Surfside building collapse death toll climbs to 9; 150 still missing

SURFSIDE, Florida – Nine people are confirmed dead and at least 150 are missing as the arduous and dangerous search for survivors of a condo collapse continued in this coastal city north of Miami Beach on Sunday.

Accompanied by dogs trained to find both people and bodies, the searchers dug a 12-meter-deep trench through the site to aid their efforts, which were temporarily halted early Sunday 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 in the rubble and other human remains,” said the mayor of the district Daniella Levine Cava at a morning press conference.

Governor Ron DeSantis said the rescue operations are progressing slowly in part because the rubble of the building itself has “forensic” value and is being transported to a warehouse for further investigation into the cause of the collapse.

“They’re looking for loopholes where they could possibly save someone, that’s the name of the game,” DeSantis said. “Obviously you will see a lot of bigger debris moving away.”

At some point during the morning press conference, Levine Cava was close to tears as other officials repeatedly thanked other agencies and the federal government for their offers of help. Authorities said they had enough staff to maximize the search effort with security in mind. They said there could be risk of collapsing injuring survivors or other rescue workers if too many searchers are sent into the area.

Neighboring Miami Beach declared a state of emergency on Sunday, paving the way for additional state and federal aid. President Joe Biden has also declared the collapse a catastrophe, a necessary step to ensure federal support, aid, and reimbursements.

Tortured family members, many upset at the slow recovery, were given a private tour of the area on Sunday afternoon. Journalists were kept away while visiting the construction site, where a crane was lifting large pieces of debris.

A team of Israeli search and rescue specialists joined efforts to find survivors and recover bodies. The approximately 10 members of the Israeli Home Front Command team are experts in engineering and social welfare. They marched into the compound on Sunday morning to join the dangerous search of the 12-story building on the beach, which is still falling into air conditioners and furniture. Authorities performed DNA tests on relatives to help identify bodies.

Many of those found in the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South building were Jews, and up to 20 of the missing Fridays are believers, Maor Elbaz-Starinsky, Israel’s consul general in Miami, USA TODAY said.

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

“Not only do you break and cut as you walk, but you also have to support what’s left. And you’re trying to work in tiny crevasses, ”said Aseltine, a task force leader for Colorado Task Force 1, one of 28 FEMA-approved urban search and rescue teams. “Everything that was in the building is still there, but it was pulverized, it was damaged. This includes food, chemicals, cables.

A wing of the apartment building collapsed around 1.30 a.m. on Thursday. Video recordings captured the rapid disintegration of the center of the building and the wing in a cloud of dust. Since then, fires and floods have hampered search and rescue operations, and authorities are proceeding cautiously and using lasers to measure the displacement of debris.

The American Red Cross established a reunion site for family and friends near the site of the partial collapse of a 12-story condominium in Surfside, Florida, early Thursday, June 24, 2021.  About 70 people crowded into a room with chairs and blue exercise mats on the floor.

“There are the fires that have occurred that ultimately cause the metal to expand, the concrete to expand, and smoke. But these also risk weakening an already vulnerable building,” said Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s State Fire Marshal. Rescuers try to “work as quickly as possible while looking out for the safety and well-being of those who do the work to save the lives of others. It’s a really delicate balancing act.”

Patronis said search and rescue teams from across Florida and Mexico have also joined the effort. The crews worked 12-hour shifts at high temperatures with occasional rainfall.

“These crews work around the clock because they know there is limited time to find them when someone is possibly alive,” said Aseltine. “These crews risk a lot to save a lot, and they are doing everything they can to help these families and the people who may still be trapped in this building.”

People embrace outside the Surfside Community Center as they wait for news on June 25, 2021 in Surfside, Florida.  The 12-story Champlain Towers South Condo building partially collapsed in Surfside on Thursday.

The building smells of electric fires wafting through the nearby streets, even though it’s eerily quiet. The public is kept far away from the construction site, where dust still fills the air between the rains.

The building was constructed in 1981 and should undergo a 40-year inspection before it collapsed. Authorities said it was unclear why it collapsed, but researchers and engineers have pointed to a variety of possibilities, including sea level rise, the corrosive effects of salt water, the stability of the soil below, sloppy construction, or lax oversight .

The building has a nearby twin, Champlain Towers North, built at the same time by the same developer, about 100 meters away, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told reporters on Saturday. Burkett said he had ordered an inspection of the north building and was considering relocating residents until that “deep dive” is complete.

“I know the identical building collapsed for some inexplicable reason,” said Burkett. “Buildings in the United States don’t come easy. … Something very, very wrong was going on in this building and we need to find out. ”

Among the victims of the disaster were Antonio Lozano (83) and Gladys Lozano (79), a couple who were about to celebrate their 59th wedding anniversary. The couple, both Cuban émigrés, had dinner with their son Sergio Lozano a few hours before the breakdown, he told Miami’s WPLG-TV. If there is any consolation in her death, it is knowing that the two of them “went together and went quickly”.

The other victims identified are residents Manual LaFont, 54, and Stacie Fang, 54. Fang’s teenage son Handler was rescued by a nearby resident, Nicholas Balboa, who was walking his dog near the buildings and his Heard screams.

Rescue workers work in the rubble of the Champlain Towers South Condo, Friday, June 25, 2021, in Surfside, Florida.

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 had offered to fly family members of victims and missing people to Florida.

After the collapse, the property owners filed a class action lawsuit against the homeowners association Champlain Towers South, arguing that they were not properly maintaining the building.

Contributor: Associated Press

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

Leave a Comment