Search and rescue efforts for 118 unaccounted for residents continued Monday now that the unstable remnants of a Miami-area condo tower that collapsed nearly two weeks ago has been brought down.
Demolition occurred at about 10:30 p.m. Sunday night for the section of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida that remained upright following the partial collapse of the building on June 24. The destruction of the remaining structure has allowed search and rescue teams to explore more of the debris without concerns that the unstable building will collapse on the crews, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said on NBC News’ “TODAY” show.
“We owe it to all of those waiting to get this pile and open it up for search and that’s exactly what happened last night before midnight,” Cava said Monday morning. “They were out there again, searching in the rubble. And we understand that families realize the fact that time has gone by, they realize that the chances are going dimmer and dimmer.”
Three additional bodies were found after teams continued their search, raising the death toll to 27 on Monday morning.
Search efforts were put on pause Saturday after engineers evaluating the remaining structure deemed it too unstable for crews to work the debris pile. Authorization for the demolition was accelerated by city and state officials after Cava said the building posed a threat to public safety.
Some families were resistant to the timeline, however, and asked a judge to halt the demolition so that they could go back to save their pets, according to NBC Miami. One woman told the judge during an emergency hearing Sunday that she was aware of the risk but was willing to go back in herself to save her cat.
The motion was denied.
The city used a method called energetic felling, which uses a series of small detonations and relies on gravity to bring the structure down on its own footprint. Cava said Monday that the technique worked as planned, without damaging or disturbing any other area of the site.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said Monday that he was hopeful that “we’re going to be seeing some miracle” in the days after the demolition. Search and rescue teams were able to go back to work the pile within 20 minutes of the demolition, with heavy equipment now permitted to enter the site.
“That’s a significant change, because now our men and women who are out there on the pile can utilize that equipment…operations are now moving much faster than they ever have,” Burkett said.
Officials are also hopeful that the incoming Tropical Storm Elsa will not cause further search delays, as the storm is currently on a path to impact the western part of the state. Inclement weather might still hit the Surfside, Florida, area but Cava said she does not expect a major impact on their work.
Efforts will continue 24/7 until every unaccounted for person will is found, with the exception of bad weather, Burkett said.
Families of the victims and survivors of the collapse have been placed in temporary housing at hotels until more permanent accommodations could be found. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency that allowed families to be registered for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and brought in other assistance to the state. A charitable fund was also created to help families in the interim period before they receive federal aid and insurance money.
Personal items found among the rubble are also being catalogued to return to families. The governor said during a news conference Monday that he understood the desire for families to return to the remaining structure for their belongings but that it just wasn’t feasible considering the risk that the building might collapse again.
“I would have loved for them to go in and get their belongings, but every single person said it’s too dangerous, that you could potentially have people die if that were to happen,” DeSantis said. “So obviously, it wasn’t worth that risk we cannot lose any more people.”
DeSantis added that he is working with local officials to try and expedite any kind of assistance for families, including mental health care, the aftermath of the collapse.
“This is something that is going to be require long term support, but I can tell you the support is there,” DeSantis said. “Getting through some of the bureaucracy to channel that sometimes in situations like this, unfortunately, can be can be something that we have to do, but the support is there.”
Though the reason for the collapse is still under investigation, the tragic accident has brought higher scrutiny on buildings in South Florida. Miami-area officials began a review of the structural integrity of all city condo high-rises above five stories in the aftermath of the Champlain Towers South collapse.
As part of that audit, one North Miami condominium complex was evacuated on Friday.
The Crestview Towers Condominium, built in 1972, was the subject of a Jan. 11 recertification report in which an engineer said the 156-unit complex “was structurally and electrically unsafe,” according to a statement Friday from the city of North Miami Beach. The zoning department “ordered the immediate closure and evacuation of Crestview Towers Condominium” as a result.
Champlain Towers North, about a block away, underwent an expedited inspection and Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said nothing was found that indicates the tower is in danger. He said a deep-dive inspection of the north tower will be conducted Tuesday by an engineering firm hired by the residents.
While some residents chose to leave, many have stayed put, saying their building — almost identical to the collapsed Champlain Towers South — is better maintained.
Officials have released a number of documents related to Champlain Towers South which revealed previous concerns about the building’s structural integrity. The findings from engineering consultant Frank Morabito showed there was “abundant cracking” and crumbling in the underground parking garage of the 12-story building, according to a 2018 report.
Morabito recommended that concrete slabs, which were “showing distress” by the entrance and pool deck, “be removed and replaced in their entirety.” He said the concrete deterioration should “be repaired in a timely fashion.”
That pool was swallowed into a massive sinkhole shortly before the collapse, now-missing resident Cassondra “Cassie” Billedeau-Stratton told her husband on the phone before her line went dead.
At least three lawsuits have been filed following the disaster, including one on Monday by Raysa Rodriguez, who was rescued from a balcony. She recounted in a complaint that seeks class-action status that the building “swayed like a sheet of paper.”
A spokesperson for the resident-led Champlain Towers South Condominium Association Inc. said they “cannot comment on pending litigation” and “our focus remains on caring for our friends and neighbors during this difficult time.”