(SURFSIDE, Fla.) — At least 36 people, including three children, have been confirmed dead and 109 others remain unaccounted for after a 12-story residential building partially collapsed in South Florida’s Miami-Dade County last month.
The disaster occurred on June 24 around 1:15 a.m. local time at the Champlain Towers South condominium in the small, beachside town of Surfside, about 6 miles north of Miami Beach. Approximately 55 of the oceanfront complex’s 136 units were destroyed, according to officials. Since then, hundreds of first responders have been carefully combing through the pancaked piles of debris in hopes of finding survivors.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced Tuesday morning that four more bodies were recovered from the rubble. In the evening, she announced another four bodies had been recovered, bringing the official death toll to 36. Twenty-six of the victims have been identified.
Meanwhile, investigators have confirmed that 70 of the 109 people who are still missing were in fact inside of the condominium at the time of the partial collapse. Another 191 people who were living or staying in the building at that time have been accounted for and are safe, according to Levine Cava, who has stressed that the figures are “very fluid” and “will continue to change” as detectives continuously audit the list.
Although officials wouldn’t say when the search and rescue operation will formally transition into a recovery mission, Levine Cava told reporters that the crews will “continue as now to thoroughly, carefully sift through these piles,” looking for “bodies and belongings.” The process is a “very thorough and exhaustive” one, she said.
Crews have hauled away nearly 5 million pounds of concrete from the vast scene of wreckage, but large piles of rubble still remain. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said the rescue workers have been “aggressively” searching for any voids or “liveable spaces” within the debris where there could be trapped survivors but that they are “not coming across that.” No survivors have been discovered in the wreckage of the building since the morning it partially collapsed.
“We’re not seeing anything positive,” Cominsky told reporters on Tuesday morning.
The massive search and rescue mission is now in its 13th day, as teams are able to operate at full capacity and search in areas that were previously inaccessible.
The part of the building that remained standing was cleared of any people or pets before it was demolished on Sunday night, due to concerns about its structural integrity. However, it was too dangerous for surviving residents to enter the building to retrieve their belongings, officials said.
Video released by the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue on Monday night showed crews working atop the piles, braving the elements as Tropical Storm Elsa approached the Sunshine State.
The incoming storm, which has weakened from a hurricane, initiated the discussion about demolishing the rest of the building and fast-tracked the process, according to Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett. Elsa made landfall in Cuba on Monday and by Tuesday morning the storm’s center was moving through Key West with maximum sustained winds of 60 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service.
Prior to the demolition, the search and rescue operation was halted for almost an entire day last week due to safety concerns for the crews regarding the remaining structure. Poor weather conditions have also forced them to temporarily pause working.
The cause of the partial collapse to a building that has withstood decades of hurricanes remains unknown and is under investigation. Built in the 1980s, the Champlain Towers South was up for its 40-year recertification and had been undergoing roof work — with more renovations planned — when it partially collapsed, according to officials.
“The whole world wants to know what happened here,” Levine Cava told reporters on Tuesday morning. “I look forward to learning the truth, as do we all, but I think it’ll be a while before it is understood.”
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