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Energy secretary suggests climate change to blame for Florida condo collapse: 'The waters are rising'

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images (background), JIM WATSON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images (left)

When you're a hammer, everything is a nail.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm suggested Tuesday that climate change may have contributed to the tragic partial collapse of a condominium building in south Florida that killed at least 16 people and has left about 150 others missing.

What did Granholm say?

During an interview on CNN, Granholm was asked whether climate change played a role in the building collapse — and she appeared to agree that it had.

"Obviously, we don't know fully, but we do know that the seas are rising. We know that we're losing inches and inches of beaches, not just in Florida but all around," Granholm said. "Michigan, where I'm from, we've seen the loss of beaches because the waters are rising, so this is a phenomenon that will continue."

"This is a phenomenon that will continue. Whether it— we'll have to wait to see what the analysis is for this building," she added.

Granholm, who was formerly governor of Michigan, later shifted the conversation to President Joe Biden's controversial infrastructure proposal, explaining that investing in American infrastructure will help stem the tide of climate change and prevent future structural disasters.

"There's so much investment that we need to do protect ourselves from climate change but also to address it and mitigate it," Granholm contended. "Hopefully these infrastructure bills, when taken together, will make a huge step and allow America to lead again."

What is actually behind the tragic collapse?

As one critic of Granholm's pointed out, how could climate change have played a factor in the partial collapse of the 12-story beachfront condominium building when neighboring condos have not faced a similar fate?

Indeed, while the exact cause of the collapse will probably not be determined for months, initial reports indicate existing structural problems caused the collapse.

As the New York Times explained, surveillance video showing the collapse points to a weakening in the bottom of the building that triggered the deadly progressive collapse.

While no definitive conclusions could be drawn from the surveillance video, which was shot from a distance and reveals only one perspective of the disaster, some of the engineers reviewing it last week said it seemed to suggest that the failure began at a specific point near the bottom of the structure — perhaps as far down as the parking garage beneath the building, or on the first few floors.

From what can be seen in the video, part of the structure first slumped, seemingly falling vertically in one giant piece, as if the columns had failed beneath the southern edge of the center of the building, not far from the pool. Like a nightmarish avalanche, the failure quickly spread and brought down the entire center of the building. Seconds later, a large section to the east also toppled.

"It does appear to start either at or very near the bottom of the structure," Donald Dusenberry, an engineer, told the Times. "It's not like there's a failure high and it pancaked down."

In fact, the cause of the collapse may be rather intuitive, according to Evan Bentz, a structural engineering professor at the University of Toronto.

"The primary purpose of all the columns in the basement is to hold the structure up in the air," Bentz said. "Because the structure stopped being held up in the air, the simplest explanation is that the columns in the basement ceased to function."

Tragically, residents who lived in the condos were likely aware of structural integrity issues, and the building's association had approved $15 million worth of repairs in April 2021.

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