By Joan Murray

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Thursday marks three weeks since the Champlain towers south crumbled in the middle of the night, likely transforming the small town of Surfside forever.

CBS 4 spoke to mayor Charles Burkett on Wednesday about living through the past 21 days.

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“I witnessed search and rescue teams surging into the building when we were told it was about to fall down,” he told reporter Joan Murray.

Burkett arrived at the partially collapsed building within an hour of the disaster after getting a phone call at home.

“I was thinking my God there are people in there and we have to get them out,” he said was his initial thought.

Burkett has been one of the faces of the catastrophe for three weeks, visiting the scene where search and rescue teams have been working round the clock and meeting with families who lost loved ones and those who were left homeless.

“I’ve been guided by one principle. That is we are going to get everybody out and support families. We are doing what we would want if we were in that pile.”

Burkett is driven to find out what brought down the condo.

Theories abound. Concrete was cracking and there was water intrusion. There are
concerns about the amount of steel used in construction. Residents say the
building was creaking before the disaster. Some complained there was neglect.

“I don’t care if you didn’t lift a finger for 50 years, buildings don’t just fall down,” said the mayor.

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Every day, Burkett is learning about new factors that could have contributed to the collapse.

He recently learned that during a beach renourishment project a few years back, nearly a billion pounds of sand were trucked in at a rate of 272 trucks a day.

That’s a steady 272 trucks six days a week through the Champlain South property for an extended period of time.

“Was it a confluence of events, a billion pounds of sand or the pilings giving way five decades and not five centuries later,” he wonders.”We don’t know.”

He doesn’t know yet but there’s a belief that the town may have initial answers in a few months.

Surfside has hired renowned structural engineer Allyn Kilsheimer to figure out why the building collapsed.

Kilsheimer says he’s frustrated he’s been unable to get needed samples from the collapse site because it is deemed a crime scene.

“The politics is different from what I’m used to. We are usually in charge and there’s not a lot of hubbubs,” he says.

“The takeaway is this is one of those inexplicable events like an earthquake or wildfire. Unfortunately, we happen to be the little town where it happened,” said Burkett.

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The building was undergoing a 40-year recertification when it crumbled, in the middle of a 40-year re-certification.