“We considered that it was very, very dangerous, especially because the building’s [near] the other one that collapsed,” Douglas H. Mercado, co-owner of Inspection Engineers Inc., the company working as the building’s engineers, said in an interview. “Based on that and how fast the structural damage was expanding, we decided immediately with the engineers to recommend … the temporary evacuation.”
The condo owners had only a couple of hours to get out. They carried pets and loaded cars, local TV reports showed, faced with finding places to stay for at least 10 days.
Mercado’s engineers, who are doing The Port Royale’s 50-year recertification, said they had discovered a growing crack and deflection in a main beam in the building’s garage, meaning the beam was bending or moving away from its intended position.
“We believe this beam and the other beams located in the third-floor garage might support the entire building structure,” an inspector and an engineer for Inspection Engineers Inc. wrote in a letter to the city dated Thursday, though they said that was based on observation because they don’t have the building’s original structural calculations.
Residents were warned by the condo board Wednesday that they might need to leave, the Miami Herald reported, but were not ordered to evacuate until around 5 p.m. Thursday, when the board told them to be out by 7 p.m.
The Port Royale did not return a phone call and email from The Washington Post seeking comment.
The building’s engineers estimated it could take about 10 days to design and install heavy-load shoring protection to address the issue. A shoring expert is working on the design, which the city will have to approve and permit before work can begin, and some equipment must be shipped from Tampa to Miami Beach, Mercado said.
Once the shoring is installed, engineers will determine whether it’s safe for residents to return to their homes and evaluate whether anything else needs to be done to permanently reinforce the structure.
Port Royale’s 163-unit building was built in 1971, county property records show. Sitting on Collins Avenue, it’s down the road from the site where the 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building collapsed in June 2021, killing nearly 100 people.
Since, people have been more concerned about safety, and business has been busy for structural engineers who inspect and recertify buildings, Mercado said. Many residential buildings between South Miami and West Palm Beach — routinely exposed to hurricanes and heavy wind — are reaching 40, 50 or 60 years of age.
“It was such a hard decision to take with our engineers to evacuate this building, but we were pleasantly surprised that everybody took it seriously,” he said. “I mean, they’re not happy they have to move, but I think everybody understood.”
Engineers first found issues in the garage about 10 months ago and marked various areas for repair, they said in the letter. Photos in their letter to the city showed damage and crumbling near the property line, water leaking into an active electrical gutter, and issues with columns.
The repairs began four weeks ago, and this week, the engineers found that a large crack previously noticed in the beam had already gotten bigger, Mercado said. That was when they sounded the alarm to the city.
It was the first time in Mercado’s 32 years in business that his engineers had to recommend an evacuation, he said.
“But the buildings are getting older,” he said. “Most likely, we are going to be seeing this more and more.”