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Rescue workers resumed their search for victims at the site of a collapsed apartment building in Surfside, Florida on Monday after the rest of the building was demolished in a controlled explosion.
Officials had feared that the structure could not withstand the strong winds of an approaching tropical storm and that rescue workers could be endangered.
The demolition of Champlain Towers South came at 10:30 p.m. Sunday as desperate families continued to wait for news in the search for 121 people missing since the building collapsed 11 days ago. Rescue efforts were halted for much of the weekend amid growing concerns about the stability of the building, and officials warned Surfside residents to stay inside their homes in case dust and other particles pollute the air.
Officials said the demolition, which was initially believed to take weeks, was needed to resume rescue efforts.
Governor Ron DeSantis said concerns about the remaining portion of the building left only a demolition. The surviving residents of the building fled with everything they had and were not allowed to enter the swaying building. Passports, wedding rings and cherished photos were left behind.
“Ultimately, this building is too unsafe to let people back in,” said DeSantis. “I know there are a lot of people who are fortunate enough to get out and have things there. We are very sensitive about that. But I don’t think anyone could be allowed to go back into this building now that it’s in shape. “
Mr DeSantis said that while Surfside wasn’t expected to see the worst of the approaching Tropical Storm Elsa, the city could still experience strong winds and heavy rain.
Miami-Dade County’s Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Team swept the building three times looking for abandoned pets. “The latest information we have is that there are no animals in the building,” said Ms. Levine Cava.
Demolishing the remaining portion of the tower could help seekers access some of the rubble that they could not previously safely reach, Ms. Levine Cava said. Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said a third of the debris remains to be searched.
Also on Sunday, authorities identified another victim of the collapse: David Epstein, 58. The death toll remained at 24.
As Tropical Storm Elsa approached Florida, officials hoped the brunt of the storm would spare Surfside, the site of the building collapse. They warned residents to stay west of the Miami area closer to the storm’s predicted path in preparation for heavy rains and possible power outages.
Elsa was supposed to drive past the Florida Keys early Tuesday and then move near or over parts of the west coast of Florida, the National Hurricane Center said on Monday.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said officials would continue to monitor the storm’s path.
“Of course these tracks can change,” he said.
Tropical storm conditions were expected in parts of the Florida Keys by the end of Monday, and Elsa could discharge up to six inches of rain over parts of Florida, which could lead to flooding, the center said.
Stacie Dawn Fang, 54, was the first victim identified in the condominium collapse. She was the mother of Jonah Handler, a 15-year-old boy who was pulled alive from the rubble in a dramatic rescue when he pleaded with rescuers, “Please don’t leave me.”
Antonio Lozano, 83, and Gladys Lozano, 79, were confirmed dead by Mr. Lozano’s nephew, Phil Ferro, the chief meteorologist on WSVN Channel 7 in Miami. Mr Ferro wrote on Instagram: “They were such beautiful people. May they rest in peace. “
Luis Andres Bermudez, 26, lived with his mother Ana Ortiz, 46, and stepfather, Frank Kleiman, 55. Mr. Bermudez’s father confirmed his son’s death on social media and wrote in Spanish, “My Luiyo. You gave me everything … I will miss you all my life. We’ll see each other soon. I will never leave you alone. “
Manuel LaFont, 54, was a businessman who worked with Latin American companies. His former wife Adriana LaFont called him “the best father”. Mr. LaFont’s son, 10, and daughter, 13, were with Ms. LaFont when the building collapsed.
Andreas Giannitsopoulos, 21, was in South Florida visiting Mr. LaFont, a close friend of his father’s. He studied economics at Vanderbilt University and had been a decathlon athlete in high school. A picture of him is on a mural outside the school’s sports facility.
Leon Oliwkowicz, 80, and Christina Beatriz Elvira, 74, were from Venezuela and had recently moved to Surfside, according to Chabadinfo.com, which said they are active in the Orthodox Jewish community in the greater Chicago area, where one of their daughters lives.
Marcus Joseph Guara, 52, lived with his wife, Anaely Rodriguez, 42, and her two daughters, Lucia Guara, 10, and Emma Guara, 4th. Mr. Guara was remembered as a kind and generous man, godfather to twins, and a fan of hard rock music.
Hilda Noriega, 92, was a longtime resident of Champlain Towers South who loved to travel and whose family she described as “unconditional love. ”Hours before the breakdown, she attended a ceremony with relatives.
Michael David Altmann, 50, came to the United States from Costa Rica as a child and was an avid racquetball player as a teenager. “He was a warm man. He has overcome many obstacles in his life and has always been one step ahead, ”his son Nicholas told The Miami Herald.
Also killed in the collapse Claudio Bonnefoy, 85, and Maria Obias-Bonnefoy, 69; Graciela Cattarossi, 48; Magaly Elena Delgado, 80; Bonnie Epstein, 56, and David Epstein, 58; Gonzalo Torre, 81; and the 7 year old daughter a firefighter from Miami, whose name the authorities refused to give.
Florida’s high-rise building regulations have long been among the strictest in the country. But after parts of Champlain Towers South collapsed on June 24, at least 24 people were killed and 121 were missing, evidence has accumulated that these rules were being enforced unevenly and sometimes not at all by local governments.
Miami-Dade County officials said last week they are prioritizing the review of 24 multi-story buildings that either failed the major structural or electrical inspections required after 40 years, or failed to submit the reports at all. But the county’s own records show that 17 of these cases have been open for a year or more. Two cases involved property belonging to the district itself. The oldest case had not been resolved since 2008.
The city of North Miami Beach had spent years trying to get a ten-story condominium building within its confines, the Crestview Towers, in line with 40-year recertification requirements. When the building’s homeowners’ association finally submitted the required documents last week, about nine years late, it documented critical security concerns, a city spokesman said. Officials evacuated the building on Friday.
Meanwhile, the same local governments were taking an arbitrary approach to identifying other potentially unsafe buildings across the region, with criteria for age and size that would lead to additional screening varying from location to location. At least one local government, the village of Key Biscayne, chose not to conduct any additional inspections at all, an official there said.
Even if construction inspectors only focused on towers of 10 or more stories built in the 1970s and 1980s, the task would still be daunting. Analysis of the New York Times real estate records shows that at least 270 such buildings characterize the city, village and township skylines of Miami-Dade County, with dozens more in the unincorporated areas of the county.