The death toll from the Florida condominium collapse rose to nine on Sunday, even as rescue workers continued to search for more than 150 other people who remain unaccounted for.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said one person died in a hospital while workers found more bodies in the massive rubble after they dug a trench through the wreckage left after a large portion of the oceanside 12-story tower collapsed without warning early Thursday.
Authorities brought in heavy equipment to help them search through the debris, which is being taken to a warehouse for forensic analysis.
Officials remained hopeful yet of finding people alive, although it has been more than three days since the collapse occurred.
“Hope — that’s what I’m focusing on,” Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said, adding that he could not predict when the search-and-rescue mission might turn solely into a recovery effort.
“So, I’m going to continue that as much as possible,” he said. “That’s the driving message. We’re going to continue moving and moving and searching as hard as we can, for as long as we can, until we have to make that decision.”
Workers continued to use rescue dogs and sonar to find possible survivors who were living in the south building of the Champlain Towers condominium complex.
Four of the victims recovered from the wreckage have been identified, Levine Cava said.
“My deepest condolences to the families, the friends, the communities of those who have lost their lives, and my prayers with the family and the whole community as they mourn,” she said. “We are making every effort to identify those others who have been recovered, and additionally contacting their family members as soon as we are able.”
She had earlier announced an immediate audit of all area high-rises more than 40 years old and taller than five stories. Her order includes an audit of structures built by the developer of the Champlain Towers.
Voluntary evacuations of residents have begun at Champlain Towers North and East. The North is the “sister” building to the collapsed South building, having been constructed at the same time and with a comparable design. The buildings are in the suburb of Surfside, Florida, near Miami Beach.
Levine Cava said Saturday a fire deep in the rubble was hampering efforts to find and rescue people.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said the underground blaze was probably caused by “fuel of the cars getting crushed and fluid leaking out.” The building had a garage below it.
The New York Times reported Saturday that an engineer’s report from 2018 on the collapsed building said it had “major structural damage” on the concrete slab below the pool deck.
In addition, the engineer observed “abundant” cracking and crumbling in the walls, beams and columns of the parking garage, according to the newspaper.
The report, The Times said, was the basis for “a multi-million-dollar repair project that was set to get under way soon.”
The 2018 report did not give any evidence that the building was about to collapse but it did say, “Most of the concrete deterioration needs to be repaired in a timely fashion.”
The Washington Post, citing a study conducted last year, reported the building was constructed on reclaimed wetlands on the barrier island that makes up the Miami Beach area and has been gradually sinking since the 1990s.
It is not clear if those factors contributed to the incident.
U.S. President Joe Biden has approved an emergency declaration for the site, which will allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate relief efforts and supply additional funds.
"My heart is with the community of Surfside as they grieve their lost loved ones and wait anxiously as search and rescue efforts continue," Biden tweeted.
My heart is with the community of Surfside as they grieve their lost loved ones and wait anxiously as search and rescue efforts continue.— President Biden (@POTUS) June 26, 2021
Yesterday I spoke with Gov. DeSantis to let him know that we are ready to provide assistance as needed by state and local officials.
Biden spoke with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Friday and said the federal government stands ready to provide additional resources if needed.
Information from the Associated Press and Reuters was included in this report.