In the Suburbs: The building collapse a horrible tragedy

For some, bedtime came at its usual time along with “uninterrupted” sleep or so they thought. For others, perhaps, there was late-night television or maybe perpetual insomnia. But as observers, we’ll never know that, because just before dawn on June 24, half of a condominium in Surfside Beach, Florida with 55 apartment units collapsed. Dust and tons of rubble became a tomb.

As of Wednesday, 12 deaths have been reported with about 149 people not accounted for. Some, who were either warned or sensed imminent disaster got out through the safe side of the building. Today, similar on a smaller scale to Sept. 11, 2001, an array of victim photographs, stuffed animals and bouquets continues to grow.

I watched in disbelief as footage of the collapse replayed hundreds of times on the news. And like all the family members who waited and watched, I too held out hope until this week that at least some of the 150-plus victims would be found. My heart ached because there could possibly be no closure.

By early this week, I watched search dogs wandering aimlessly with little more than a faint scent of humanity along with search and rescue teams, now gathering human remains and pieces of once occupied condominiums to begin establishing a memorial.

Having a home in Florida is not a foreign concept for many Connecticut residents who may be among the 700,000 snowbirds who flock to the south for the winter or decided to relocate there.

Back in the 1970s, we lived in Florida in Tamarac outside Fort Lauderdale for about three years. We loved the beachfront properties along the coast line, we visited my grandparents in Bona Vida in Miami near the Inter coastal waterway and stayed at the Fort Lauderdale Hilton on the beach near Pompano. But we had no desire to live in any of those properties back then and we never stopped to think that there may have been anything structurally wrong with those buildings, which were probably built in the 60s as part of the luxury.

The property that collapsed, the 12-story Champlain Towers, was built 40 years ago in 1981 as one of the new pristine additions to the Surfside area.

The cause of the collapse remains unknown as experts piece together the chronology that could have led to the collapse.

A National Public Radio piece I saw looks at reports completed on the building in 2018 and 2020, detailing numerous problems with the building, recommending extensive repairs in the near future. According to the story, local officials said they were unaware of the 2018 report following the building’s collapse.

I can only envision the grief and emptiness that families and friends are feeling as search and rescue or recovery continues. But I only know that the true tragedy here, beyond the human loss, is the possibility that this disaster might have been averted.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at stevengaynes44@gmail.com.