SURFSIDE, Fla. – Six days after a condo building outside Miami collapsed, families of the 149 missing people are growing weary as they desperately wait for answers.
The death toll rose to 12, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said late Tuesday afternoon. Their relatives have been notified by authorities.
As the Surfside community mourns, President Joe Biden announced Tuesday he will visit the site of the collapsed building Thursday.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said he has received questions from frustrated families about why rescue efforts stopped during thunderstorms, and State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said she will pursue a grand jury investigation into what led to the collapse. Levine Cava said she fully supports such an inquiry.
“We have people waiting and waiting and waiting for news,” Levine Cava told reporters. “We have them coping with the news that they might not have their loved ones come out alive and still hope against hope that they will. They’re learning that some of their loved ones will come out as body parts. This is the kind of information that is just excruciating for everyone.”
Families wondered how long a person could survive under the heaps of rubble, Burkett said in a news briefing, adding he remains hopeful survivors will be found. Authorities reiterated that work at the site was a search-and-rescue effort. Workers sifted through the rubble, listening and looking for signs of life.
“Nobody is giving up hope here,” Burkett said.
‘Significantly worse’:Doomed Miami condo’s concrete deterioration was accelerating in April, condo letter says
Here’s what we know Tuesday:
Rosendo “Ross” Prieto, the former Surfside building official who found no significant issues with the Champlain Towers South structure less than three years ago, has been placed on leave from his current job as temporary building official for the Miami suburb of Doral, Florida, the Miami Herald and Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
An inspection by the engineering firm Morabito Consultants warned in October 2018 of major structural problems at the Surfside high-rise, but a month later Prieto told condo board members the building was in “very good shape,” according to minutes of a meeting released Monday.
At the time of Prieto’s assessment on Nov. 15, 2018, Champlain Towers was beginning to explore what work was needed under city and county ordinances for the building to meet a 40-year recertification that was to arrive in 2021.
The Morabito inspection found “major structural damage” and the potential for “exponential damage,” and said repairs would cost $9 million. That figure has now increased to $15 million.
Biden to visit Florida, urges federal investigation
Biden announced he and first lady Jill Biden would go to Florida on Thursday.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president wants to thank rescuers for their work and “meet with the families who have been forced to endure this terrible tragedy, waiting in anguish and heartbreak for word of their loved ones, to offer them comfort as search-and-rescue efforts continue.”
On Monday, Psaki said Biden believes the reasons for the collapse need to be investigated, and various federal agencies are already providing expertise.
— Rebecca Morin and Chelsey Cox, USA TODAY
More victims identified late Monday
The bodies of 11 people have been recovered from the site.
Monday night, Miami-Dade police 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 his mother Ana Ortiz, 46; all of whom were recovered Saturday. Christina Beatriz Elvira de Oliwkowicz, 74, who was married to Leon Oliwkowicz, was recovered Sunday.
The first victim to be identified was Stacie Fang, 54, whose 15-year-old son was pulled alive from the wreckage. Also identified Monday: 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
Questions about what brought a section of the Champlain Towers South down have intensified since the collapse last Thursday.
A letter in April, 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 might have led 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 said.
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 a 2018 inspection that 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 after the inspection, Wodnicki said “the observable damage such as in the garage has gotten significantly worse” since then. 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 rotated in 12-hour shifts at the collapse site, searching for any signs of survivors. No rescue workers have been severely injured, but one worker took 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, describing what he called a complex search-and-rescue operation.
Family members saw the danger firsthand Sunday when authorities allowed them to tour the site. “They witnessed a rescuer tumble 25 feet down the mound,” he said.
Mayor Burkett said Tuesday that debris from the shattered edge of the part of the building that still stands fell overnight, causing the western part of the structure to be cordoned off because it was too dangerous to work there.
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),” he said. “We have seismic graphs, lasers that are monitoring certain cracks on the building. … 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.”
Community members mourn
The flicker of candles and glowsticks dotted the oceanfront Monday night asa group gathered for ameditation and moment of silence on the beach near the rubble.
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, who has a friend 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 said.
Contributing: Ryan Miller; Jennifer Sangalang, Palm Beach Post.