FLORIDA, (Washington Insider Magazine) – Two more victims, including a 7-year-old, have been recovered from the rubble of the Miami condo building that partially collapsed last week, officials said Friday.
Twenty people are confirmed dead after nearly half of Champlain Towers South in Surfside crumbled suddenly about 1:30 a.m. June 24.
But the number of accounted for people spiked from 139 to 188, while the number of unaccounted for people dropped from 145 to 128.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the fluctuations, which she called “good news,” were the result of an ongoing audit of a list of people reported missing following the devastating collapse.
“One of the reasons that it has increased is that, in some cases in which we originally received a report of a potentially missing person, that report was only marked as one person,” she told reporters during a Friday morning briefing. “But when the detectives were able to reach and verify the safety of the person in question, we discovered that there are several members who could be accounted for and now we can mark them as safe.”
One of the victims found Thursday night was the 7-year-old daughter of a member of the City of Miami Fire Department, Levine Cava said.
“It goes without saying that every night … is immensely difficult,” Levine Cava said. “But last night was uniquely different and more difficult for our first responders.”
Crews on Friday were preparing for the possibility that Hurricane Elsa would sweep through the area. Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida would be impacted as early as Sunday night, and hurricane force winds were possible in Surfside.
Rescue workers have grappled with bad weather since work began on the site shortly after the collapse.
Work on the mound was halted for 15 hours Thursday over concerns about the stability of the remaining part of the 12-story building.
Fire Chief Alan R. Cominsky said widening cracks and up to a foot of movement in a large column forced the temporary stop at 2:11 a.m.
Crews were able to get back to work on parts of the mound shortly before 5 p.m. after the site was evaluated by structural engineers, Levine Cava said, adding that they were “really, really excited out there.”
“We will continue to search feverishly in the parts of the collapse that we have access to,” she said.
Engineers are now considering methods for how to demolish the standing part of the building “to make the site safe for ongoing rescue operations,” Scott Nacheman, a Federal Emergency Management Agency structures specialist, said Thursday.
If the building comes down, there initially will be a slowdown in the rescue operation, according to the official. However, Nacheman said the demolition of the structure would create a safer working environment that could allow more personnel on the site and accelerate the pace of the work.
It would likely be weeks before officials schedule the demolition, he said.
The decision about the demolition needs to be made “extremely carefully and methodically,” considering the potential impact on the pile of debris and the effect on the search, according to Levine Cava.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden traveled to Surfside on Thursday to meet with first responders and family members of those still missing.
Biden met Thursday with local officials and first responders at a hotel nearby the building site, but reserved most his time on the ground to meet with the families.
Speaking in a hotel ballroom to the families affected by the building collapse, Biden shared his own experiences with grief and loss after first wife and young daughter were killed in a car crash shortly after he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972 and after his son Beau died in 2015 from brain cancer.
“The hardest thing is not knowing,” Biden told the families, according to videos of the private event shared on social media. “I wish I could tell you that it’s all going to get better, but I can’t.”
“The whole nation is mourning with these families,” Biden said. “They are going through hell.”
Levine Cava thanked him for his support, saying he spent more than three hours with the families. “He listened deeply to everyone,” she said. DeSantis, a Republican, also thanked Biden for lending the support of the federal government.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology, which investigated in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, announced Wednesday that “it would launch a full technical investigation” into the collapse.
A team has been at the site for days and determined that the collapse met the criteria for an in-depth federal investigation.
The investigation does not have a set timeline and is expected to take years to complete.
Miami’s top prosecutor said Tuesday she will ask a grand jury to investigate the collapse in hopes to get answers sooner.
A 2018 report showed that a concrete slab below the building’s pool deck had “major structural damage” and needed extensive repairs. The report also found indicated that there was “abundant cracking” and crumbling in the underground parking garage.
The report said the damage should be repaired because it would multiply exponentially as time progressed.
Sure enough, in a letter sent in April to residents, Champlain Towers South Board President Jean Wodnicki wrote that the building’s “concrete deterioration is accelerating.”
And the building may be even worse off than contractors thought, she wrote.
“When performing any concrete restoration work, it is impossible to know the extent of the damage to the underlying rebar until the concrete is opened up,” Wodnicki said. “Oftentimes the damage is more extensive than can be determined by inspection of the surface.”