Death Toll Climbs to 9 at Collapsed Florida Building

A couple looks over to the remains of the collapsed portion of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fla., on Sunday morning.
Credit…Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

The death toll from the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside, Fla., has increased to nine, officials said Sunday morning, as they announced the recovery of four additional victims as well as human remains.

“My deepest condolences to the families, the friends, the communities of those who’ve lost their lives, and my prayers with the families and the whole community as they mourn this tragic loss,” Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County said at a news conference.

The mayor said that more bodies and remains were recovered when rescuers began to dig a trench into the pile of debris overnight. She said the trench, which will be 125 feet long, 20 feet wide and 40 feet deep, will serve as a critical way to assist in the operation.

As of Sunday morning, there were still more than 150 people unaccounted for. Of the nine people confirmed dead, one died in the hospital and eight were recovered at the scene of the collapse. Officials continued to say Sunday morning that they remain hopeful in their search for survivors.

Officials have so far identified four of the victims killed in the collapse: Antonio Lozano, 83, and Gladys Lozano, 79, of Apartment 903; Manuel LaFont, 54, of Apartment 801; and Stacie Fang, 54, of Apartment 1002. The bodies of Ms. Fang and Mr. Lozano were recovered on Thursday; Ms. Lozano and Mr. LaFont on Friday.

Just hours before Mr. LaFont was confirmed as one of the dead on Saturday, his ex-wife, Adriana LaFont, expressed hope to reporters outside of the family reunification center at the Grand Beach Hotel that he could make it out alive from the rubble. Mr. LaFont, a businessman who worked with Latin American companies, leaves behind a 10-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter.

The search has been painstakingly slow, hampered at times by smoke from a fire beneath the rubble.

Mayor Charles Burkett of Surfside, Fla., left, talking with Rachel Spiegel, right, who is looking for information on the Champlain Towers South Condo building, on Saturday.
Credit…Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

As residents of Surfside, Fla., expressed anguish and frustration at the pace of the search-and-rescue mission at the site of a deadly condominium collapse, the town’s mayor described the situation as one of bad luck.

“We are not resource-poor,” said Mayor Charles W. Burkett of Surfside on Sunday morning. “We don’t have a resource problem, we’ve had a luck problem. We just need to start to get a little more lucky right now.”

Mr. Burkett, speaking on the ABC News program “This Week,” said officials are focusing their full attention on the search operation at the collapsed Champlain Towers South condo building.

“Buildings don’t fall down in America,” he said. “There was something obviously very, very wrong at this building, and we need to get to the bottom of it, but not today, not tomorrow and not for a long time, because our first priority and our only priority is to pull our residents out of that rubble.”

The painstaking search entered its fourth day Sunday. Teams of rescuers from Mexico and Israel had arrived to help, Mr. Burkett said, and a host of tools and methods have been employed to aid the operations.

He also addressed concerns about the safety of a similar nearby building, built by the same contractor. “We need to get in and understand what’s going on with the sister building,” Mr. Burkett said. After conversations with Senator Rick Scott and the Miami-Dade County mayor, he said an investigation would be underway shortly, and residents of the other building had alternative housing options provided to them. Next week, he said, “An army of engineers are going to get in there and pore over that building from top to bottom.”

He added, “I don’t know if I’d be comfortable staying in that building until I knew for sure that they had done a comprehensive top-to-bottom study on what’s going on in the systems in that building.”

The dayslong search had been excruciating for the people still waiting to hear about their loved ones. But Mr. Burkett said that things were moving forward. “I was there this morning, and I took a walk around the site. I did see a substantial difference from when I left last night at about 11 o’clock. We’ve got waves of search-and-rescue teams that are just flowing over the site, going in and going out.”

He added that a fire deep in the rubble at the site, which had complicated rescue efforts, seemed to be out.

To exasperated residents, Mr. Burkett said, “We are working 24 hours a day, nonstop, nothing else on our mind.” He added, “We’re going to keep going until everybody is out.”

Rescue workers searching through the rubble of Champlain South, the partially collapsed building in Surfside, near Miami Beach, Fla., on Saturday.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

The death toll from the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside, Fla., climbed to nine on Sunday morning, as rescue workers continued their painstaking search for victims amid diminishing hopes that anyone would be found alive.

There were more than 150 people still unaccounted for, leaving local officials and families from across the country and the world braced for word of significantly more casualties as work at the disaster site continued.

Officials have so far identified four of the victims killed in the collapse: Antonio Lozano, 83, and Gladys Lozano, 79, of Apartment 903; Manuel LaFont of Apartment 801, and Stacie Fang, 54, of Apartment 1002. The bodies of Ms. Fang and Mr. Lozano were recovered on Thursday; Ms. Lozano and Mr. LaFont on Friday. The fifth victim has not yet been identified.

Mr. LaFont was a businessman who worked with Latin American companies and the father of a 10-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter, according to his ex-wife, Adriana LaFont.

Ms. LaFont described him as a loving and devoted father who had a passion for baseball — one he had inherited from his Cuban parents. Mr. LaFont had played the sport when he was young and coached his son’s team, never missing a practice or a game.

“He’s the best dad,” Ms. LaFont said. “He’s the most genuine person I ever met.”

Their children were with Ms. LaFont when the building collapsed.

In an Instagram post Saturday evening, Phil Ferro, the chief meteorologist on a local television station, confirmed that Ms. Lozano, his godmother, and Mr. Lozano, his uncle, had died in the collapse. For days, Mr. Ferro had been reporting on weather conditions affecting the search and rescue operation.

“They were such beautiful people,” he wrote. “May they rest in peace.”

Ms. Fang was pulled from the wreckage on Thursday and was pronounced dead at the Aventura Hospital and Medical Center. Her 15-year-old son, Jonah Handler, had been pulled alive from the rubble earlier that same day. A video of him being rescued from the rubble spread widely after the building collapse.

The search has been painstakingly slow, hampered at times by smoke from a fire beneath the rubble. Erika Benitez, a spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade Fire Department, said Saturday morning that it had been a while since rescue workers had heard sounds that they believed could be indicators of people still alive beneath the rubble. But she said that the search and rescue team believed that finding survivors remained a possibility

Marilyn Carroll, who is retired and lives in Surfside, anxiously awaited word about her friend Graciela Cattarossi, who lived with her husband, daughter and granddaughter, all of whom remained missing.

Ms. Carroll said she called Ms. Cattarossi’s son after the building collapsed, and he “seemed to feel like he lost his family.”

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava confirmed on Saturday that family members of those missing had already been swabbed for DNA samples in order to help identify human remains as they are found.

“Our top priority continues to be search and rescue and saving any lives that we can,” Ms. Levine Cava said.

Philip Zyne outside his condo building, Champlain Towers North, which is the sister building to the Champlain Towers South.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

SURFSIDE, Fla. — Philip Zyne peered over the balcony of his condo near Miami Beach around midday on Saturday and pointed to a large crack running in the parking lot below his unit.

Normally, he might not have given it a moment’s thought. But Mr. Zyne, 71, lives at Champlain Towers North, the sister condo complex to the building in Surfside, Fla., that partially collapsed into a mass of rubble on Thursday, leaving four people dead and 159 missing. Now he was on high alert: Could the building where he lives be next?

It is a question on the minds of many South Floridians, especially those in older, beachfront buildings that are faced day in and day out with similar outside conditions as the Champlain Towers South: salty air, rising seas, aging concrete.

On Saturday, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County announced a 30-day audit of all buildings 40 years and older under the county’s jurisdiction, which includes Miami and neighboring towns, like Surfside, where the building fell. Mayor Charles W. Burkett of Surfside said he was considering asking residents of Champlain Towers North to voluntarily evacuate as a precaution until their building, which has had no reports of serious problems, could be thoroughly inspected.

From the outside, Champlain Towers North, at 8877 Collins Ave., seems identical to Champlain Towers South — same developer and same design, built just one year apart. Most terrifying for Mr. Zyne is that his unit is in the same part of the building as the apartments that crumbled in the South complex, those facing the pool and the Atlantic.

“It’s scary,” said Bud Thomas, 55, his neighbor upstairs, as he also looked out on Saturday. “I’m hoping that this one doesn’t have the same structural problems as the other one.”

Members of the condominium board, who are longtime Champlain Towers North residents, said in interviews on Saturday that they are confident their building is in far better shape than the South building was, as a result of prompt and continuous maintenance.

But that has not reassured some of their residents, some of whom hastily packed bags and found other places to sleep for at least a few days in the immediate aftermath of the nearby disaster.

The partially collapsed Champlain Towers South building.
Credit…Maria Alejandra Cardona for The New York Times

Survivors said they were jolted awake at about 1:30 a.m. on Thursday by fire alarms, falling debris and the feeling of the ground trembling.

At least nine people were killed. The authorities fear many more fatalities.

More than 150 people remained unaccounted for as of Sunday, officials said.

About 35 people were rescued from the intact part of the building, and two were pulled from the rubble, said Ray Jadallah, a Miami-Dade Fire Rescue assistant fire chief.

The tower was 13 stories tall; about half of the 136 units collapsed.

It was constructed in 1981, according to county property records.

The town, just north of Miami Beach, has about 5,600 residents. It is a mostly residential community, with several multistory condominium buildings along Surfside Beach on the Atlantic Ocean. The town has an Orthodox Jewish community and is also home to many retirees as well as immigrants from South America.

When one side of the Champlain Towers South building shuddered and collapsed in a horrifying pile of concrete and twisted steel, it recalled a similar catastrophe in downtown Miami more than four decades ago.

On Aug. 5, 1974, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration building in Miami also collapsed suddenly, killing seven people, and it was that disaster that led the county to mandate regular reviews of the structural integrity of older buildings.

Both buildings were along the city’s coast, where the salt air tends to corrode and weaken concrete and steel structures, causing the steel to rust and the concrete to flake, experts on structural engineering say.

According to an article in The Times, the roof of the federal office building in downtown Miami collapsed, sending tons of concrete and several parked cars crashing through the offices below. The wreckage killed and trapped people “in a pile of twisted steel and concrete,” according to a brief history of the D.E.A.

Miami’s fire chief, Don Hickman, speculated at the time that 80 cars in a parking garage had overloaded the 49‐year‐old structure, causing a portion at the rear section to collapse. Witnesses counted about eight cars in the rubble.

But it was later found that sand and salt from the nearby coast had eroded and weakened the supporting steel structure of the building.

After the disaster, Miami-Dade County began requiring that structural engineers certify that buildings are still safe to occupy after the 40-year mark, said Charlie Danger, a former county building chief.

“We caught a lot of buildings that were deteriorated” after implementing that requirement, Mr. Danger said, “but they were caught on time.”

Documents released on Friday by the town of Surfside, which is in Miami-Dade, show that two years ago a structural engineer, Frank Morabito, inspected the Champlain Towers South building as part of the county’s “recertification” process.

Mr. Morabito wrote in October 2018 that he found “major structural problems” in a pool deck and a parking garage at the base of the building. He urged that repairs be made and warned that the building’s structural integrity had been affected. The building was about to undergo repairs to fix those problems when the collapse occurred, a lawyer for the resident-led association that operates the building said.

Author: The New York Times
This post originally appeared on NYT > Top Stories

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