- A Champlain Towers East resident toured units in the North and South buildings last summer.
- But Fiorella Terenzi said she was struck by damage on several balconies, which dissuaded her.
- In the aftermath of Champlain Towers South’s collapse, Terenzi is calling for more accountability.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Last week, officials voiced “significant concerns” about the structural integrity of Champlain Towers South’s neighboring structure, Champlain Towers North, two weeks after the South building’s devastating collapse killed at least 97 residents.
One year ago, Fiorella Terenzi documented damage on balconies in both the South and North towers during apartment tours in the complex.
Terenzi, 59, had lived in the Champlain Towers complex for 12 years when she began considering a move from her home in the East building to a unit in the North or South tower.
Terenzi’s home in the East building was newer than the units she was eyeing – Champlain Towers East was built more than a decade after the North and South buildings’ 1981 and 1982 respective constructions. But the other properties had a desirable upgrade from her current home: oceanfront property.
The Italian-born astrophysicist and professor told Insider she watched from her apartment in Surfside, Florida, as renovations took place at Champlain Towers North in early summer 2020, waiting until she saw the last of the scaffolding come down before starting her search for a new unit in August.
But during her apartment tours in both Champlain Towers North and South, Terenzi said she was struck by detached stucco, rusted rebar, and cracking concrete on several balconies in both the North and South buildings.
Terenzi said the obvious disarray, which she documented with photographs and video, as well as confirmation from the building’s condo association via her realtor that Champlain Towers North’s roof would soon need to be redone, led her to forgo buying a unit in one of the sister towers.
She told Insider she put the experience out of her mind.
But the inconceivable collapse of the 12-story Champlain Towers South building last month has brought to light an ever-growing list of red flags that surrounded the fated building before its downfall and sparked Terenzi’s memory of her own unpleasant time in the tower and its sister building.
Documents released by the town of Surfside, Florida, after the collapse reveal an engineering consultant, Frank Morabito, found evidence of “abundant” cracking and fragmentation of the columns, beams, and walls in the Champlain Towers South garage in October 2018, as well as hairline cracking on the balcony structural floor slabs, and splintering in the concrete columns and exterior walls of the South building.
Forensic investigators are looking into what caused the collapse; it’s still unclear why the tower fell.
Last month’s collapse triggered memories of Terenzi’s tours in both Champlain Towers North and South
Terenzi was asleep in the early morning of Thursday, June 24, when a series of “rumblings” awoke her. She thought it could have been a thunderstorm, or perhaps a bomb, and walked to her balcony to investigate.
“I saw debris and realized something severe happened,” she said.
Terenzi rushed downstairs to evacuate and snapped a photo of the scene at 1:57 a.m. local time – fewer than 40 minutes after the South Tower collapsed. The next hours were pandemonium, she said, as she and other East Tower evacuees waited on the beach for any information.
In the days since the collapse, Terenzi said she has begun trying to process the devastation. She left her apartment for good, taking up residence in Los Angeles, and was eventually able to confirm that one of her friends who lived in the collapsed building had been safely rescued.
It wasn’t until one week after the collapse, as she was scrolling through her iPhone, that she said she stumbled across a folder of photos and videos she took during her tours of Champlain Towers North and South last August and realized how close she came to catastrophe.
“I wiped out that memory totally,” Terenzi said. “I said ‘oh my goodness, I could have bought that, I could have been there, or I could have been in the North tower.'”
In 2020, Terenzi documented damage on several balconies in the North and South towers
One photo Terenzi took and shared with Insider shows an up-close view of the bottom of a balcony in Champlain Towers North with large cracks in the structure and discoloring:
A video Terenzi took of the now-collapsed Champlain Towers South shows similar disrepair on the bottom side of multiple balconies. In a 15-second video shared with Insider, Terenzi scans up part of the South building, zooming in on at least four balconies that appear to be damaged in some way, including cracks in the structures, peeling paint, and other issues.
After her tour, Terenzi said she became more inquisitive about the damage, especially since she had watched renovations on the North tower being completed mere months before she began her search. She said she walked the perimeter of Champlain Towers North several times, curious if other balconies appeared to be as damaged as the ones she observed during her visit. Terenzi said she found several.
“So something was not right,” she said. “If they did the restoration … how can a building break down again in what is the most important part of an oceanfront building?”
Days after Terenzi’s tour, she said she was sitting at her East tower pool when she noticed the building manager out on the balcony of the North tower unit she had previously expressed interest in buying.
Using her camera to zoom in, and later investigating up-close, Terenzi said she saw the cracks in the balconies had been patched up with what she called “a Band-Aid job.”
“Sure enough, the same job was done on all other balconies and they went ahead and repainted everything so it looks immaculate, looks perfect,” Terenzi said of the repairs done on Champlain Towers North.
“But I know what is … under that thick layer of paint,” she added.
Naum Lusky, president of Champlain Towers North’s condominium association board, told Insider that it’s certainly possible there was damage to the building’s balconies when Terenzi toured.
“In 40 years, you have to expect those things to happen,” Lusky said.
But he said the Champlain Towers North board makes immediate repairs to any and all damage in the building. Lusky said within the last two years, a restoration project was completed on all of the North building’s balconies in order to prevent water damage that caused rusted rebar.
“So right now, all the balconies are all beautiful,” he said of Champlain Towers North.
A representative from Levick, the crisis communications firm that has been fielding media requests for the Champlain Towers South condo association board since the collapse, declined to answer specific questions about damage to the South Tower’s balconies in Summer 2020 but did tell Insider that the surviving members of the board have concluded that an independent receiver will be appointed to oversee the legal and claims process.
“We know that answers will take time as part of a comprehensive investigation and we will continue to work with city, state, local, and federal officials in their rescue efforts, and to understand the causes of this tragedy,” the statement said.
Resident rumors of a run-down roof also dissuaded Terenzi from buying a unit in Champlain Towers North
Around the same time as her tours last summer, Terenzi said she began hearing rumors from residents in Champlain Towers North that the building’s roof needed to be redone. She enlisted her realtor to inquire about whether or not the rumblings were true.
In an email exchange between Terenzi and her realtor from August 19, 2020, reviewed by Insider, the agent told Terenzi that she spoke with a unit owner in the North tower whose wife served on the building’s condo association board. The resident told Terenzi’s realtor there were “between 5-10 years” remaining on Champlain Towers North’s roof, referencing the most recent assessment report for the building.
Terenzi’s agent said the resident told her the roof “is in very good shape,” and that the condo board projected to have reserves of $300,000 should the roof need replacing within five years.
Lusky told Insider he didn’t know for certain how long the roof of Champlain Towers North had until it needed to be replaced.
Champlain Towers North’s mandatory 40-year building inspection is set for next year, but Lusky said work with inspectors has already begun ahead of schedule and will accelerate even more as a result of the South tower’s collapse. He told Insider Champlain Towers North has undergone seven engineering inspections since the South tower’s collapse.
Lusky emphasized that the Champlain Towers North board has always addressed issues in the building as they happen in order to avoid the need for the type of major repair project required in the South building before its collapse.
“They shouldn’t have any concern about it,” said Lusky, who has chosen to stay in his home in the Champlain Towers North as a show of confidence. “There is nothing to hide here.”
Terenzi wants accountability for her neighbors who died and for those who remain next door
While inspectors have since performed examinations of Champlain Towers North and engineers have said the collapse of the South tower doesn’t necessarily mean the North tower or other buildings in the vicinity are at an increased risk of collapse, some residents in the sister towers are still wary.
“I fear for Champlain Towers North to collapse,” Terenzi said, citing the damage she witnessed last summer.
Her lingering concerns spurred her to come up with a list of questions she wants unequivocally answered about her own building before she’ll consider returning. She wants data on the movement of the structure, and measurements of the chloride level, moisture, concrete, and rebar, and the weight of the balcony. She’s rallying her fellow residents to demand answers, as well.
“We need that,” Terenzi said. “The city of Surfside and the condominium association must step up.”
“For every building I want to buy … I will be asking for that information,” she added. “If they don’t provide, I’m gone.”
Marta Irastorza Castro, a fellow Champlain Towers East resident and a friend of Terenzi’s, told Insider she’s chosen to stay in her unit but seeks more answers from management.
“We’re getting absolutely no information,” she said. “They have to get their act together in this building.”
She acknowledges she was “terribly concerned” in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, fielding calls from worried family members pleading with her to leave. But for the time being, she said she feels comfortable.
“I feel secure for now,” Irastorza Castro said. “I am concerned about the building what is going on, but I know I’m not in imminent danger.”