NORTH MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Rescuers put the hunt for the living and the dead in the wreckage of a South Florida condo complex on hold Saturday to allow crews to begin preparing the unstable remaining structure for demolition ahead of a tropical storm.
The search and rescue attempt was paused in the afternoon as workmen began the dangerous task of digging holes in the concrete of the still-standing piece of the Champlain Towers South tower in Surfside to contain explosives, according to Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah.
The suspension, Jadallah stated in the closed-door conference, was a necessary precaution since the drilling may cause the structure to collapse. “It’s just going to crumble without warning,” he stated if that happened.
However, in a video that one of the family livestreamed on social media, one of them was heard calling the search stop “devastating.” She wondered if rescuers might at least work around the perimeter of the site so that the effort would not be “stopped for so many painful hours.”
Two more remains were discovered Saturday, bringing the total number of verified deaths from the partial collapse of the 12-story structure to 24. There were still 121 persons who had not been found.
Concerns had been growing over the previous week that the weakened building would collapse, putting the workmen below in danger. The search in surrounding areas of the collapse site was slowed, and monitors detected shifts early Thursday, prompting a 15-hour pause of the entire operation until experts concluded it was safe to restart.
According to Jadallah, the structure would not be demolished until Monday at the earliest. He said the estimate was based on the number of holes the demolition crew would have to drill, and that the procedure would have to move carefully to avoid a premature collapse.
With Tropical Storm Elsa hovering in the Caribbean and expected to make landfall in Florida in the coming days, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said it is smart to dismantle the “tottering” and “structurally unsafe” structure.
“If the structure is demolished, it will safeguard our search and rescue crews because we never know when it will collapse,” DeSantis stated earlier in the day at a press conference. “And, of course, with these gusts, that could possibly create a very serious hazard.”
“The concern was that (Elsa) might demolish the building for us in the incorrect way,” said Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett.
As it swept across the island of Hispaniola, home to the Dominican Republic and Haiti, Elsa was reduced from a Category 1 hurricane to a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph).
By Tuesday morning, the long-term projected track saw it going toward Florida as a tropical storm, though some models had it heading into the Gulf or up the Atlantic Coast. Meteorologists have warned that the Miami area could see heavy rain and strong gusts.
“As a result, we can’t relax our guard,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Molleda. “You still need to keep a tight eye on this.”
The remnants of the structure will be removed as soon as it is demolished, with the goal of providing rescuers access for the first time to portions of the garage area that are of interest, according to Jadallah. This could provide a sharper view of any gaps in the rubble that might be hiding survivors.
Since the early hours after the collapse on June 24, no one has been saved alive.
Officials will resume the search and rescue on any areas of the pile that are “safe to approach as soon as we are cleared,” according to Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.
Some families had requested the ability to return to the building to retrieve personal items, but this will not be permitted.
DeSantis stated, “At the end of the day, that building is too unsafe to let anybody back in.” “I know there are a number of individuals who were able to get out and who have things there, fortunately.” We’re sympathetic to it, but I don’t believe there’s any way you can allow someone go up in that building in its current state.”