The city of North Miami Beach ordered the evacuation of a condominium building Friday after a review found unsafe conditions about 8km from the site of last week's deadly collapse in South Florida.
An audit prompted by the collapse of Champlain Towers South in nearby Surfside found the 156-unit Crestview Towers had been deemed structurally and electrically unsafe in January, the city said in a news release.
Officials did not immediately release details about the structural problems that prompted the evacuation, but the building had reported millions of dollars in damage from 2017's Hurricane Irma.
"In an abundance of caution, the City ordered the building closed immediately and the residents evacuated for their protection, while a full structural assessment is conducted and next steps are determined," City Manager Arthur H. Sorey III said in the news release.
It is the first building to be evacuated since municipal officials in South Florida, and statewide, began scrutinising older high-rises in the wake of the Surfside collapse to ensure substantial structural problems are not being ignored.
The Crestview condo association could not be immediately reached for comment on the delay between the January recertification report and Friday's evacuation.
Evacuating residents hauling suitcases packed items into cars Friday evening (Saturday NZ time) outside the Crestview, which was built in 1972.
Harold Dauphin was on his way home from picking up his son Harold at camp Friday when he noticed a helicopter buzzing around his apartment and a heightened police presence.
He wondered whether there had been a shooting nearby but then came home to find out his building was being evacuated.
The two live on the second floor of the building. He said he hadn't heard anything about the problems that had come to light.
He grabbed what he could — clothes, his work uniform and some electronic devices — and they left.
"It's unfortunate, but I understand. Knowing what happened in Surfside, you know, it's understandable," he said.
North Miami Beach commissioner Fortuna Smukler rushed to the building on Friday afternoon.
She said authorities were working to help the evacuated residents find places to go. She said with the approaching storm it was an especially stressful time for the residents. Smukler knows two people who are still unaccounted for in the Surfside building collapse.
"I ran here right away because this is important to me. I needed to ensure that what happened in Surfside doesn't happen here," she said. "It could have been our building instead of Surfside."
The mayor of Miami-Dade County had suggested an audit of buildings 40 and older to make sure they are in compliance with the local recertification process after the condo building collapse last week that killed at least 22 people and left more than 120 missing.
After reviewing files, the city Building and Zoning Department sent a notification that the Crestview building was not in compliance.
On Friday, the building manager submitted a January recertification report in which an engineer hired by the condo association board found the property unsafe.
The city then ordered all residents to evacuate immediately.
"I am concerned that more buildings are in this condition. Hopefully, this is an easy fix. Thankfully, we have at least evacuated the residents and no harm will come to them or their pets," Smukler said.
The North Miami Beach Police Department was helping with the evacuation.
The Crestview Towers Condo Association said in a lawsuit in federal court that it suffered NZ$11.5 million in damage from Hurricane Irma.
The condo association had sued its insurer, Liberty Surplus Insurance Corp, for not paying the claim.
Itemised estimates listed in the lawsuit showed repair needs of more than $533,000 for the roof, $750,000 for concrete restoration, $605,000 for electrical work and $405,000 for new windows, among other repairs.
In court papers, the insurer said that the condo association reported the damage in 2019, two years after Irma tore through Florida.
An inspection conducted for the insurer showed the pooling of water on low spots of the roof and multiple layers of previous repairs to the aged roof. It also showed that windows in the units deteriorated from age.
"Plaintiff did not provide Liberty with notice as soon as possible and further, at Liberty's post-loss inspection there was still confusion regarding where the loss or damage occurred at the subject property," the insurer said.
A parallel lawsuit also was filed in state court in Miami.
This spring, the parties asked that the federal lawsuit be dismissed and agreed to begin mediation in May in the state lawsuit.