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‘Tragedy beyond tragedy’: Champlain Towers South was a catastrophe in slow motion

Sara Nir was up late, checking her email when she heard knocking sounds that went from a soft tapping to hard pounding to a frightful crash overhead — as if a wall had collapsed in the unit above her ground-floor condo.

Raysa Rodriguez was sleeping in her room on the ninth floor when she awoke disoriented. The building was swaying “like a sheet of paper.” She ran into the hallway to find that it had been impaled from floor to ceiling by a concrete pillar; the doors of the elevators were shorn off, exposing the shafts. Cassie Stratton was on the phone with her out-of-town husband, looking down from her fourth-floor balcony in horror as part of the pool deck below apparently vanished into a sink hole. She “told him that the pool was collapsing, that the ground was shaking and cracking,” Stratton’s sister, Ashley Dean, told CNN’s John Berman. “It’s my understanding that she let out a very loud scream and the phone went dead.” 

To many residents of the Champlain Towers South, the devastating partial collapse of the 13-story structure in Surfside, Florida, in the predawn hours of June 24 came on suddenly and left them traumatized, injured or dead in a matter of seconds. But from what is known to date, the tower’s cave-in resembles less a cataclysmic event than a slow-motion catastrophe, made possible by years of missed warnings, mixed messaging and delayed action, according to public records, including emails and inspection reports, as well as experts who have spoken with CNN. “This is obviously a tragedy beyond tragedy, and there seems to have been signs of concern,” said Daniella Levine Cava, mayor of Miami-Dade County. “We’re obviously going to be part of the investigation — the county is going to be doing everything in our power to make sure that we learn from this.”

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