SURFSIDE, Fla. – Bands of rain from an approaching tropical storm and a forecast that includes possible tornadoes added to the hurdles faced by rescue workers seeking signs of life Tuesday among the ruins of the Miami-area condominium collapse.
Four more bodies were found, raising the death toll to 32, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Tuesday. She said 26 of the victims had been identified.
Levine Cava said 113 people remain unaccounted for, although “only around 70 of those are people we have been able to confirm were in fact in the building” when it fell.
Authorities remained steadfast in describing the effort as search and rescue, 12 days after the stunning collapse at the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, a few miles north of Miami Beach. Photos of dozens of victims and those missing are displayed nearby on a makeshift Surfside Wall of Hope & Memorial.
No one has been found alive in the rubble after the day of the tragedy.
The remaining sections of the building were imploded Sunday amid concerns that winds from approaching Tropical Storm Elsa would topple the structure and bring the rescue to a halt.
“They are as intent as getting everybody out of that debris pile as the families are,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said of the rescue teams.
Elsa was expected to make landfall north of Tampa on Wednesday morning, but Miami-Dade County won’t be completely spared from its effects. Stiff winds were sweeping through the site Tuesday, hampering the efforts of large cranes brought in to move debris. Showers, thunderstorms and even a stray tornado were possible through Wednesday.
Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said there was a two-hour delay early Tuesday as a result of lightning. Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava lauded the efforts of the workers, pressing on day and night despite the rain and the risks of shifting debris.
“They live to save lives, and they’ve pushed ahead no matter what is thrown in their way,” Levine Cava said.
The investigation into the cause of the collapse is underway, but officials warn that no final determination is likely in the immediate future. Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle has pledged to have a grand jury look at “what steps we can take to safeguard our residents” without jeopardizing public safety – or potential criminal – investigations.
City of Miami Fire Rescue Capt. Ignatius Carroll said his focus remains on “our primary mission.”
“That is to leave no stone unturned and to find as many people as we can and to help bring either some answers to family and loved ones or to bring some closure to them,” Carroll said.
The memorial wall serves as a somber magnet for mourners as the small barrier-island community comes to grips with the disaster. The fast-growing memorial extends along the western fence of Surfside’s tennis center. Hundreds of flower bouquets, stuffed animals, candles, handmade posters, religious messages and flags adorn the site.
A floral frame of red roses and yellow tulips on the chain-link fence surrounded the smiling portrait of Elaine Sabino. The JetBlue flight attendant, who relatives say loved to travel and meet new people, lived on the 12th floor. She remains unaccounted for.
“She was a very loving person. Very vivacious,” said Sabino’s sister, Daytona Beach resident Linda Howard as she fought back tears. “She had a bigger-than-life personality.”
Burkett said he believes the memorial is cathartic. And he hopes it becomes permanent.
“I think it’s a beautiful expression of love and respect. And it’s the kind of spontaneous creation that moves people,” Burkett said. “I think it’s fantastic. I think it’s necessary. And I’m very thankful that the people who put that wall up are maintaining it with love and passion.”
Contributing: Wendy Rhodes, Palm Beach Post; The Associated Press