Miami condo collapse: death toll reaches 27 as demolition expands search area
Three more victims were discovered in the rubble of the collapsed South Florida condo building on Monday after crews set off a string of explosives that brought down the last of the structure, allowing search efforts to resume.
Miami-Dade’s assistant fire chief, Raide Jadallah, told family members that the bodies of three more people had been found, raising the death toll to 27 people. More than 115 people remain unaccounted for.
The demolition opened up a previously unreachable area for rescuers, though the chances of finding any survivors there waned, the Miami-Dade county mayor, Daniella Levine Cava, said on NBC’s Today.
“We understand that families realize the fact that time has gone by, they realize that the chances are growing all dimmer,” she said. “They are with us, they know what we’ve been doing every step of the way.”
Crews could be seen climbing a mound of debris at the site Monday alongside a piece of heavy equipment that was picking up rubble.
Crews immediately began clearing some of the new debris after the demolition late on Sunday so rescuers could start making their way into parts of the underground garage that is of particular interest. Officials said the search effort had resumed before midnight.
“As a result of the contractor who brought it down, he did it in such a way that literally we actually were back on the original pile in less than 20 minutes,” Jadallah told family members of those missing, drawing applause in a rare upbeat moment for the twice-daily meetings.
Rescuers were hoping to get a clearer picture of voids that may exist in the rubble as they search for those believed to be trapped under the fallen wing of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside that collapsed on 24 June.
No one has been rescued alive since the first hours after the collapse. On Sunday, Miami-Dade police identified David Epstein, 58, as one of the 27 people known to have died in the fallen tower. His remains were recovered Friday.
Some residents had pleaded to return to their homes one last time before the demolition to retrieve belongings left in haste, but they were denied. A local volunteer animal rescuer petitioned to a judge a request to delay the building demolition to save any pets that could remain in the building. A Miami-Dade county attorney said that the building was already full of explosives and would be a hazard to the woman and rescue crews. The judge denied her request, allowing the demolition to go as planned.
The decision to demolish the remnants of the Surfside building came after concerns mounted that the damaged structure was at risk of falling, endangering the crews below and preventing them from operating in some areas. Parts of the remaining building shifted on Thursday, prompting a 15-hour suspension in the work.
The approaching Tropical Storm Elsa had added urgency to the demolition plans with forecasts suggesting the system could bring strong winds. Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in Florida because of the storm, making federal aid possible.
The latest forecasts have moved the storm westward, mostly sparing south Florida, but the area could still feel effects.
Authorities had gone door-to-door to advise nearby residents of the timing of the demolition, and to ask them to keep windows closed. They were told to stay inside until two hours after the blast to avoid the dust raised by the implosion.
The method used for Sunday night’s demolition is called “energetic felling”, which uses small detonation devices and relies on the force of gravity. The goal was to bring in the building down in place, containing the collapse to the immediate surroundings.
Officials used tarps to visually mark the search area, in case new debris scattered unexpectedly.
The Associated Press contributed to this report