SURFSIDE, Fla. — The flicker of candles and glowsticks dotted the oceanfront Monday night as a group gathered for a meditation and moment of silence on the beach near the site of a collapsed condo building just north of Miami Beach.
The death toll on Monday rose to 11 after first responders pulled two more bodies from the rubble, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said. There are 150 people still unaccounted for.
After the gathering, the group walked to a growing memorial near the building to lay flowers, notes and candles. A chain link fence is so full of sentimental ornaments that it is barely visible.
“Seeing this makes it a bit more real, which is saddening for me, but it’s the truth,” said Ciena Falcon, 11, whose friend is among the missing.
“When you are with people who are all grieving for the same cause, it just makes you feel a little better,” she added.
Authorities reiterated Monday that it was a search and rescue effort. Workers continued to sift through the rubble and listen for signs of life. Officials were expected to give an update at 11:30 a.m. ET.
Meanwhile, questions about what brought a section of the Champlain Towers South down has intensified since the collapse last Thursday.
An April letter obtained by USA TODAY from the president of the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association said that damage to the building’s basement garage had “gotten significantly worse” since an inspection two and a half years earlier and that deterioration of the building’s concrete was “accelerating.”
The letter offers a glimpse into what led up to the deadly collapse, suggesting millions of dollars in necessary repairs had been a subject of frustration among residents.
“We have discussed, debated, and argued for years now,” the letter stated.
Here’s what we know Tuesday:
Biden may visit Florida, urges federal investigation
President Joe Biden told reporters Tuesday that he could visit Florida “as early as Thursday,” to visit the site of a collapsed condominium.
“Yes, I hope so,” Biden said at the White House when asked if he would visit Florida. “As soon as we can.”
Details of the possible trip are not yet known.
Meanwhile on Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden thinks an investigation should be launched into the collapse. During a press conference, Psaki was asked whether Biden believed the federal government had a role to play in examining infrastructure failures that led to the tragedy.
“He does believe that there should be an investigation,” Psaki replied. “Certainly, we want to play any constructive role we can play with federal resources in getting to the bottom of it and preventing it from happening in the future.”
— Rebecca Morin and Chelsey Cox, USA TODAY
More victims identified late Monday
The bodies of 11 people have been recovered from the site as the desperate search for survivors have continued.
Miami-Dade police on Monday night released the names of victims who have been identified: Marcus Joseph Guara, 52, whose body was recovered Saturday; Frank Kleiman, 55, whose body was recovered Monday; and Michael Davis Altman, 50, whose body was recovered Monday.
Sunday night, the police identified: Leon Oliwkowicz, 80; Luis Bermudez, 26; and Anna Ortiz, 46; all who were recovered on Saturday. Christina Beatriz Elvir, 74, was recovered Sunday.
The first victim to be identified was Stacie Fang, 54, whose 15-year-old son was pulled alive from the wreckage. Those also identified Monday were: Antonio Lozano, 83; Gladys Lozano, 79; and Manuel LaFont, 54.
What we know about the missing:There are 150 people missing in the building collapse in Miami
Condo letter says concrete deterioration was accelerating
An April letter from the president of the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association sheds light on worsening damage to the building’s basement garage and deterioration of its concrete.
The author, Jean Wodnicki, president of the association’s board of directors, survived Thursday’s collapse, a condo association attorney told the media.
Over seven pages, Wodnicki provided an overview of the major repairs required for the building. She noted that in fall 2018, as documents previously released by the town of Surfside show, the association hired engineering firm Morabito Consultants to inspect the building. That inspection found a “major error” in the design of the building, crumbling concrete columns in the garage area beneath the structure, and predicted that failure to fix the problems in the “near future will cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially.”
In her letter written about 30 months later, Wodnicki noted that “indeed the observable damage such as in the garage has gotten significantly worse” since the first inspection.
Jay Miller, a retired college professor from Philadelphia who moved to Champlain Towers South three years ago, told USA TODAY on Saturday residents knew about an October 2018 report warning of “major structural damage” and ultimately voted to make fixes — though reaching that agreement took time. Read more here.
— Kyle Bagenstose and Romina Ruiz-Goiriena, USA TODAY
Rescuers rotate in 12-hour shifts; none severely injured
Hundreds of Miami-Dade County fire rescue workers continued to rotate in 12 hour shifts as they search for any signs of survivors. No rescue workers have been severely injured, but one worker did take a 25-foot tumble, officials said.
“Every time there is an action, there is a reaction,” said Raide Jadallah, assistant chief of rescue operations for the Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue Team, as he described what he called a complex search and rescue operation.
Family members saw the danger firsthand on Sunday when authorities allowed them to tour the site. “They witnessed a rescuer tumble 25 feet down the mound,” he said.
A portion of the tower that is standing remains a threat to first responders working directly below, said Alan Cominsky, Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue chief.
“We are constantly monitoring (the structure). We have seismic graphs, lasers that are monitoring certain cracks on the building,” he said. “… Right now we have been reassured, based on what we have seen, that the building has had no movement. So that’s why we continue working.”
Federal agency to conduct extensive probe
The investigation into what caused the Champlain Towers South collapse is already underway, officials said at a Monday afternoon news conference.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said he spoke with representatives of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, who will be conducting an investigation into the causes of the collapse. The NIST, founded in 1901, has investigated the 9/11 terrorist attacks and other incidents, including the 2003 Rhode Island nightclub fire, the 2011 tornado in Joplin, Missouri, and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017.
“They have never done just a straight building collapse that wasn’t involved with either hazards or acts of terrorism,” DeSantis said. “This is going to be something that is important and it is something that is going to be very thorough. … It is going to take a long time. That is the kind of horizon they work on.”
DeSantis said more immediate investigations conducted by Miami-Dade County and the town of Surfside could shed some light more quickly and alluded to the possibility of state regulatory changes if necessary following those assessments.
“If there are things that need to be done at the state level, we obviously would want to get information as soon as possible,” DeSantis said.
Contributing: Ryan Miller and Jorge Ortiz, USA TODAY; Jennifer Sangalang, Palm Beach Post.