The death toll in the 12-story apartment building, which partially collapsed last week in Miami-Dade County, south Florida, has risen to 24, leaving 121 missing as search and rescue efforts paused amid preparations to demolish the remaining structure officials said on Saturday.
The partial collapse occurred on June 24 at around 1:15 a.m. in the Champlain Towers South residential complex in the small beach town of Surfside, about 10 km north of Miami Beach. About 55 of the 136 units in the oceanfront complex were destroyed, according to Raide Jadallah, Miami-Dade’s chief fire rescue assistant. Since then, hundreds of first responders have carefully combed the rubble in hopes of finding survivors.
Two more bodies were pulled from the rubble overnight, Miami-Dade County’s Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said in a press conference Saturday morning as the rescue went into its 10th day.
No more victims were found on Saturday and search and rescue operations have been suspended in preparation for the 4 p.m. demolition, Levine Cava said during a press conference on Saturday evening.
Preparatory work for the demolition of the remaining structure, such as drilling in supports, threatens the standing building, she said. The search parties have temporarily left the area as a precaution.
According to the mayor, the search and rescue will resume as soon as the demolition team has cleared the site. She didn’t have a definite timetable for the demolition, but said she was “hopeful” that it could happen before Tropical Storm Elsa approaches.
“We’re going as soon as possible,” she said.
Levine Cava said the contract to demolish the building was signed and Governor Ron DeSantis said the state will pay the cost of the demolition and this will “minimally” affect rescue efforts. It comes after the mayor signed an emergency ordinance on Friday authorizing the demolition of the remainder of the condominium “in the interests of public health and safety.”
“The building is too unsafe to let people in,” said DeSantis. “This will protect our search and rescue teams because we don’t know when it’s going to fall over.”
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said the rest of the building could be dismantled “tomorrow”. Experts are still on site to evaluate how the building will be dismantled.
Burkett noted that the urge to dismantle the building faster than originally stated was due to the winds of tropical storm Elsa.
The demolition will be done by “charge,” likely with explosives, not a wrecking ball or any other method, said Alan Cominsky, Miami-Dade County Fire Department chief.
The fire chief said a tarpaulin will cover the searched area, noting that some areas of the wreck have not yet been searched.
Officials also said six task force rescue workers tested positive for COVID-19 and have since left the scene.
Preparations are now being made for Elsa, who has weakened from a hurricane to a tropical storm in the morning and is due to come near south Florida from Monday to Tuesday.
On Saturday, DeSantis declared a state of emergency for several districts in anticipation of tropical storm Elsa. Heat, humidity, heavy rain, strong winds and thunderstorms have made the conditions difficult for the rescuers and have repeatedly forced them to interrupt their operations around the clock in the past few days.
Two more bodies were found in the rubble on Friday as crews searched the area of â€‹â€‹the collapse, officials said.
This is followed by two other bodies found Thursday night, including that of a 7-year-old girl who Levine Cava said was the daughter of a Miami firefighter. The firefighter was not part of the crew that discovered the girl’s body, but he was notified, according to Cominsky.
“It goes without saying that every night since that last Wednesday has been immensely difficult,” Levine Cava said during a press conference at Surfside Friday morning. “But last night was uniquely different. It was really different and more difficult for our first responders.”
Meanwhile, 191 people living or staying in the condominium at the time of the disaster have been recorded and are safe, according to Levine Cava, who has emphasized that the numbers are “very fluid” and “continue to change”.
The number of missing people has risen as detectives continue to scrutinize the list of people reported missing, a development Levine Cava described as “very good news”.
However, no survivors have been found in the rubble of the building since the morning it partially collapsed, and hope that more people would be found alive seemed to fade on Friday.
Cominsky said rescue workers were “emotional” after a first responder’s own daughter was discovered, which “takes a toll”. But he said that won’t stop them from continuing to search for those who are still missing.
“I was just hoping that we would have survivors,” Cominsky said at the press conference on Friday morning.
Miami City Fire Department chief Joseph Zahralban later confirmed in a statement that a member of the team lost his 7-year-old daughter in the disaster.
At the signing of the emergency ordinance to demolish the rest of the building earlier this week, Levine Cava said the move will “help us move forward quickly”.
The structure was cleared by crews last week, and all search and rescue resources have since been focused on the rubble. But the two locations are next to each other and the remaining building posed challenges for rescuers trying to find survivors or human remains in the rubble.
“Given our ongoing security concerns about the integrity of the building, we are continuing to restrict access to the collapse zone,” Levine Cava said during a press conference at Surfside Thursday evening.
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden traveled to Surfside Thursday to meet with officials, first responders, search and rescue teams, and families of the victims. Recalling the 1972 car accident that killed his first wife and one-year-old daughter and seriously injured his two sons, the president told reporters, “It’s bad enough to lose someone, but the hard part is really difficult part is, don’t know if they will survive or not. “
The cause of the partial collapse of a building that has weathered hurricanes for decades is still unknown and is being investigated.
Built in the 1980s, Champlain Towers South was about to be recertified for 40 years and, according to officials, was partially subject to roofing work – with further renovation work planned – when it partially collapsed.
An October 2018 structural field survey report that was among hundreds of pages of public documents released of Surfside City late Sunday said the waterproofing under the pool deck and condominium driveway failed, causing “major structural damage to the concrete slab under those areas.”
A number of lawsuits have already been filed against the Champlain Towers South Condo Association on behalf of survivors and victims, alleging that the partial collapse could have been avoided and the association knew or should have known of the structural damage. An association spokesman told ABC News that they cannot comment on any pending litigation, but that their “focus remains on taking care of our friends and neighbors during this difficult time.”
The association’s board of directors released a statement on Friday saying that its surviving members “have concluded that, in the best interests of all parties concerned, an independent bankruptcy administrator should be appointed to oversee the legal and claims process”.
â€œWe know that a full investigation will take time to answer,â€ the statement said, â€œand we will continue to work with city, state, local and federal officials in their rescue efforts and understand the causes of this tragedy. “
After the Surfside building collapsed, the City of North Miami Beach ordered the immediate closure of another condominium due to security concerns related to the 40-year recertification process, officials said.
The Crestview Towers condominium is “structurally and electrically unsafe,” based on a review of a recertification report filed Friday, city officials said in a statement.
“The City of North Miami Beach has taken the steps we recommended to ensure that the recertification process was not recertified in a timely manner, and when the information came in they took some steps,” Levine Cava said Friday evening.
Around 300 residents have to be evacuated ABC Miami subsidiary WPLGwhile a full structural assessment is being carried out.
The condominium with 156 units was built in 1972.
ABC Newsâ€™s Will Gretsky contributed to this report.