MIAMI — People continue to pine for answers after last week’s horrific condo collapse in Surfside, Florida. It may be weeks or months before the actual cause is known — but that doesn’t stop non-experts coming up with their own hypotheses.
One pervasive question some observers have is if the U.S. Navy “shock tests” of a new warship off the Florida coast on June 18 may have triggered the tragedy a few days later, at approximately 1:30 a.m. on June 24. Ponce Inlet is roughly 250 miles north of Surfside.
The USS Gerald R. Ford was positioned about 100 miles from Ponce Inlet in Volusia County when a 40,000 pound explosive was detonated in the water. Official video provided to the public on Twitter shows the explosion that was so intense that it registered a 3.9 in earthquake terms.
“[Investigators] are going to check it out,” Abieyuwa Aghayere, a professor of forensic engineering at Drexel University, told the Miami Herald last week.
Paul Earle, a Golden, Colorado-based seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC), said he didn’t believe the two incidents are related.
“Given the size of the explosion, the distance from the building, and the time between the explosion and the collapse, we do not see any reasonable mechanism for the Navy explosion on June 18 to have triggered the collapse of the Miami Beach-area condo on June 24,” he said. “There are about 300 earthquakes of similar size to the Navy explosion in the contiguous U.S. every year, none of which have triggered a major building collapse.”
Earled added that 3.9 is not classified as a large earthquake. “California has those quite often.”
On Monday, Lieutenant Commander Desiree Frame, public affairs officer for the USS Gerald R. Ford, debunked the theory of a connection between the collapse and the battleship’s Full Ship Shock Trials (FSSTs) off of the Florida coast.
“We have seen nothing that will correlate the shock trial test with the terrible event last week in South Florida,” she told the Miami Herald in an email. “Certainly, our thoughts and prayers go out to everybody affected by that.”
Frame went on to assuage any fears the public has about these tests.
“I can assure you that when we do these shock trials, there are a wide variety of environmental and safety factors that are taken into account,” she wrote. “We know we need to do this kind of testing for the hull of our major ships like aircraft carriers, that it’s an important opportunity to evaluate the structural integrity of the hull, and its ability to handle a blast of that size, but in choosing the location, the depth of the water, the time of day, marine life migration patterns, etc. There are a lot of factors that are considered to make sure that it’s as safe as it can possibly be.”
As for the current theory as to what caused the catastrophe, six engineering experts told the Miami Herald Saturday that based on the current available evidence — including surveillance video, building plans, inspection reports and a chilling account of a resident who said she saw the pool turn into a sinkhole — a structural column or concrete slab beneath the pool deck likely gave way, collapsing into the garage below, causing the tower to cave in on itself.