, Fla. (AP) — Officials said Thursday that rescue efforts at the site of a partially collapsed Florida
condominium building were halted due to concerns about the stability of the remaining structure.
Miami-Dade County Mayor
Daniella Levine Cava said at a news conference
that search crews who had been atop the rubble for the past week had stopped working shortly after 2 a.m.
The strike occurred on the same day that crews and relatives of those still missing were to meet with President Joe Biden
in a visit that many hoped would bring some solace to a devastated community.
Crews discovered several crack expansions they had been monitoring, including 6 to 12 inches of movement in a large column hanging from the structure "that could fall and cause damage to support columns" in the underground parking
garage, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue
Chief Alan Cominsky.
They also noticed movement in the debris pile and minor movement in some concrete floor slabs, which he described as “potentially causing additional building failure.”
According to Cominsky, officials will collaborate with structural engineers and other experts to "develop options" for continuing rescue operations.
According to White House press secretary Jen Psaki
, Biden and First Lady Jill Biden
planned to thank first responders and search and rescue
teams, as well as meet with victims' families.
The president's visit comes just a week after the collapse of Champlain Towers South
, a 12-story beachfront condominium building in Surfside, leaving a pancaked rubble.
The remains of six people
were discovered Wednesday by searchers going through the ruins, bringing the total number of confirmed dead to 18, with 145 residents still missing.
Chief Freddy Ramirez expressed hope that Biden's visit would boost morale throughout the 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
, our mayor, and all of us together,” he said.
Concerns remained that the still-standing portion of the complex could collapse, and work at the site appeared to have halted early Thursday. During a meeting with families on Wednesday, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Raide Jadallah stated that officials are concerned about the stability of that portion of the building.
“What we know is that the columns on the east side of the building are kind of, not compromised, but just right now of concern,” Jadallah said. “Hypothetically, worst-case scenario: If these columns are truly really bad, we are worried they will collapse right back into the parking garage.”
Families asked if tension rods could be added, but he said structural engineers said no.
Psaki also stated that the president and first lady want to ensure that state and local officials have the resources and support they require under an emergency declaration approved by Biden for Miami-Dade County. She emphasized Wednesday that the White House is taking care to coordinate with officials on the ground to ensure that Biden's visit does not "distract" from the ongoing search and recovery efforts.
State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis stated that he hopes to impress upon Biden the importance of mental health
resources for treating post-traumatic stress disorder in rescue workers.
“These guys are so intent on saving lives that they see things they can't unsee,” Patronis said.
“We want to make sure that when they do go home, they have the strength... to return to work
without fear of nightmares
Since the tragedy, Republican
Gov. Ron DeSantis
and Democrat Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava have presented a united
and cooperative front in responding to the crisis.
Previously, they had clashed over how best to respond to the coronavirus
outbreak, with disagreements over wearing masks
and other pandemic-control measures, but there has been no evidence of partisanship in Surfside.
DeSantis has expressed gratitude for Washington
's assistance, even praising the Biden administration
for "stepping up to the plate."
“We really appreciate the president’s support,” DeSantis said at a news conference in Surfside on Friday, despite criticizing President Joe Biden’s border
policies hours earlier in the state’s Panhandle.
DeSantis, who is up for reelection next year, is rumored to be considering a presidential run in 2024.
The remains of a mother and her two daughters, ages 4 and 10, were discovered Wednesday, a loss that Cava described as "too great to bear
, Lucia Guara, 10, and Emma Guara, 4, were identified by Miami-Dade police, as were their mother, Anaely Rodriguez, 42, and their father, Marcus Guara, 52, who was recovered from the rubble and identified Monday.
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.
This article was contributed to by Associated Press
writers Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami and Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee.