Contractor Assists with Recovery in Collapsed Surfside Building
On Thursday, June 24, 2021, the luxury beachfront condominium Champlain Towers South, part of a North
and South complex in Surfside, Florida, unexpectedly collapsed at approximately 1:25 a.m. with an unknown number of residents still inside. Survivors of the incident say they were awoken to the sound of fire alarms blaring, the building shaking and debris falling. Security footage from neighboring buildings shows distressing footage of the building collapsing floor by floor into itself. This shocking tragedy not only shook the Miami suburb, but the entire nation.
Immediately, Miami-Dade Police and Fire and Rescue were on the scene with equipment, search dogs and more than 80 rescue units to begin rescuing survivors of the collapsed condominium tower. The partial collapse of the tower had left 55 of the 130 units destroyed, with the rest of the tower experiencing structural damage that locked residents in their apartments, on their balconies or in stairwells. Some residents were even trapped in the flooded underground parking garage with no way to escape. Immediately crews began pulling residents from the rubble using cranes and ladder trucks, prying the doorways open and removing wreckage to create openings for the survivors.
Mayor of Miami-Dade County, Levine Cava and Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis both signed emergency orders for the disaster, and by June 25th, President Biden had signed an Emergency Declaration authorizing the use of federal assistance to fund the emergency search operation, create support for survivors and investigate the cause of the tragedy. FEMA and other federal agencies mobilized immediately and were at the scene to assist within hours. Contractor Reliable Concrete Cutting LLC of South Florida was contacted directly by the city of Surfside to assist in recovery.
Upon arrival, it was unknown how many possible survivors or victims remained in the debris. Firefighters and FEMA task force members were already using jackhammers and hand tools in addition to heavy equipment to chip away at layers of the rubble in search of air pockets. However, the remainder of the partially collapsed building was dangerously unstable, quoted by the Reliable team as, “tipping and creaking,” as search efforts continued, putting the recovery teams’ safety at risk. When Reliable operators arrived onsite on June 25th, they immediately recommended for the Fire and Rescue teams to cease use of the jackhammers that were being used to chip the debris, as it was causing more instability.
Reliable operators used a Diamond Products Weka DK12 handheld core drill to drill 6-inch holes into the debris, allowing rescue teams to insert cameras to see if there was anyone inside the air pockets that had not been rescued yet. As the crews worked around the clock in alternating 12-hour-on and
12-hour-off shifts, operators began using ICS 890 hydraulic powered chainsaws and World Diamond Source Ripper 20- and 24-inch hand saws to cut the large chunks of concrete carefully enough to not risk hurting any survivors or damaging any evidence. Jackhammers, wrecking balls and other methods of demolition would not only compromise the integrity of the already unstable building, but could make the situation far worse.
By the end of the day on June 24th, at least 35 people were rescued, 159 were unaccounted for and one person was confirmed dead. Rescue efforts by FEMA, Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue, Reliable and many other teams continued throughout the following days. The crews cut through and helped remove debris as gently as possible, and all debris was removed via crane. The grueling process required that as one area was broken down and the debris transported away, Reliable operators had to move all the machinery and equipment to the newly cleared area and start again.
The death toll continued to rise and by June 29th, over 3 million pounds of concrete had been removed in search of survivors and victims. Ongoing structural engineering assessments showed that the remaining portion of the tower was dangerously unstable, presenting a hazard to rescue and recovery teams working on site. By July 2nd, the death toll had risen to 20 with 128 still missing, and with Tropical Storm Elsa approaching Miami, Mayor Cava ordered the building demolished as soon and as safely possible. On July 4th at 10:40 p.m., the building was demolished by Controlled Demo Inc. via controlled explosives and the search for survivors continued, now with access to areas previously inaccessible. By July 7th, the death toll had risen to 46 with 94 still missing. At this point, the operation, now in its 14th day, was shifted from a rescue mission to a recovery mission.
Following demolition, the Reliable team began concentrating efforts to assist in breaking down the concrete for removal. In addition to the hand tools, Diamond Products WS25 wire saws with hydraulic power packs were used to cut the large pieces into small enough pieces to be flown away by crane. Tropical Storm Elsa made landfall on July 6th, bringing even heavier rainfall than Florida’s tropical climate is accustomed to, as well as lightning storms that would halt all work being done on the Champlain Towers South cleanup. Through the difficulties this project presented, the site was cleared by crews faster than expected, and in about six weeks, the rubble was clear. The remaining victims were recovered, bringing the total to a tragic 98 lives lost in this collapse. The Surfside collapse is tied as the third-deadliest structural engineering failure in United States history.
As the original search, rescue and salvage contract for Reliable was completed, they were awarded additional work by the general contractor, Alpha Demolition, to continue working on the Champlain Towers South cleanup, as well as GPR testing surrounding buildings for similar structural issues. Ben Kooby of Reliable Concrete Cutting said about this project, “Despite the horrible circumstances and the 98 lives lost, it was incredible to see so many people and organizations come together. From the police department to the city, the survivors and families, the general contractors and subcontractors; everyone came together in a collective effort. What was accomplished could not have been done without this level of community. We are also incredibly proud to be involved in the efforts moving forward to not let this happen again.”
Reliable Concrete Cutting LLC is headquartered in Pompano Beach, Florida and has 40 employees and a fleet of 30 trucks. They offer slab sawing, deep sawing, curb sawing, wire sawing, core drilling, chain sawing, hand sawing, chipping and demolition, concrete pavement joint widening, sawing and sealing and barrier wall removal. They opened their doors in January of 2014.
Reliable Concrete Cutting LLC
Contact for Story: Ben Kooby
Core Drilling, Wire Sawing, Hand Sawing