What are the chances a seaside structure in Hampton Roads can collapse? Emergency expert weighs in

Posted at 3:23 PM, Jun 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-29 08:23:46-04

NORFOLK, Va. -- So far, 10 people have been found dead and emergency crews hope to recover more people as they continue to excavate through the rubble where a Surfside, Florida, condo building once stood.

"It's something we need to be concerned about,” Dr. Kevin Kupietz said. “When we start talking about coastal areas, we have a lot more hazards that can cause things like this."

Dr. Kupietz is a professor of emergency management at Elizabeth City State University who has worked with FEMA operations.

In Hampton Roads, where hotels and seaside apartment buildings just like the one in Surfside are plenty, is there any need for alarm? Dr. Kupietz said there is no major need.

"We don't want people to be running out of buildings and stuff like that, thinking they're going to collapse today and tomorrow,” Dr. Kupietz said. “We don't have these kinds of collapses on a regular basis, which is a good thing."

He has responded to building collapses such as those in Louisiana and Puerto Rico due to storms.

"When we're in the coastal areas, we see a lot of water that just sits,” Dr. Kupietz said. “Anytime water sits, it tends to rot, decay and cause issues."

One report suggested water settling may have contributed to the condo's collapse. Dr. Kupietz added there are other coastal factors at play.

"We also have the sandier soils, which are why we don't see a lot of basements; which means the foundations have to be stronger,” Dr. Kupietz said. “We also have the sea air, and people don't think [about] the salt that's in the sea air."

When you check into the beachfront hotel or rent a dwelling in that apartment building, Dr. Kupietz said you should be vigilant because structures “don’t last forever."

A building's records should be available with local governments.

"Most inspection records are public record, but it's not that easy for the common person to actually pull that stuff off the internet,” Dr. Kupietz said. "I think it's important for us to be vigilant; to look at our structures to make sure they're being maintained; to make sure they are structurally sound."