SURFSIDE, Fla. — The demolition of the rest of the partially collapsed Florida condo building could come as early as Sunday as rescuers suspended their search for the remaining 121 people still unaccounted for and officials braced for an incoming tropical storm.
The decision to move up the demolition of the rest of the Champlain Towers South came Saturday as officials in charge of the search and rescue in the rubble feared the structure could collapse as Tropical Storm Elsa brings strong winds to south Florida.
Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told the families of missing loved ones that the search and rescue operation had to be suspended while demolition crews drilled holes for the explosives. Jadallah said the drilling could cause the structure to fail, and if that were to happen, “It’s just going to collapse without warning.”
The exact timing of the demolition was not immediately clear. Officials said it depends on how quickly workers can drill holes and insert explosive charges – a slow process to ensure the building doesn’t collapse prematurely. DeSantis said Saturday it could come within 36 hours once the site is readied. On Sunday morning, Jadallah estimated it could begin as early as late Sunday night.
Elsa is forecast to approach the west coast of Florida on Tuesday and Wednesday. Although Surfside is on Florida’s east coast, the building was still threatened, Gov. Ron DeSantis said. “Although the eye of the storm is not likely to pass over this direction, you could feel gusts in this area.”
On Saturday, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the National Science Foundation was on scene using lidar – a laser-based system that can scan environments and buildings to create a digital map – and drones to create a 3D-model of the structure to assist engineers in demolition preparation.
Controlled Demolition, Inc., has been contracted to perform the demolition, Levine Cava said.
The Maryland-based company is more than 70 years old, according to its website. The company has been involved in several high-profile demolitions, including the Plaza Tower in Atlantic City, New Jersey; the One James River Plaza in Richmond, Virginia; the Seattle Kingdome stadium; the remains of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City; and the remains of the World Trade Center in New York.
Meanwhile, a third Miami- area condo building was evacuated late Saturday after an inspector found issues with flooring in a vacant unit and exterior wall damage to the low-rise unit, the Miami Herald reported. Another building had been evacuated Friday evening over structural concerns.
Two more bodies pulled from rubble
Miami-Dade Police said Saturday evening that two additional people were found dead in the collapsed section of the building, bringing the official death toll to 24. The June 24 building collapse has left 121 people still unaccounted for.
Police said Graciela Cattarossi, 48, and Gonzalo Torre, 81, were recovered Friday.
Contributing: The Associated Press