SURFSIDE, Fla. – The death toll in the condominium collapse rose to 27 on Monday when three more bodies were discovered as the desperate search resumed hours after the remaining sections of the building were brought down by controlled implosion.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said 118 people remained missing since the Champlain Towers South collapsed June 24. Authorities took down the remaining sections of the building Sunday, concerned that winds from approaching Tropical Storm Elsa would topple the structure and further endanger those hunting for survivors.
“Since first responders were able to resume their work on the collapse, we have very sadly recovered three additional victims,” Levine Cava said Monday.
She said part of the initial pile of rubble had been holding up the remaining building. Crews had avoided much of the search area in the shadow of the still-standing portion because of the fear of falling debris and the instability of the building.
“Only dust landed on the existing pile,” she said.
Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said the implosion halted the search for only about 20 minutes. Now, only lightning can stop the effort, he said.
The complex perched on the ocean’s edge has been reduced to a jagged pile of debris at least two stories tall, topped by a jumble of air conditioners, twisted rebar and snapped concrete columns. When the implosion was completed, heavy equipment roared at the scene. Dump trucks hauled away hundreds of tons of debris.
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Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett labeled Tropical Storm Elsa’s trek toward Florida “a blessing in disguise” because it accelerated the demolition plan, which was initially forecast to take weeks. He said emergency officials, rather than Elsa’s gusts, controlled the direction the structure fell to the ground.
“It’s eliminated a looming threat, a dangerous threat for our rescue workers,” he said.
The most recent forecasts have the storm’s primary impact on the state’s Gulf Coast, and Gov. Ron DeSantis said he will sign a revised executive order probably removing Miami-Dade from the counties under a state of emergency. Heavy rain and wind are in the forecast. DeSantis said the newly accessible area includes master bedrooms where people were believed to be sleeping when the building collapsed.
“We will be able to access every part of that pile, which they hadn’t been able to do up to this point,” DeSantis said. “I think it’s going to move the pace. I think the momentum is very strong.”
Levine Cava said the investigation into the cause of the collapse is underway. She declined to change the classification of work at the site from search and rescue to recovery.
“The world is mourning those who lost their loved ones and those who are waiting for news,” Levine Cava said. “My heart goes out to all of the families that have had this tragedy.”
She stressed that Miami-Dade Fire Rescue conducted three full sweeps of the building searching for pets before taking the building down. Firefighters searched in closets and under beds. Drones were deployed with thermal-imaging technology.
“We went truly to great lengths to take every step that we could, at great risk to our first responders, (to ensure no pets) were left in the building prior to demolition,” she said.
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At around 10:15 p.m. Sunday, as fireworks displays exploded across the nation, police cruisers with loudspeakers drove through the shelter-in-place zone surrounding the condominium site, advising all residents to remain inside their homes. Minutes later, three horns in succession sounded. About a minute later, there was the sound of loud, cracking explosives. Then, as planned, the building collapsed in on itself.
Dan Stankovic, who lives near the site, washed a layer of dust from his Porsche on Monday. He said he knew people who lived in the collapsed building – and a couple of people who are believed to remain in the rubble.
“You have all these personal belongings, memories, pictures, all that stuff – gone,” he said. “And these people that survived, that managed to get out, are going to be devastated, piecing their lives back together.”
Eric Morales hosed off white dust coating his Ford F-250 truck before heading to work as a wastewater contractor. He said he has lived within view of Champlain Towers South for 15 years.
“Oh my God, it’s devastating. There’s no words for it. What can you say?” Morales said. “It’s sad. And I unfortunately can’t unplug from it because it’s right here in front of the house. I have to deal with it every day.”
Contributing: The Associated Press
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