SURFSIDE, Fla. – Rescue teams resumed the desperate search for survivors of the Miami area condominium collapse Monday, hours after the remaining sections of the building were brought down by controlled implosion.
The complex perched on the ocean’s edge was reduced to a jagged pile of rubble at least two stories tall, topped by a jumble of air conditioners, twister rebar and snapped concrete columns. Heavy equipment roared at the scene, with dump trucks hauling away hundreds of tons of debris.
The death toll has slowly risen to two dozen since a wing of the Champlain Towers South collapsed June 24, but more than 120 people remain missing and are presumed buried in the mountain of rubble. Authorities decided to take down the remaining sections of the building immediately on Sunday, concerned that winds from approaching Tropical Storm Elsa would topple the structure.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said the building’s demolition could open up about one-third of the rubble pile to new access by search-and-rescue teams. Before Sunday night, crews had to avoid much of the search area in the shadow of the still-standing portion because of the fear of falling debris — such as massive air conditioner units dangling from the ripped-up structure — and the instability of the building.
Florida condo building: Controlled explosions take down what was left of collapsed condo
“Those who were forced to evacuate the remaining portion of the building left their entire lives behind. We know that,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said. “We’re deeply, deeply concerned and empathetic to how extraordinarily difficult this time is for them and their families.”
Since the collapse, she said Miami-Dade Fire Rescue conducted three full sweeps of the building searching for pets – including looking in closets and under beds, in case they were hiding. No pets were found, she said, though personnel even deployed drones with thermal-imaging technology.
But by 10:15 p.m. Sunday, as fireworks displays exploded across the nation, police cruisers with loudspeakers drove through the shelter-in-place zone surrounding the condominium site here, advising all residents to remain inside their homes. Minutes later, three horns in succession were sounded. About a minute later, there was the sound of loud cracking explosives. And then, as planned, the building collapsed in on itself.
Crews were back searching the rubble early Monday.
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Burkett labeled Tropical Storm Elsa’s trek toward Florida “a blessing in disguise” because it accelerated the demolition plan, which was initially forecast to take weeks. He also said emergency officials, rather than Elsa’s gusts, were able to control the direction the structure falls to the ground.
“It’s eliminated a looming threat, a dangerous threat for our rescue workers,” he said.
Early Monday, Eric Morales hosed off a white dust coating from his Ford F-250 truck before heading to work as a wastewater contractor. He has lived within view of Champlain Towers South for 15 years.
“Oh my God, it’s devastating. There’s no words for it. What can you say?” Morales said of the condo disaster. “It’s sad. And I unfortunately can’t unplug from it because it’s right here in front of the house. I have to deal with it every day.”
Contributing: The Associated Press
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