Leading civil and environmental engineer at West Virginia University identifies construction quality as potential contributor to Florida building collapse

Though a lot was not known immediately about the cause of the deadly collapse of a high-rise residential building in Surfside, Florida on June 24, Hota GangaRao, a civil and environmental engineering professor at West Virginia University’s Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, cited three possible contributing factors: quality of construction, subsidence and corrosion.

Early in the emergency response, officials estimated the collapse had affected about half of the units at the 12-story Champlain Towers South which was built in 1981.

Quotes and Comments

“To me, it appears that the quality of the construction is not the best because buildings of this nature should survive at least 80 to 100 years. A lot will be learned, in an engineering sense, after closely inspecting the surviving portions of the collapsed building.

“There is no question that there was some type of subsidence in the ground with regards to the foundation which is somewhat similar to the ground subsidence that we see when we have underground mines in West Virginia. One might ask, ‘Why only one portion of the tower initially collapsed?’ There may not have been uniform subsidence throughout the entire area.

“These structures, so close to coastal areas with huge amounts of salt effects in the environment, do see corrosion to the rebars, reinforcing bars, in the concrete floors as well as columns. If you have some form of cracks (in concrete) and you have salt in the air then the rebar starts to corrode. The rebar will expand and result in bigger cracking leading to slab or column failure.” – Hota GangaRao, the Maurice and Jo Ann Wadsworth Distinguished Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources

GangaRao also serves as the director of WVU’s Constructed Facilities Center and Center for the Integration of Composites into Infrastructure.

Resources

GangaRao addressed possible design flaws in a 2018 pedestrian bridge collapse at Florida International University.

GangaRao previously worked with Praveen Majjigapu, a Ph.D. student, to develop a system to increase the strength and endurance of structures during natural disasters while also aiding repairs for historic or aging structures.

In 2018, GangaRao testified on Capitol Hill about the use of composites in infrastructure.