As first responders continue a dangerous and difficult search for survivors of the condominium collapse in Surfside, municipalities across South Florida are planning a wave of inspections of aging buildings — and Key Biscayne is no exception.
Island charities, meanwhile, organized to help families at the site, just 13 miles north of Key Biscayne.
County officials said Sunday that nine are confirmed dead, with 150 additional people missing.
In Key Biscayne, Village Manager Steve Williamson will be assembling department heads Monday to start the process, which will first focus on a document review to learn which buildings are at greatest risk so that inspections can be prioritized.
The review will start with island buildings 35 years in age and older. County law requires condos and other structures to pass a recertification inspection after 40 years and at ten year intervals thereafter.
About half of the island’s 13,000 residents live in condos, most facing the ocean with the same hazards from the salt water environment to structures experienced by Surfside.
“We are going to make sure we are ahead of the game,” Williamson said Sunday.
He did not have preliminary figures on the number of island condominium buildings, but noted Key Biscayne hosts a number of structures that were constructed in the 1980s or before.
“We have learned so much since that time,” said Williamson. “We want to be partners with the condominiums” in the safety review, he said.
Reporting by the New York Times and other organizations indicated that the condo in Surfside was warned of structural damage likely caused by water leaks.
As the catastrophe unfolds, condo leaders on the island have been fielding questions from anxious residents.
“Oh my gosh,” said H. Frances Reaves, the president of the 314-unit Oceansound condominium that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. She said residents had been calling her asking if the building was covered by insurance. She will be writing residents to let them know the structure passed its 40-year-certification in 2019 and is already planning for the 50-year review process.
“There were several places where we had to repair spalling,” Reaves said. She said she was grateful Oceansound put concrete repairs into its reserve funding system to make sure funds were available. Spalling is a term used to describe flaking or chipping in concrete.
“We exceeded the statute requirements,” she said. Reaves credited late condo president Sergei Kowalchik, an engineer, for setting rigorous standards.
Reaves said the concrete repair costs were $135,000. But not all buildings have been as fortunate. The Botanica condo spent over $10 million years ago to restore concrete after various problems were spotted by engineers.
Steve Powel at the Ocean Club said he’s also heard questions and will be writing to residents shortly. That complex, he said, is a relative youngster with construction taking place about 20 years ago.
Village Connections and Charity
The Key Biscayne Community Foundation partnered with the Miami Foundation to help families whose lives have been sundered by the tragedy, raising $1.2 million from 6,500 individual donors.
“The focus is on families that are in crisis,” said Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, the Miami Foundation president. “We are seeing people that have lost everything,” with needs ranging from long term housing to medications to burial expenses.
Melissa McCaughan White of Key Biscayne’s foundation said the scope of the disaster galvanized the philanthropic community
“It pushed us into action,” she said.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.