Surfside search efforts are at ‘100% full strength’ as Tropical Storm Elsa nears the state, mayor says
Search and rescue efforts at the site of a Florida condo building collapse have grown even more urgent as a tropical storm barrels toward the state, threatening to challenge crews with downpours and the possibility of tornadoes.
“We’re now at 100% full strength, full-on pulling everybody out of that rubble pile,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told CNN.
Tropical Storm Elsa has not hit Florida at full force yet, but the rain has begun falling. Despite the weather conditions, responders on site were seen putting on biohazard suits and continuing the search.
Since June 24, crews have been tearing through up to 16 feet of concrete in hopes of finding survivors and recovering bodies of those who were in the Champlain Towers South when part of the building collapsed in the middle of the night. So far 117 people remain unaccounted for and 28 people have been confirmed to have died in the incident.
Rescue work was briefly paused over the weekend as preparations were made to demolish what was still standing of the building. Officials deemed the move necessary for the safety of rescue crews, particularly with forecasts of rain, wind and thunderstorms ahead this week.
Though the storm is expected to pass closer to the west coast of Florida, National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Molleda said Surfside may still see hazardous conditions, including “heavy rain, localized flooding possible, and even the possibility of one or two tornadoes across South Florida.”
The storm may bring complications, but with the demolition of the remaining structure, the efforts are much safer, officials said.
“The worst thing that could have happened was to have a storm come in and blow that building down on top of the pile,” Burkett said.
That threat had prevented crews from accessing much of the collapse site, but now that work has resumed without the “looming danger,” Burkett said.
“It is encouraging to see how aggressively they are attacking the pile,” he said.
Demolition opens search areas but buries the belongings of residents
Officials credited Sunday night’s demolition with the ease, safety and speed with which crews are operating at the pile of rubble.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday that teams on the ground are making “a lot of progress” and that while the demolition decision was not made by his office, he thought it was the “right thing to do” to help everyone move forward.
The danger was that the structure could fall onto the already existing rubble — or those working on it — with very little warning or control. Instead, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Monday that crews were able to execute the demolition “exactly as planned.”
“Only dust landed on the existing pile,” she said.
“Truly, we could not continue without bringing this building down,” Cava said. “As we speak, the teams are working on that part of the pile that was not accessible before the building was demolished.”
But feelings are more complicated for the residents who lived in the part of the building that was demolished: they were evacuated and then told it was unsafe to go in and get their belongings before the structure was destroyed.
Burkett said people around the world have raised millions of dollars to support those families, many of whom have been relocated to hotels. Officials have also asked them to catalog their personal items in hopes of recovering them from the debris and returning them.
“All of the politicians are focused on supporting the families and getting everybody out that rubble pile and reuniting them with their families,” Burkett told CNN’s Boris Sanchez. “It is really a beautiful thing. There is a lot of love here.”
Officials have not given up hope of finding people alive
Since returning to work after the demolition, rescue teams have recovered four additional bodies.
Two of the deceased have been identified as Ingrid Ainsworth, 66, and Tzvi Ainsworth, 68, according to the Miami-Dade Police Department. Two of the 28 victims killed in the incident remain unidentified.
The victims range in age from 4 to 92-years-old.
As the search nears two weeks, Israel Defense Forces National Rescue Unit in the Home Front Command Col. Said it is still a rescue mission.
That means that officials are not just looking for remains, there is still hope of finding victims alive.
“There’s no giving up hope,” Burkett said. “I think we’re all unified on that. We owe it to the families. We have a duty, unlimited resources — we’re going to make sure everybody gets out.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong title for Daniella Levine Cava. She is the mayor of Miami-Dade.