Search shifts from rescue to restoration

Search and rescue teams continue to work in the rubble of the collapsed Champlain Towers South apartment in Surfside, Florida on July 6, 2021.

Eva Marie Uzcategui | AFP | Getty Images

Finding the site of a collapsed Florida condo building is shifting from a rescue to a salvage operation as the likelihood of finding survivors decreases, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said in a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

For two weeks, rescue teams have carried out arduous search and rescue operations to find more victims in the rubble of the collapsed Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida. But the possibility of finding someone alive is “near zero,” said Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett on Wednesday.

Levine Cava also announced that the death toll has risen to 54, of which 86 are not yet known.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our team. The extraordinary men and women from here, at home and from around the world who have given this search everything they have every day,” said Levine Cava.

“At this point we have really exhausted all of the options available to us on the search and rescue mission. Today is about beginning the transition to recovery so that we can help bring an end to the families who have suffered and who have been waiting for, “us.”

The transition from rescue to salvage will be at midnight tonight and will be marked by a moment of silence in front of the construction site with first responders and faith leaders, Levine Cava added.

Search and rescue teams were able to reach areas of the pile that were inaccessible before the building was demolished on Sunday evening without first responders injuring despite the difficult conditions at the site, Levine Cava said.

The building was demolished in a controlled demolition amid concerns that the standing structure was unstable and could fall on first responders as Hurricane Elsa approached Florida.

Weather conditions cleared Wednesday so rescue teams could continue their search efforts despite initial concerns about having to temporarily suspend work, Levine Cava said in the morning. Forecasters downgraded Elsa from hurricane to tropical storm on Wednesday after hitting land on Florida’s northern Gulf coast.

The emergency management department has received 42 resource requests from citizens affected by Tropical Storm Elsa, with more than 26,000 power outages, according to Florida Governor Jeanette Nunez.

More than 10,000 employees are ready to respond to these failures and provide resources such as water, food and generators, added Nunez.

After a brief stop to tear down the standing rubble, search and rescue workers will continue to work in the rubble of the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South apartment on July 5, 2021 in Surfside, Florida.

Giorgio Viera | AFP | Getty Images

Surfside Vice Mayor Tina Paul said authorities are working to find long-term housing for survivors of the condominium collapse, many of which are still staying in hotels.

“That is also a priority just to rebuild their lives,” Paul said. “The best way to start is to have a home to call your own.”

Paul added that authorities are receiving inquiries from board members and condominium presidents about the safety of their buildings. The City of Surfside issued a press release calling for a geotechnical survey of properties more than 30 years old, but Paul said better recommendations are being developed.

Levine Cava said Miami-Dade County is moving forward with a 30-day audit that evaluates all four-story residential properties that are 40 years or older and “have not completed the process of identifying and resolving issues.”

The county assessed a total of 40 buildings as part of the audit and identified one building with four balconies that was classified as unsafe according to Levine Cava. While the building was not being evacuated, the balconies were immediately closed.

The remaining portion of the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South Condo building is falling into controlled demolition on July 4, 2021 in Surfside, Florida.

Joe Raedle | Getty Images

Other cities, like North Miami Beach and Miami Beach, have also started conducting their own audits, she added.

“There will be changes, there will be improvements,” said Levine Cava.

Burkett also provided updates on Champlain Towers North, the sister property of the collapsed condo building. Engineers and authorities are on site to check that it is safe for residents to live in.

Burkett said it would take several weeks to gather sufficient evidence of structural problems at Champlain Towers North.

The cause of the collapse of the Champlain Towers South is still unknown.

Recent evidence shows that the 40-year-old building showed signs of structural damage as early as 2018, with waterproofing problems under the pool and cracks in the underground car park.

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