SURFSIDE, Florida — With days of tireless recovery efforts behind them, search and rescue teams face added challenges with a storm in the forecast and the rest of the Surfside, Florida, condo building threatening to collapse.
Rescue teams have been combing through up to 16 feet of concrete since part of the Champlain Towers South came crashing down early last Thursday. So far, 18 people have been confirmed dead and 145 people are still unaccounted for.
But concerns about the integrity of the parts of the building still standing could add another level of difficulty to the painstaking recovery efforts.
Work was halted for much of the day Thursday as engineers assessed the structure still standing.
Access to the collapse zone was then restricted due to safety concerns, but engineers are conducting tests to expand the search into more areas as it becomes safe to do so, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Thursday evening.
“Our firefighters looked really, really excited to get back there,” she said, adding, “I am grateful to their hard work that got us back to work on the search and rescue.”
Officials estimated it could be weeks before the rest of the building was demolished.
However, State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis said the demolition “might be sooner than we’re anticipating” because of the heavier equipment needed and potential complications to the weight that keeps the still-standing sections in place,
“The timing of it is still yet to be determined, but in order to complete what it takes, in order to finish the mission, the building will have to go,” he said. “It’s just too much of a risk.”
Another timing obstacle is that Tropical Storm Elsa has Surfside in its extended forecast cone. Division Director for Office of Emergency Management Charles Cirillo said the county faces the risk of heavy rainfall and strong winds from Elsa from Sunday night into Monday morning.
Other buildings to be evaluated
Teams going through the debris have still not yet found a single trigger for the collapse. And as investigators look into what caused the devastation, city officials are working to prevent damage elsewhere.
The town of Surfside has requested that all buildings over the age of 30 and more than three stories high begin to examine their structures before the 40-year building recertification program, a letter to property owners said Thursday.
Buildings will need to hire a registered structural engineer to perform an analysis of the building and are also requested to hire a registered geotechnical engineer “to perform an analysis of the foundation and subsurface soils.”
Repairs to the Champlain Towers South as part of the 40-year-recertification process had just begun when the collapse happened.
Some reports have surfaced of wear and damage to the building in the years leading up to the collapse, and some officials and residents have accused the building of not doing enough to prevent the incident.
A lawsuit on behalf of a family suing the Champlain Towers South condo association alleges Morabito Consultants, which performed a structural analysis of the building in 2018, did not do enough to keep occupants safe by failing to examine the building’s sub-surface foundation.
The suit was filed by attorneys for the family of Harold Rosenberg, who remains unaccounted for, and further alleges that after the 2018 report was completed the condo association and Morabito Consultants should have submitted a written report to the town of Surfside certifying that the condo was structurally safe. “The Morabito report did not certify that the building ‘is structurally and electrically safe…for continued occupancy,'” the suit states.
“Instead, in an apparent attempt to wash away its failures in the wake of this tragedy, Defendant Morabito submitted this report… approximately 16 hours after the Champlain Towers South building collapsed,” the suit states, referring to a document filed with the town of Surfside on June 24.
The report was conducted by engineer Frank Morabito for the building’s condo association as part of the Champlain Towers South’s 40-year recertification effort.
In a statement to CNN, a spokesperson for Morabito Consultants, said: “While we cannot comment on active or pending litigation, the firm’s 2018 report for the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association offered detailed findings and recommendations regarding extensive and necessary structural repairs for the condo building. We continue to work closely with the investigating authorities to understand why the structure failed and are praying for the families and loved ones of all who are have been impacted by this tragic event.”
President Biden’s emotional visit
On Thursday, President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden met with the search and rescue personnel, first responders and some the families of the 145 people still unaccounted for.
“Unfortunately, I’ve done a lot of these circumstances where I’ve met with families who’ve had great loss,” the President said after the three-hour meeting. “And what amazed me with this group of people was the resilience, the absolute commitment, their willingness to do whatever it took.”
He added: “I walked away impressed by their strength.”
But after the eighth day of searching, he also noted the devastating understanding in the families.
“The families here are very realistic — they know the longer it goes,” he said, his voice trailing.
He noted that local FEMA personnel and local first responders took all of the families of those unaccounted for to the site of the collapse to see it up close, describing painful details.
“They’re all realists. They all look and they see those floors — it’s literally feet — cement upon cement upon cement,” he said.
That didn’t suggest efforts should stop, he said.
Steve Rosenthal, whose condo was one unit away from where the building collapsed, said Biden’s visit to survivors and families of those missing was “very uplifting.”
He said, “There must’ve been 200 people in that room. And he walked around and talked to every single person. And as long as that person was talking to him, he listened. And I’m not embellishing this at all. If a person talked for six minutes, he sat there and listened for six minutes.”
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