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'Buildings just don't collapse' | Rice professor tied to team looking into Florida condo tower collapse

Professor Reginald DesRoches said it's quite uncommon to see a building collapse just from gravity loads.

HOUSTON — Rice University's provost and mechanical engineering professor said we should prepare for a very lengthy and in-depth investigation into the Surfside, Florida condo collapse.

"Buildings just don’t collapse,” said Reginald DesRoches, chair of an independent advisory committee that works with the National Institute for Standards and Technology, better known as NIST.

This agency has already begun looking into the collapse and will be in Florida soon to collect information for an upcoming investigation.

Desroches said these type of investigations can lead to preventive measures in the future and hopefully stop something like from ever happening again.

"To see a building collapse just from gravity loads," said DesRoches. "It’s quite uncommon.”

DesRoches chairs the National Construction Safety Team Advisory Committee within NIST. That’s the U.S. Department of Commerce agency that’s assessed a number of catastrophic incidents including an extensive study on the World Trade Center.

"They conduct studies of building failures with the goal of making changes," said DesRoches. "Understanding why buildings have failed and making changes in building codes to ensure that these types of failures don’t happen in the future.”

DesRoches doesn't anticipate going to Florida himself. But he will later help review any findings of the team currently on the ground conducting a preliminary study.

"And I know they’re cognizant of the fact there’s an active recovery and response taking place right now, so they’re very sensitive to that,” said DesRoches.

He says it’s apparent the collapse began at the bottom of the building and there's potential evidence of ongoing structural issues. But finding the facts without guessing is what investigators are trained to do.

"We just don’t know at this time and I don’t think any of us want to speculate on why it may have collapsed,” said DesRoches.

NIST is one of at least two federal agencies on the ground in Florida. State and local investigations are also underway.

As of Monday, a total of 11 bodies have been recovered from the site where a 12-story condo building collapsed, including a native Houstonian.

Officials said 150 people still remain missing.

The building collapsed just days before a deadline for condo owners to start making steep payments toward more than $9 million in repairs that had been recommended nearly three years earlier, in a report that warned of “major structural damage."

People who have seen the wreckage up close remain daunted by the task rescue and search crews have ahead.

Alfredo Lopez, who lived with his wife in a sixth-floor corner apartment and narrowly escaped, said he finds it hard to believe anyone is alive in the rubble.

"If you saw what I saw: nothingness. And then, you go over there and you see, like, all the rubble. How can somebody survive that?” Lopez told The Associated Press.

Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai, head of a humanitarian delegation from Israel that includes several search-and-rescue experts, said professionals have told him of cases where survivors were found after 100 hours or more.

"So don’t lose hope, that’s what I would say,” he said.

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