, Fla. (AP) — Rescuers searched through fresh rubble Monday after the last of the collapsed Florida condo
building was demolished, allowing crews into previously inaccessible areas, including bedrooms where people
were thought to be sleeping at the time of the disaster, officials said.
However, as Tropical Storm Elsa
approached the state, thunderstorms posed a new challenge
According to Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah, four more victims were discovered in the new pile, bringing the death toll
to 28, with 117 people still missing.
@wsvn #SurfsideCollapse pic.twitter.com/nba5MzFmSq — Sheldon Fox-7 News (@fox_sheldon) July 5, 2021
late Sunday was critical to the search-and-rescue effort, officials said, raising the prospect that crews could increase both the pace of their work
and the number of searchers at the site, though the likelihood of finding survivors 12 days after the June 24 collapse has decreased.
“We know that with each passing day, it becomes more difficult to see a miracle,” said Maggie Castro, a firefighter
and paramedic with the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department
who briefs families on a daily basis.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava
said teams had been unable to access areas closest to the remaining structure due to its instability.
“Truly, we couldn’t go on without demolishing this building,” she said at a press conference.
According to City of Miami Fire Rescue Capt. Ignatius Carroll, a portion of the existing debris pile was also helping to support the remaining structure. Rescuers were still hopeful of reuniting loved ones.
“We continue to focus on our primary mission, which is to leave no stone unturned in order to find as many people as possible and to help bring either answers or closure to family
and loved ones,” Carroll said.
According to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
, the newly accessible area includes master bedrooms where people were reportedly sleeping when the building collapsed.
“We will be able to access every part of that pile, which they have not been able to do up to this point,” DeSantis said. “I think it will move the pace, and I think the momentum is very strong.”
Crews were seen climbing a mound of debris at the site on Monday, alongside a piece of heavy equipment that was picking up rubble. Jadallah said rescuers focused on a stairwell section, but inclement weather hampered the search, particularly in a garage area that was filling with water
, which crews had to pump out.
The storm was moving
westward, mostly avoiding South Florida
, according to the latest forecasts, but thunderstorms were reported near the collapsed building, and the National Weather Service
issued a severe thunderstorm warning for Miami Beach
, which is just south of Surfside.
“Truly, they live to save lives, and they’ve pushed ahead no matter what is thrown in their way,” Levine Cava said.
Workers immediately began clearing some of the new debris after the demolition, and the search resumed around midnight, according to officials, after being called off Saturday to allow specialists to drill holes for explosives required for the demolition.
“As a result of the contractor who brought it down, he did it in such a way that literally we were back on the original pile in less than 20 minutes,” Jadallah told families of those missing earlier Monday, drawing applause in a rare upbeat moment for the twice-daily meetings.
Rescuers hoped to gain a better understanding of voids that may exist in the rubble as they searched for those believed to be trapped beneath the fallen wing of the Champlain Towers South
, but crews have discovered very few voids, according to Jadallah.
Since the first hours after the collapse, no one has been saved alive.
A loud rat-a-tat of explosions echoed from the structure during the demolition, and then the building began to fall, one floor at a time, cascading into an explosion of dust, with plumes billowing into the air as crowds watched from a distance.
Some residents had pleaded to be allowed to return to their homes one last time before demolition to retrieve belongings, but they were denied. Others were concerned about the pets
left behind, but officials said they found no signs of animals
after three final sweeps, including the use of drones to peer into the abandoned structure.
According to Levine Cava, teams are working to save personal items and have asked residents to catalog what they're missing so that they can be matched with items once they're recovered.
“The world is mourning for those who have lost loved ones and for those who are awaiting news from the collapse,” she said at the news conference
, adding that “losing your home and all your belongings in this manner is also a great loss.”
The decision to demolish the building's remnants was made after it became clear that the damaged structure was in danger
of collapsing, endangering the crews below. On Thursday, parts of the remaining structure shifted, prompting a 15-hour halt in the work.
Calvan reported from Tallahassee, Florida, with assistance from Associated Press
writers Cody Jackson
and Rebecca Santana in Surfside, Florida, Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale
, Florida, Ian Mader in Miami, David Fischer in Miami Beach, Florida, and Sudhin Thanawala in Atlanta