New York Daily News: MANHATTAN – Another two bodies have been pulled from the rubble of the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South in Florida, the remains of which could be completely demolished as soon as Sunday.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced the additional fatalities Saturday morning, bringing the death toll to two dozen. Another 124 people remained missing nearly 10 days after a large wing of the oceanfront building in Surfside, a quiet neighborhood just outside of Miami Beach, crumbled to the ground around 1:25am on June 24.
Since then, hundreds of rescue workers have been carefully combing through the debris for both the living and dead, though no one has been found alive since the first hours after the collapse. Their efforts however were put on hold for more than 15 hours on Thursday due to concerns surrounding the tower’s structural integrity.
“Our firefighters looked really, really excited to get back there,” Cava said, adding, “I am grateful to their hard work that got us back to work on the search and rescue.”
With each passing day, worries have only intensified that the 12-story building could come tumbling down on its own. And those concerns have only been further fueled by the approaching Tropical Storm Elsa, which briefly strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane on Friday before striking islands in the Caribbean.
Meteorologists have forecast Elsa could loom over Florida for days, threatening to bring fierce gusts and massive rainfall to the area early next week.
“The fear was that the hurricane may take down the building for us, and take it down in the wrong direction, on top of the pile where we have victims,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said.
Fire Rescue Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told family members during a morning briefing that the building would be brought down “as soon as possible. First thing tomorrow.”
Cava earlier this week said the demolition would require an “extremely” delicate and methodical approach considering the impact it could have on the existing rubble. On Friday, she announced that she signed an emergency order allowing for the building to be taken down once engineers and other officials approve.
Scott Nacheman, a FEMA structures specialist, said there are both pros and cons to taking down what remained of the Champlain Towers South. He acknowledged that while the demolition would initially cause a slowdown in the rescue operation, it would likely create a safer environment and allow for more personnel on-site, which would ultimately speed up the work pace.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said taking down the building is “the prudent thing to do,” adding the state would foot the bill.
“If the building is taken down, this will protect our search-and-rescue teams because we don’t know when it could fall over, and of course, with these gusts, potentially that would create a really severe hazard,” DeSantis said Saturday.
Jadallah said a follow-up meeting is scheduled for later in the afternoon to finalize details of the demolition, which could allow rescuers access to parts of the garage area for the first time. A search of the underground floor could also provide additional insight into what caused the collapse, given a report questioned the garage’s structural integrity in 2018.
He added that the remnants of the demolished structure would be removed immediately after demolition with the hopes that rescue operations can resume as quickly as possible.
- Top Feature Photo: Search and rescue personnel work atop the rubble at the Champlain Towers South condo building, where scores of victims remain missing more than a week after it partially collapsed, Friday, July 2, 2021, in Surfside, Fla – Mark Humphrey/AP