Florida building collapse death toll climbs to 9; families visit the site

  • Nine people have died and at least 150 are still missing in a condominium collapse near Miami Beach, authorities confirmed on Sunday.
  • Researchers dug a 40-foot-deep trench through the site to aid in their efforts.
  • Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said rescue work is proceeding slowly, in part because the rubble from the 136-unit building itself has “forensic” value.

SURFSIDE, Fla .– The careful and dangerous search for survivors of a condominium collapse continued in a beach town north of Miami Beach on Sunday, as families and community members hoped the 152 missing would be found alive.

“We just need a few more miracles every day,” Seaside Mayor Charles Burkett said at a Sunday afternoon press conference.

Nine people have been confirmed dead, eight of whom were extracted from the rubble. The other died in hospital on Sunday.

“The belly of this community was cut in an instant,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. She was planning to return to Washington on Monday after being in the city since the apartment collapsed on Thursday.

The distraught family members, many of whom are upset by the slow recovery, were given a private tour of the area on Sunday afternoon. In total, around 100 family members visited the site for about an hour.

Journalists were kept away during the site visit, where a crane cleared large pieces of debris.

Accompanied by dogs trained to find people and bodies, researchers dug a 40-foot-deep trench through the site to aid in their efforts, which were temporarily halted Sunday morning as the rubble moved. The trench provided access to new areas, Miami-Dade County authorities said.

“As a result, we were able to recover four more bodies from the rubble, as well as additional human remains,” County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a morning press conference.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said the rescue work is proceeding slowly in part because the rubble from the 136-unit building itself has “forensic” value and is being trucked to a warehouse for investigation into the cause. collapse.

“They’re looking to see if there are any gaps where they could potentially save someone, that’s kind of the name of the game,” DeSantis said. “Obviously you’re going to start to see a lot of major debris that’s going to be moved out of there.”

During the press conference, Levine Cava appeared on the verge of tears, as other officials repeatedly thanked other agencies and the federal government for their offers of help. Authorities said they have enough staff to maximize search efforts, with security in mind. They said sending too many researchers to the area could risk injuring survivors or other rescue workers by causing collapses.

Nearby Miami Beach declared a state of emergency on Sunday, paving the way for additional state and federal assistance. President Joe Biden has declared the collapse a disaster, a necessary step to help secure federal aid, aid and reimbursements.

A team of Israeli search and rescue specialists joint efforts to find survivors and recover bodies from the site. Members of the Israel team Home Front Command are experts in engineering and welfare efforts. They walked to the site on Sunday morning to join the dangerous research in the 12-story beachfront building, where air conditioners and furniture still fall occasionally. The authorities carried out DNA tests on the relatives to help identify the bodies.

Many of those in the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South building were Jewish, and up to 20 of those missing Friday are religious, Maor Elbaz-Starinsky, Israel’s consul general in Miami, told USA TODAY.

Collapse of a building in Miami:Multiple factors could have contributed, experts say

Steve Aseltine, a Colorado-based urban search and rescue expert, said such searches are extremely slow because there is so much danger.

“Not only do you drill and cut as you go, but you have to consolidate what’s left. And you’re trying to work in tiny little crevices,” said Aseltine, chief of Colorado Task Force 1, one of the 28. urban research. -and-rescue teams recognized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Everything that was in the building is still there, but it was sprayed, it was damaged. That includes food, chemicals, wires. Anything you think is in your house becomes a danger to rescuers. . “

A wing of the residential building collapsed around 1:30 a.m. Thursday. Video footage captured the rapid disintegration of the building’s center and wing in a cloud of dust. Since then, fires and floods have hampered search and rescue efforts, and authorities have proceeded with caution, using lasers to measure the movement of debris.

Family and friends await news at the American Red Cross reunification site June 24 in Surfside, Florida.

“You have the fires that have happened; in the end, it creates expansion in the metal, expansion in the concrete, it creates smoke. But these also risk weakening an already compromised building. ” says Jimmy Patronis, the Florida Fire Marshal. Rescuers “try to work as fast as they can, while ensuring the safety and well-being of those doing the job to save the lives of others. It’s a real delicate balance.

Patronis said search and rescue teams from across Florida and Mexico have joined the effort. The crews worked 12 hour shifts in high temperatures and occasional showers.

“These teams are working 24/7 because they know that if someone is potentially alive, there is a limited amount of time to find them,” Aseltine said. “These crews are out there risking a lot to save a lot, and they’re doing all they can to help these families and the people who are potentially still trapped in this building.”

People kiss outside the Surfside Community Center while awaiting news on June 25, 2021 in Surfside, Florida.  The 12-story Champlain Towers South building partially collapsed Thursday in Surfside.

Inside the building, the smell of electrical fires wafts through the surrounding streets even though it is strangely quiet. The public is kept away from the site, where dust fills the air between torrential rains.

Erick D’Moura, who lived in the apartment building for three years, said a night swim in the ocean probably saved his life. D’Moura said he visited his girlfriend earlier today and jumped into the ocean before returning home. She persuaded him to come back inside and dry his clothes, so the two fell asleep shortly before the collapse. He woke up and started receiving frantic messages from friends who recognized the building from his social media posts.

” It’s a tragedy. We lived with these people. Even if we had dinner together or not, we would see each other in the elevator in the morning or in the evening. Sometimes I would help carry a box, and these people died, ”D’Moura said. “There were people from all over – from Colombia, Argentina, Cuba, people from here in Miami and people visiting. It’s a great mix. It’s Miami.

The Florida building partially collapsed:Before and after a look at the South Champlain towers

The building was erected in 1981 and was due for a mandatory 40-year inspection before it collapsed. Authorities said it was not clear why it collapsed, but researchers and engineers pointed to various possibilities, including sea level rise, the corrosive effect of salt water, stability of the ground below, poor construction or lax supervision.

The building has a nearby twin, Champlain Towers North, which was built at the same time by the same developer, about 100 yards away, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said on Saturday. Burkett said he ordered an inspection of the north building and that he plans to relocate residents until this “deep dive” is complete.

“I know the same building collapsed for some inexplicable reason,” Burkett said. “The buildings in America aren’t just falling.… Something very, very bad was going on in this building, and we have to find out.”

Rescuers search the rubble at Champlain Towers South condo on June 25 in Surfside, Florida.

Among those killed in the disaster were Antonio Lozano, 83, and Gladys Lozano, 79, a married couple about to celebrate their 59th wedding anniversary. The couple, both Cuban emigrants, had dinner with their son, Sergio Lozano, hours before the collapse, he told WPLG-TV from Miami. If there is any solace in their deaths, he said, it is knowing that the two “went together and went quickly.”

The other deaths identified are residents Manual LaFont, 54, Stacie Fang, 54; Léon Oliwkowicz, 80 years old; Christina Beatriz Elvira, 74 years old. Luis Bermudez, 26 years old; and Anna Ortiz, 46 years old.

Fang’s teenage son, Handler, was rescued by a nearby resident, Nicholas Balboa, who was walking his dog near the buildings and heard his screams.

LaFont was asleep when the building fell, his ex-wife, Adriana LaFont, told USA TODAY Network. The 42-year-old said the debris looked like a war zone. “When I saw him, I almost died,” LaFont said in Spanish. “I felt like those walls were falling on me too.”

JetBlue said on Sunday that one of its flight attendants, Elaine Sabino, was among the missing. The airline said it was working with her family and offered to take family members of the victims and missing to Florida.

After the collapse, the owners filed a class action proposal against the Champlain Towers South Owners Association, arguing that it had failed to properly maintain the building.

Contributor: Jesse Mendoza, USA TODAY Network; The Associated Press

A view of the 12-story building that partially collapsed Thursday morning from the beach in Surfside, Florida.

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