Rescue crews and emergency responders from across the Suncoast are rushing to the Gulfstream Blvd. site of the tragic collapse of the Dolphin Towers condominium just off Sarasota's bayfront. The building had been evacuated in late June when severe cracks were discovered in the concrete structure's fourth floor.
The Sarasota Fire Dept. was supervising the residents' return to claim belongings that had been left behind when the condo was first cleared. The stately old tower was currently undergoing a massive re-engineering to make it habitable once again, including the removal of the failed concrete. Demolition crews had removed a large section of the bottom four floors in order to install new steel reinforcements and concrete.
Project supervisor, Mike Lilly, of Young General Contractors, in charge of the delicate demolition work, said today that, in retrospect, he probably should have authorized overtime for the workers to finish shoring up and stablilizing the building, but "being Friday afternoon and all, the guys and I were anxious to get the hell out of here, so I figured it would be OK. The engineers and I had built a scale replica of the condo out of Legos and when we removed a similar amount of blocks from the model, it remained standing, so we just figured, 'Hey, what's the worst that could happen 'til we got back on Monday?' so we knocked off for the weekend."
With about 70 residents and fire personnel inside the structure and a crowd of onlookers across the street, the venerable old building let out a mournful groan and begin a slow roll across Gulfstream Blvd. toward the bayfront, plowing straight into bystanders and the throng of Sarasota citizens who regularly line up on the sidewalks outside downtown restaurants at 3:15 PM, anxiously awaiting the beginning of the daily early-bird specials at 4:00 PM.
Some tourists commented that they were appalled when several local real estate firms began setting up temporary sales offices in colorful cabanas that had been hastily erected near the catasrophe site, jockeying for position with the Red Cross medical tents where medical personnel were frantically setting up triage centers to treat the most severely injured. One realtor was heard complaining that a temporary morgue was located adjacent to her sales cabana, saying, "When customers see all these dead bodies being hauled in here without limbs and heads and such, it's absolutely going to kill my business. Can't they wait until we close, then drag those stiffs off-site or something? I mean, they're already dead, so they certainly don't care. But I've got Lexus payments to make and NOW is the time to buy!"
Realtors were aggressively canvassing bystanders to purchase the new condos that will be located in the what's-sure-to-be-built replacement structure on the site. Said one realtor, "Year after year I've prayed for a hurricane to come in here and wipe out one of these old condo towers so they could build something new in its place that we could sell. But this--this is better than a hurricane. Hell, I'll still be able to play golf tomorrow!"
Sarasota mayor, Kelly Kirschner, tried to put a positive spin on the tragedy, even as it continued to unfold around him. "Because the structure remained intact and rolled across Gulfstream Blvd. and landed on Rt. 41, we are probably just going to leave it and build that roundabout that we've proposed for decades right there and call it a day."