivors must be horrific for families. How are they doing?

MANN: Yeah, the emotional strain is just enormous right now. Tina Paul, who's vice mayor of Surfside, was at one of the informational meetings this morning with families. She said people are understandably frustrated by the lack of progress.

TINA PAUL: It was pretty emotional. People want answers, and they want their loved ones found. And they're thinking that not enough is being done. That was - what I heard is not enough is being done.

MANN: Officials here say they are throwing every resource at this, trying to dig through that pile. But, Sarah, it's just slow, brutal work.

MCCAMMON: Tell us more about that, Brian. I mean, what obstacles are the rescuers facing now?

MANN: Yeah, in addition to this unstable, densely packed pile of rubble, there's also this simmering fire that's burning somewhere deep inside, creating this terrible pall of smoke. The mayor of Miami-Dade County, Daniella Levine Cava, talked about that challenge earlier today.

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DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA: We created a trench using heavy equipment to try to isolate the fire and continue searching for victims in the part of the pile that they - that we can access.

MANN: And that work is so difficult that they're rotating crews, quickly. Teams from as far away as Israel and Mexico are helping.

MCCAMMON: And what else are you hearing there, Brian, from people in the community?

MANN: A lot of support but also just a lot of sorrow. I was down on the beach near the disaster site today. And I met Luc Zenedith Giraldo (ph) from South Beach. She said she just came there to pray and to grieve.

LUC ZENEDITH GIRALDO: I feel so sad about it. Maybe one survivor and this more many underground feel alone, feel maybe no hope.

MANN: And again, officials say they do still hold out hope that some survivors might be found in pockets or cavities under the rubble pile. They say they're going to just keep working around the clock to try to make that happen.

MCCAMMON: NPR's Brian Mann in Miami Beach. Thanks, Brian.

MANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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