SURFSIDE, Fla. – A week after a 12-story condo building just outside Miami collapsed, the desperate search continued Wednesday for survivors as families clung to fading hope loved ones had survived.
The collapse prompted a frenzied, massive search and rescue effort including hundreds of rescuers rotating in 12-hour shifts at the site. As of Wednesday, teams had moved 3 million pounds of concrete amid efforts to find survivors or the dead in the ruins.
The death toll rose to 12, and 149 are still missing, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said late Tuesday afternoon.
President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he and first lady Jill Biden would go to Florida to visit the site of the collapse Thursday.
He will “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,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
Here’s what we know Wednesday:
Time, weather, conditions:The extremely difficult task of identifying Miami condo victims.
President Joe Biden visit:Biden is going to Florida on Thursday to visit site of collapsed condo building
State Attorney plans to pursue grand jury investigation
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a Tuesday news conference that she is working with experts to identify reforms in building standards and other changes “to ensure a tragedy like this will never, ever happen again.”
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. Asked what the grand jury would be looking for, Levine Cava said, “Like all of us, answers.”
“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.”
The scrutiny won’t end there. On Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden believes the reasons for the collapse need to be investigated, and various federal agencies are already providing expertise.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology – an arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce that also investigated the 9/11 terrorist attack – has already indicated it will examine the disaster, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state could get involved if necessary.
State Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-North Miami Beach, isn’t waiting. He told the USA TODAY Network he plans to file legislation that would likely focus on building requirements, re-inspection standards for older buildings, the risk of seawater intrusion and the financial obligations of condominium associations.
‘Significantly worse’:Doomed Miami condo’s concrete deterioration was accelerating in April, condo letter says
Families voice frustration over weather delays
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said he has received questions from frustrated family members about why rescue efforts halt during thunderstorms.
Rescue officials Tuesday afternoon sounded a horn for a second time during the day’s work, signaling for workers to temporarily evacuate for an approaching storm with lightning.
Possible severe weather in the coming days may cause delays in search and rescue efforts and have prompted state officials to ask the federal government for the additional team, Kevin Guthrie of the Florida Division of Emergency Management said Tuesday.
Two storm systems in the Atlantic may become tropical systems in the coming days, but it is unclear whether they may affect the U.S., according to the National Hurricane Center.
Families also 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. He said he had read news stories, including one about a woman who was found alive 17 days after a 2013 garment factory collapse in Bangladesh.
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.
Officials ask for donations to support grieving families
People can send donations to families affected by the condo collapse at supportsurfside.org. Officials cautioned that one fake donation website has already been reported.
Over the course of two press conferences, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told the story of 12-year-old Ellie Shella, who lost her father and her uncle to the collapse.
Burkett said he met Ellie at the site.
“When I came across her, she was sitting in a chair by herself with nobody around her, looking at her phone,” he said. “She was reading a Jewish prayer to herself, sitting at the site by where one of her parents presumably is.”
That really brought it home to me,” he said. “She wasn’t crying, she was just lost.”
On Tuesday evening, he spoke about the financial distress Ellie’s mother is in. Ellie’s father was the provider for the family, and now the family has lost that safety net.
Ellie’s mother has asked for assistance for her family. Burkett said he personally told her story to Coral Gables Community Foundation CEO Mary Snow. The organization operates the website supportsurfside.org and has collected $1.9 million in donations.
“It’s working, your donations are having an impact,” Burkett said.
Remembering those who have died
Authorities released the names of victims who have been identified: Marcus Joseph Guara, 52; Frank Kleiman, 55; Michael Davis Altman, 50; Leon Oliwkowicz, 80; Luis Bermudez, 26, and his mother Ana Ortiz, 46; Christina Beatriz Elvira de Oliwkowicz, 74, who was married to Leon Oliwkowicz; Antonio Lozano, 83; Gladys Lozano, 79; and Manuel LaFont, 54.
The first victim to be identified was Stacie Fang, 54, whose 15-year-old son was pulled alive from the wreckage.
Contributing: Nate Monroe and Katherine Lewin, The Florida Times-Union; Maya Lora, the Lakeland Ledger; Rebecca Morin, Jennifer Sangalang, John Kennedy and Chelsey Cox, USA TODAY; The Associated Press