Demolition at Surfside collapse site could give search and rescue crews access to new areas of debris pile
The rest of the Champlain Towers South building was demolished Sunday night and officials hope it will now be safer for rescue teams to expand their search with fewer reinforcements.
The structure was demolished around 10:30 p.m. ET Sunday using a method Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava called “energetic felling,” describing it as a process that “uses small, strategically placed explosives and relies on gravity to bring the building down in place.”
The demolition came after part of the building fell early in the morning on June 24, collapsing approximately 55 of the building’s 136 units. Crews immediately began digging through up to 16 feet of concrete and have confirmed at least 24 people were killed, including children. There are 121 people who remain unaccounted for.
With the threat of Tropical Storm Elsa looming, officials and rescue crews were increasingly concerned about the safety of those searching the rubble and the potential the rest of the structure would collapse.
“It appears as though the approaching storm may have been a blessing in disguise for us in that it initiated the demolition discussion,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said Sunday night. “We want to make sure that we control which way the building falls and not a hurricane, so all of this together I think ended up being a good thing.”
Burkett said he hopes the demolition will eliminate a potentially dangerous threat to workers and possibly open an estimated third of the remaining pile to search and rescue teams.
Search efforts at the partially collapsed building were paused Saturday around 4 p.m. so engineers could secure the site and prepare for the demolition.
“As soon as the building is down and once the site is deemed secure, we will have our first responders back on the pile to immediately resume their work,” Levine Cava said Sunday night.
When the work does resume, it will be without five to seven members of the Israeli rescue team, Col. Elad Edri, Deputy Commander of the Israeli National Rescue Unit said, adding the decision was made based on what capabilities of the team will be needed after the demolition.
Residents ordered to evacuate multiple buildings
Since the collapse, multiple Miami-area buildings have been evacuated.
Ahead of the demolition at the South tower, the condominium board for Champlain Towers East suggested residents evacuate, according to a letter from the condo association’s board of directors obtained by CNN.
The letter encouraged residents to evacuate in advance as streets nearby would be congested due to the demolition. The board also asked residents to take their pets and valuables, including passports and important documents, with them.
“Our building foundation has been checked multiple times, but we make this suggestion in an abundance of caution,” the letter reads. “We do not expect any impact to us but you can’t be too careful under the circumstances.”
On Saturday, the city of Miami Beach ordered the evacuation of a residential building out of an abundance of caution after a city inspector looked at an empty unit and flagged a “flooring system failure in that unit and excessive deflection on an exterior wall,” according to city spokesperson Melissa Berthier.
The day before, North Miami Beach officials ordered the evacuation of the Crestview Towers, saying the building was delinquent with its 40-year recertification. Officials cited the late certification report to say the building was structurally and electrically unsafe.
Many residents of Champlain Towers South whose condos didn’t collapse had to evacuate without many of their belongings, leaving behind clothes, valuables and family photographs.
On Sunday, Miami-Dade Police Director Alfredo Ramirez III said homicide detectives had been “collecting items that are retrievable, and are logging them and documenting them.”
Any type of heirloom that was safe to retrieve is being documented to “be addressed at a later date with family members,” he said.
24th victim identified
David Epstein, 58, has been identified as the 24th victim confirmed to have died in the collapse. His body was recovered Friday, officials said.
The victims range in age from 4 to 92.
Those who died include 4- and 10-year-old sisters, an elderly couple and the daughter of a firefighter.
Nicole Mejias told CNN on Saturday that five of her family members were in the Champlain Towers South building when it collapsed, including 7-year-old Stella Cattarossi, the daughter of the Miami firefighter. Cattarossi’s body was found Thursday night.
“We just miss them so much already, we wish this tragedy didn’t happen, and will always remember them,” Mejias said.
Tropical Storm Elsa
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for 15 counties Saturday — including Miami-Dade County — because of Tropical Storm Elsa.
“We’re preparing for the risk of isolated tornadoes, storm surge, heavy rainfall and flash flooding,” DeSantis said, adding the state has “begun executing contingency plans for the Tropical Storm Elsa and Surfside co-response.”
A tropical storm warning has been issued for the Florida Keys and a tropical storm watch is in effect for parts of southwest Florida as far north as Tampa Bay.
Elsa was a Category 1 hurricane Friday and early Saturday, but later weakened to a tropical storm as it took aim at the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Forecasters say the storm’s center will not directly impact Surfside, though the city could be affected by its outer bands, with wind gusts and rain starting in the area as early as Monday morning.
The governor expressed his support for the demolition plan ahead of Elsa’s impact and said Saturday he believed it would be best for the building to be down before the storm arrives. “With these gusts potentially, it would create a really big hazard.”