The building that partially collapsed Thursday in Miami, Florida (USA), leaving at least three dead, 99 missing and dantesque images, had been sinking little by little into the ground, according to a researcher.

Shimon Wdowinski, professor of the Department of Environment at Florida International University, told USA Today that last year the institution published a study on the instability of that area of Miami.

In that study they detected that the Champlain Towers, built in 1981 in the Surfside area, had been sinking at a rate of two millimeters per year since the 1990s. Probably, the researcher points out, in recent years that rate had accelerated.

Wdowinski is careful and clarifies to the newspaper that so far there is no evidence linking this progressive sinking to Thursday’s tragedy. His department’s study, published last year, was based on data collected between 1993 and 1999 by European satellites.

The goal was to identify areas in Miami that could experience subsidence or be affected by sea level rise. With the exception of a few specific areas, the city did not show serious subsidence.

However, the researcher recalls that the Champlain Towers had unusual subsidence. But the datum was relegated to one line in the paper. “We didn’t give it much importance,” admits the professor.

Another professor, Matthys Levy, a Columbia University professor and author of the book Why Buildings Fall Down, has explained that the subsoil can compact over time, affecting the foundation.

“One millimeter may not seem like much, but when you add it up over the years, it becomes a large amount,” he has pointed out.

The part of the building that collapsed may have been located in a faster sinking zone, causing an imbalance relative to the other part, which may not be sinking at the same rate.

By law, the structure of buildings in Florida must be reviewed every 40 years. The Champlain Towers were just now in that process.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, several testimonies have emerged from people who witnessed the events. One such witness is Juan Esteban Triana, who told the BBC that the loud noise woke him up at two in the morning.

“We woke up because of a sound wave that hit the windows and we went out to see what was going on,” said the young Brazilian who lives near the towers. “The first thing we did was go outside and we saw people on balconies calling for help and shining flashlights on their phones.”

“They were screaming desperately. We tried to help them but they wouldn’t let us through. It was very frustrating because we were in front of people who were calling for help and we couldn’t do anything,” he added.

Shmuel Balkany has told CNN that he was walking in the area with his brother when he heard “a big noise.”

“We thought it was a motorcycle, but when we turned around we only saw a cloud of dust coming towards us. We ran in that direction, with our T-shirts covering our faces to protect us from the dust,” he has recalled.

His brother Mich agrees that it is the closest thing he has seen to the collapse of the Twin Towers in 2001. “We’re still in shock, our minds are still processing it.”

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