VT expert reacts to Florida building collapse

Published: Jun. 25, 2021 at 7:16 PM EDT
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - An expert at Virginia Tech said it is entirely too early to tell what caused a condominium building to collapse near Miami, Florida.

“It is really too early to tell what happened here, because in the past similar collapses, what we have found is there is not just one single cause for the failure,” said Roberto Leon. “There are a number of contributing factors so it’s very difficult at the beginning to tell what happened.”

Roberto Leon is the D.H. Burrows Professor of Construction Engineering at Virginia Tech who studies structural failures and has experience investigating structural collapses.

He told WDBJ7 he believes investigators will look at the video of the collapse pixel by pixel and will conduct an investigation of the land it was sitting on.

“Apparently this was a reclaimed wetland so I would look at more initially how that was backfilled in order to built on top of it than perhaps looking at some sort of sinkhole,” said Leon. “The people involved in this investigation are going to look at every possibility.”

The investigative process is time-consuming and painstaking and could take months.

“We start by looking at the plans by design, then we have the plans as built because there are changes made during the construction process,” Leon said. “As this pile of rubble gets put away we’re going to be looking to see if it was constructed as originally designed,” said Leon.

Investigators will look at the structure in detail. “To the level of detail that we want to know: Was this particular reinforcing bar the right size and was in the right position?” said Leon.

The building that houses condominiums was built in 1981 when standards were different than they are today.

It was probably designed to the standards of the time. But our standards have changed quite drastically over the last 40 years or so,” Leon said. “With the benefit of modern computer analysis, there could be some design issues that we see today that weren’t clear then.”

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