DeSantis says 'sister building' of collapsed condo structure may be evacuated

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisHaley hits the stump in South Carolina Democratic frustration growing over stagnating voting rights bills A sad reality: In a season of giving, most will ignore America's poor MORE (R) said Saturday that out of an abundance of caution, local officials are considering evacuating residents of a "sister building" to the Surfside, Fla., condo structure that collapsed this week, citing structural similarities between the two buildings.

Residents have remained inside Champlain Towers North since the collapse of Champlain Towers South on Thursday. At least four people died in the 12-story condo tower collapse, while 159 remain unaccounted for as emergency responders comb through debris for a third day.

During a Saturday morning press conference with Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava (D) and other local officials, DeSantis responded to a reporter’s question on the safety of the north tower by saying that he and Cava had spoken with Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett, who said Friday that he planned to recommend that people move out of the second building. 

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“It was built at the same time with the same designer, so they are looking at working with them, and I know they are considering potentially evacuating them, but that’s something that ultimately the mayor is going to have to make the call on,” DeSantis said. 

“I don’t know if there’s indications that there’s any problems with that building, but just given the similarities, given the same age, they think that that may be something,” the governor continued, adding that he believed Burkett, who was not present at the press briefing, would have an announcement on whether an evacuation would take place later Saturday. 

Burkett later said he is attempting to arrange an emergency inspection of the sister building and is working on a plan to relocate residents if needed, according to the Associated Press.

“If there are those folks that feel confident that there is not an issue, we don’t want to force them out of their homes,” Burkett said. “However, for those that are frightened and concerned, I wanted to make sure that they had options.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay for residents who decide to temporarily relocate, although it is unclear where they will go, Burkett said. 

When reached for comment, Surfside Communications Director Malarie Dauginikas told The Hill that town officials were “working with experts to determine if any necessary and immediate measures need to be taken.” 

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“The safety of our residents is our highest priority,” she said. “Should the decision be made to evacuate residents from this tower, we will work directly with FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] and the Red Cross to ensure all arrangements are made to ensure their safety and make them comfortable.” 

Both buildings of the Champlain Towers condo complex were built in 1981 by the same construction company with nearly identical designs. 

According to The New York Times, Burkett initially said at a town commission meeting Friday that he did not feel “philosophically comfortable” ordering people to evacuate but that he couldn’t “assure” that the “building is safe.” 

A 2018 structural report released by the town of Surfside on Friday evening revealed that an engineering consultant had warned of “major structural damage” to the Champlain Towers South condominium complex, including “abundant cracking and spalling of varying degrees” in the “concrete columns, beams, and walls” of the ground floor parking garage. 

The report had prompted repairs to be scheduled for the building, which Kenneth Direktor, a lawyer who represents the condo association, said were set to begin soon. 

No new survivors were reported by city officials on Saturday morning.

Officials have struggled to battle pop-up fires at the site and poor weather as they continue to search through the rubble for any other survivors.

Updated 4:54 p.m.

Lexi Lonas contributed