Miami Condo Collapse Raises Concerns of Flooding, Sea-Level Rise

Image: Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department, Wikimedia Commons

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

condo collapse in Miami is prompting new conversations about the threats rising sea levels and flooding present to the nation’s infrastructure. Experts say that it’s too early to determine whether or not climate change contributed to the partial collapse of the Champlain Towers. But they also warn that as sea levels rise and cities sink, everything from sky-rises to bridges could be at risk of catastrophic damage. Now, cities like Miami are racing to save their foundations.

Why This Matters: Almost 10% of the world’s population lives at 10 meters below sea level or lower, and some cities are sinking rapidly. Due to a process called subsidence, whereby aquifers are drained, the soil is eroded, and ground sinks, cities are increasingly at risk of flooding and infrastructure damage.

Sea-level has risen by 12 inches in Miami over the past century, rising 6 inches since the mid-1990s. Experts say that corroding building foundations will be one of the most significant threats to coastal infrastructure, but city residents and officials can’t agree on a course of action.

The end result of sinking buildings can be devastating as 11 people are confirmed dead from the Miami condo collapse and 150 are still missing. Here’s how you can help the victims of the Surfside disaster.

The Harder They Fall: In the case of Miami, the city’s porous limestone foundation acts as a sponge that soaks up water. As increasingly powerful storms bombard the coast, that sponge often overflows, damaging foundations, septic tanks, and freshwater supplies. “The groundwater enters the pores of the concrete and ultimately weakens it and erodes it,” said Albert Slap, the chief executive of RiskFootprint. “So, the foundations are subject to a lot of geological forces that could compact the soil underneath. It could cause voids. We just don’t know.

Shimon Wdowinski, a professor at Florida International University, conducted a study in April 2020 and found that Champlain Towers South had sunk by 2 millimeters annually from 1993 to 1999. Despite this, a recent inspection found no cause for alarm. “There was nothing in the report that would have indicated a life-safety concern,” said an attorney for the condominium, Kenneth Direktor.

But Slap says that the event should be a wake-up call. “This is a tragic, devastating event, and it could be a canary-in-the-coal-mine-type event,” said Slap, noting that many buildings in the city already rely on sump-pumps to evacuate groundwater. “It’s not just one building. This could be something that could affect other buildings.”

Left With Few Options: In April, the city of Miami released a storm-water master plan and reported that it would cost the city $4 billion over the next four decades to fight sea-level rise. The town has proposed sea walls and underground piping, but coastal residents aren’t satisfied with the measures. Earlier this month, a proposal to build a 20-foot sea wall along Biscayne bay was met with opposition from residents who worried it would tank property values. Another plan suggested to instead build a large dune with mangroves and oyster reefs. A finalized plan is expected this fall, and advocates are hopeful that it can unite the city against climate change.

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