, Fla. (AP) — Six more bodies were recovered Wednesday from the ruins of a Florida
condo tower, bringing the total number of confirmed dead to 18. It was the highest one-day toll since the building collapsed almost a week ago into a heap of broken concrete.
There are 145 residents who have not been found.
At an evening news conference
, Miami-Dade Mayor
Daniella Levine Cava announced the deaths, saying two of those killed were children
Earlier in the day, crews searching for survivors in the ruins of a collapsed Florida condo tower constructed a ramp that should allow the use of heavier equipment, potentially accelerating the removal of concrete that “could lead to incredibly good news events,” according to the state fire
Rescuers have been working to peel back layers of concrete on the pancaked 12-story Champlain Towers South
in Surfside since the building's sudden collapse last week.
Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told family
members of those missing on Wednesday that a ramp built onto the pile overnight allowed rescuers to use a crane on previously inaccessible sections, increasing the chances of finding new pockets of space
in the urgent search for survivors.
“We hope to see some significant improvement in terms of (finding) any voids that we cannot see,” Jadallah said.
State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis described the ramp as a "Herculean effort" that would allow crews to "leverage massive equipment to remove mass pieces of concrete," which could result in good results in an interview
with Miami television
The ramp, according to Patronis, will allow heavy equipment to get closer to areas where debris needs to be cleared, including a so-called nibbler, a massive machine with a scissors-like tool at the end of a long arm to cut through concrete and rebar.
Officials were concerned that an underground parking
garage would collapse under the weight of heavy equipment, so they decided to build the improvised limestone ramp, according to Patronis, who added that dogs
are used to search for survivors in the area where the machine works before sending in the nibbler.
“So you can really make some serious rapid headway just because of the sheer hydraulic forces this thing can exert versus a human using hand tools,” Patronis explained.
A 2018 engineering report found that the building's ground-floor pool deck was resting on a concrete slab that had "major structural damage" and required extensive repairs, as well as "abundant cracking" of concrete columns, beams, and walls in the parking garage.
Just two months before the building collapsed, the president of the building's board wrote a letter to residents stating that structural problems identified in the 2018 inspection had "gotten significantly worse" and that major repairs would cost at least $15.5 million. With bids for the work still pending, the building collapsed last Thursday.
The pancake collapse of the building has frustrated efforts to reach anyone who may have survived in a pocket of space, despite the fact that rescuers spent a seventh day searching for survivors.
According to Alan Cominsky, Chief of Miami-Dade County
Fire Rescue, the so-called delayering procedure is difficult and dangerous.
“We’re working collaboratively as a group to try to achieve that goal, which is to save someone’s life,” Cominsky said Wednesday. “It’s been tough. I just want to emphasize that. We’re still moving
forward. We see the resources coming in. We’re exhausting every avenue here.”
Officials were also concerned about severe weather
interfering with search efforts.
Crews have already had to deal
with intermittent bad weather, which has caused temporary delays in the work, and they are now keeping an eye on two disorganized storm systems in the Atlantic Ocean
, which the National Hurricane Center
said have a chance of becoming tropical systems in the coming days, but it is unclear whether they would pose
a threat to the United States
Gov. Ron DeSantis
said some resources in Surfside may have to be relocated if storms hit any part of Florida. “‘Tis the season, and you’ve got to be ready,” he said.
The threat of severe weather prompted state officials to request an additional search and rescue
team from the federal government. According to Kevin Guthrie of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, the new team, which would likely come from Virginia
, would be on hand if severe weather struck, allowing crews that had been working at the site for days to rotate out.
Authorities say the search and rescue operation is still ongoing, but no one has been found alive since the collapse on Thursday.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden
and First Lady Jill Biden
were scheduled to visit Surfside.
“They want to thank the heroic first responders, search-and-rescue teams, and everyone who has been working tirelessly around the clock, and meet with the families” who have yet to hear from their loved ones, White House press secretary Jen Psaki
said on Tuesday.
Jadallah told family members on Wednesday that if they want to meet with Biden, they must fill out an RSVP form provided by police
and fire officials.
Miami-Dade Police Chief Freddy Ramirez expressed his hope that Biden's visit will boost morale in the devastated community.
“We’ve had several challenges from weather, sorrow, and pain, and I believe that the president’s visit will bring some unity and support to our community, like our governor
, mayor, and all of us together.”
This report was contributed to by Associated Press
writers Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami and Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale