Florida condo collapse echoes tragedies in Brazil, Egypt and India – where lax oversight takes heavy toll

Shown is the top portion of the building as rescue crews continue to look for survivors Sunday at the collapsed Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside, Fla. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Ricky Carioti.

Around the world, in countries with paltry building codes, little enforcement of existing rules and the proliferation of informal housing, tragedies like Thursday’s (June 24, 2021) building collapse in Florida – where scores of people are still missing – have taken a heavy toll.

Among the missing is the first cousin of a former president of Chile, where in 2019 at least six people died when two houses collapsed in the port city of Valparaiso. Others are from Argentina and Colombia, sites of two deadly building tragedies that killed at least a dozen people in each country in 2013.

On Friday, five people were killed in the coastal Egyptian city of Alexandria after a five-story building collapsed – an all-too-frequent event in a country where planning permits are often bypassed or violated and makeshift structures house millions of people.

At least two people died in Brazil when a four-story residential building crumbled June 3 in a slum in Rio de Janeiro, were organized crime is known to have a hand in shoddy construction projects.

The disaster in Surfside shocked many Americans who are unaccustomed to such events.

“These buildings do not fall down like this in First World countries,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said on Thursday after the partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South building. “This is a Third World event, and we need to understand why this happened.”

It could, however, be weeks or even months before investigators can determine a cause. A 2018 report warned of “major structural damage” in the concrete below the condominium’s pool deck.

There have also been long-standing concerns about the impact of rising sea tides on buildings in Florida’s coastal communities, which are popular real estate destinations for international buyers, especially Latin Americans. Some real estate agents are worried that the disaster could impact foreign interest in investing in the area, the Palm Beach Post reported.

Elsewhere, the conditions behind these catastrophes have become endemic.

In Brazil, dozens of people have died in recent years when buildings have suddenly collapsed. Lax oversight and structural hazards have long plagued Brazil’s urban infrastructure, which has fallen into further decline as the country’s economic stagnation has sidelined much-needed maintenance. Economic woes have in turn pushed people further into poverty and exacerbated a housing shortage. As a result, some families have resorted to living in abandoned and unsafe properties or have built makeshift homes in city slums. In 2011, mudslides killed hundreds living on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro.

In India, buildings are routinely at risk of collapse during the annual monsoon rains. The night of June 9, at least 11 people, including eight children, were killed in Mumbai when a two-story building collapsed on nearby structures, the BBC reported. Local authorities said it was likely due to heavy rains.

Rescue crew members search through rubble at Champlain Towers South. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Ricky Carioti.

For years authorities have allowed people in densely populated areas of Mumbai to build low-cost houses without proper permits or safety requirements – homes that are at extra risk each rainy season, according to the BBC.

Similarly in Egypt, massive population growth coupled with shortages in affordable housing have led to the rise of informal slums, called ashwaayat, where people live in crowded neighborhoods that developed without any official government planning. These communities often have little access to basics like water and sewage and are often at high risk of mudslides and other infrastructure dangers. About a quarter of Egypt’s population lives in slums, according to Reuters. Even in formally planned neighborhoods, many people build homes and extra floors without acquiring the proper permits.

In Colombia in 2013, a recently built 24-story building in a high-end neighborhood was evacuated after residents reported cracks in the walls. The company that built the structure concluded there was a flaw in its concrete column. But the day after the evacuation, a pillar in the building gave way and the building collapsed. The accident killed about a dozen people, including two security guards, workers sent to investigate the building, and a resident who had reportedly returned, according to the BBC.




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