Rescue crews gave way to demolition crews at the site of a collapsed South Florida condo
building, as officials shifted their focus to bringing down the unstable remainder of the structure before a tropical storm.
The search and rescue
mission was called off Saturday afternoon so that workers could begin the perilous task of boring holes in the concrete of the still-standing portion of the Champlain Towers South
tower in Surfside
to hold explosives, according to Miami-Dade Assistant Fire
Chief Raide Jadallah, who was speaking to relatives who were waiting for word on missing loved ones.
The suspension, according to Jadallah, is a necessary safety precaution because the drilling could cause the structure to fail, and if that happens, "it will just collapse without warning."
However, in a video stream of Jadallah's closed-door briefing to relatives of the missing, one of them was heard calling the search pause "devastating," and she asked whether rescuers could at least work the perimeter of the site to avoid "stopping the operation for so many painful hours."
Once the structure is demolished, the remnants will be removed immediately, giving rescuers access for the first time to parts of the garage area that are of interest, according to Jadallah, which could provide a clearer picture of voids that may exist in the rubble and could potentially harbor survivors.
Since the first hours after the collapse, no one has been saved alive.
While the demolition operation was risky, officials said it could not be avoided with Tropical Storm Elsa
looming in the Caribbean
and expected to hit the state by Tuesday morning, raising fears that the remaining structure would collapse, endangering the crews below and complicating the search.
The official death toll
from the June 24 collapse was 24, but 121 people
were still missing, according to the Miami-Dade Police
Department, which added Graciela Cattarossi, 48, and Gonzalo Torre, 81, to the list of those confirmed dead on Saturday night.
“We have a building here in Surfside that is tottering, it is structurally unsound,” Gov. Ron DeSantis
said Saturday. “And while the eye of the storm is not likely to pass over this direction, you may feel gusts in this area.”
The demolition's timing is determined by how quickly workers can drill holes and insert explosive charges — a slow process to prevent the building from collapsing prematurely and in an uncontrolled manner.
DeSantis said Saturday that once the site is ready, the demolition could happen within 36 hours, and Jadallah said on Sunday that it could happen as early as late Sunday night.
Residents in surrounding buildings will be evacuated door-to-door by Miami-Dade police in advance of the demolition, according to Surfside officials, and no one will be allowed in the buildings to the immediate north and south of the collapsed structure.