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Could condo collapse happen in California? Local structural engineers weigh in

Local structural engineers say that California buildings can be about five-times stronger than those in Florida due to earthquake building codes.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — As the search for survivors of the building collapse near Miami stretches into its fifth day, the remains of eleven people have been found so far.

Officials said 150 others are still missing as rescuers search through the rubble.

It may still be several weeks or months until we find out how something of this magnitude happened and who is responsible. In the meantime, local structural engineers in the Sacramento region are weighing in on whether something like this could happen in California.

"Our team and myself probably assessed over 500,000 damaged or collapsed buildings around the world," said Dr. Kit Miyamoto, the Global CEO of Miyamoto International.

ABC10 first introduced you to him when he was sent to survey earthquake damage in Mexico City back in 2017. Today, working out of Davis, he's trying to piece together what happened in the Surfside condo collapse in Florida. 

"Structures made of concrete, pillars or columns and then the concrete floor sits on it, 12 levels, right? It's a heavy weight of construction, so if the bottom floor where the collapse is initiated from fails, everything essentially comes down. That's exactly what happened there," Miyamoto said.

But he says because of California's strict earthquake building codes, something like that is very unlikely to happen here. It all comes down to design.

California buildings have more of a redundant design reinforced with what they call more shear wall. 

"Essentially, kind of a spine in a body, in a sense. They had a very small one. Here, we probably have like five-times more than they do, so in a sense, (it's) like five times stronger," he said.

Even with a very slim chance of a condo collapse happening here in California, others say there's another looming important factor that every building owner needs to be looking at.  

"If something really does affect the structural integrity through lack of maintenance during the life of the building, no good design can prevent that," said Ryan Kersting, a licensed structural engineer representing the Structural Engineers Association of California.

Kersting said that, while our buildings can be stronger when they're up to earthquake code, the maintenance of those buildings is just as important to keep them standing. 

"Things like possible settlement of a foundation, possible water or moisture or pest infiltration - that may be a sign of something that causes a weakening of the structural components," he said.

Moving forward, Kersting said it's likely we could see local or even nationwide policy changes come out of Florida's tragedy. 

"I would say our industry is definitely going to be responding to this with the help of policy makers on the state and local level, and if we need to pass ordinances or laws to help us get there, I'm sure we'll be evaluating this as well," he said.


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