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Surfside, Florida condo collapse: The remains of the uilding could potentially also fall down and search crews are at risk, county attorney says


Search and rescue crews were under “immediate threat” due to the building’s instability and a worsening hurricane, which is currently in the Caribbean and is expected to hit Florida early next week, said David Murray, the attorney for Miami-Dade County.

“An uncontrolled collapse of the structure — which is surrounded by residential property, and which is currently being worked and secured by hundreds of fire rescue personnel, police officers, and other government employees — poses significant risk to human life and property,” Murray wrote in the filing.

Nearly 55 of the 136 units of the Champlain Towers South, located just north of Miami Beach, crumbled in the early hours of June 24. The deadly collapse has killed 22 people so far and 126 remain unaccounted for as of Friday, Miami-Dade Daniella Levine Cava said. Two bodies were recovered Friday from the rubble, she said.

As for the remaining part of the building, Murray’s court filing said a collapse “will cause the release of hazardous household materials, particulate matter, and will pose fire risk.”

Levine Cava signed an emergency order Friday authorizing the demolition of the tower “in the interest of public health and safety.”

At a news conference, the mayor said the demolition would not occur before the hurricane made its way through the area but would most likely take weeks “based on the recommendations of engineers.”

Levine Cava told CNN that it was too early to determine whether Surfside is in danger from Hurricane Elsa, adding that preparations have begun.

“We have started that process and urged everyone to make the necessary hurricane preparations,” Levine Cava said. “And we’ll be monitoring the storm so that if it seems that the wind strength will be too high for us to safely continue to search and rescue, we’ll have to put a pause.”

Fire department confirm member’s child found in the rubble

On Friday, the latest death of a child found in the rubble was confirmed by the Miami Department of Fire and Rescue.

The 7-year-old daughter of a Miami firefighter is among the Surfside, Florida, building collapse victims

“Our hearts and prayers are with the families affected by this horrific tragedy. We can confirm that a member of our City of Miami Fire Department family has lost his 7-year-old daughter in the collapse,” Fire Chief Joseph Zahralban said in a statement.

Members of the Urban Search and Rescue Team on Florida Task Force 2 recovered the girl’s body, Zahralban said.

'Tragedy beyond tragedy': Champlain Towers South was a catastrophe in slow motion

The girl’s father did not find her body, officials said, adding that other team members alerted him Thursday night. The girl’s name was not made public at the request of the family.

Officials Friday released the names of three people who died in the collapse. Bonnie Epstein, 56; Claudio Bonnefoy, 85 and Maria Obias-Bonnefoy, 69 were recovered over the past two days.

Criticism of the former Surfside building official

Meanwhile, amid the increased scrutiny of the condo board and its response to a 2018 report citing “major structural damage,” the actions of the city are also getting fresh attention.
Surfside’s former building official, Rosendo “Ross” Prieto, assured residents of Champlain Towers South that their building was “in very good shape” in November 2018, despite having received a report warning of “major structural damage.”

He worked for the city of Miami Beach as a senior building inspector from about 2007 to 2013. In an April 2012 email, Prieto’s boss expressed frustration with Prieto’s attendance issues.

“[I] am having problems with him for coming late, not calling on time when sick, forgetting to punch in or out, not answering the phone, etc. I suggest to have a meeting with him to establish disciplinary actions,” the email stated, noting that Prieto missed inspections that day.

Condo residents saw pool deck and garage collapse before tower crumbled to the ground

Prieto had emailed his boss earlier that afternoon saying he had “been fighting a sinus infection for almost a year” and “had a bad reaction to [his] medications.”

He was suspended weeks later for missing work twice within a 12-month period without his supervisor’s authorization on two occasions. A 2013 performance review stated that he was absent an excessive number of days and arrived late 22 times in a one-year period, according to documents, which were first reported by The New York Times.

A 2007 memo about Prieto’s initial hiring in Miami Beach stated that he brought “extensive industry experience and education” to the job. A spokesperson for the city told CNN he left the job in good standing.

The Surfside building department was placed under administrative review in early 2019 before condo collapse

Prieto has not responded to CNN’s multiple requests for comment.

Prieto led the building department in Surfside in 2018 when it became the target of mounting complaints by residents and contractors — so much so that the town manager at the time told CNN he placed the office under administrative review.
The city of Doral, Florida, said it began reviewing eight projects Prieto had worked on since arriving in the position in May “out of an abundance of caution.”

“The internal review of the work done by Mr. Prieto is an ongoing process by our licensed experts,” a spokesperson for Doral said Friday in a statement.

Condo association challenges

Max Friedman, a former member of the condo association, told CNN on Friday that board resignations — largely over how to find the $15 million that was needed to fix the building’s many structural issues — held up the much-needed repairs.

“I would never quit a board — I think that’s terrible,” said Friedman, who was a member from 2011 until 2016 and lives in Manhattan. When asked about the general sentiment among residents, he said, “there was confusion” and he personally felt the resignations of board members were “inappropriate.”

As the investigation continues into what led to the partial collapse, public scrutiny has turned to the condo board.

Condo residents saw pool deck and garage collapse before tower crumbled to the ground

“We know that answers will take time as part of a comprehensive investigation and we will continue to work with city, state, local, and federal officials in their rescue efforts, and to understand the causes of this tragedy,” the board said Friday in a statement.

Still, Friedman was careful to note that he didn’t think the board could have possibly known that the building was in immediate danger.

“The township didn’t tell us,” said Friedman, referring to Prieto, who was Surfside’s building official at the time.

Friedman described Champlain Towers South as a tight-knit community of residents from all over the world. He said one of the residents he was close with is among the confirmed dead, and other friends are unaccounted for.

“Every civil engineer from here to the moon is now drawing conclusions,” Friedman said. “Eventually, it’ll be determined what caused this.”

CNN’s David Shortell, Rosa Flores, Curt Devine and Daniel A. Medina contributed to this report

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