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June 29, 2021 10:36 am
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With Hopes Fading, Search for Survivors of Florida Collapse Enters Sixth Day

avatar by Reuters and Algemeiner Staff

Rescue personnel work at the scene of the partially collapsed Champlain South Towers condominium in Surfside, near Miami Beach, Florida, in this undated recent photograph. Courtesy of Florida Task Force 3 / via REUTERS

Search-and-rescue operations stretched into a sixth day on Tuesday at the site of a partly collapsed Florida condominium complex where at least 11 people were killed and another 150 were missing and feared dead.

With hopes fading by the hour of pulling anyone else alive from the rubble left when nearly half of the 12-floor, 156-unit tower abruptly caved in on itself, authorities held out the possibility that survivors might yet be found.

Families of the 150 still missing were “coping with the news that they might not have loved ones come out alive and still hoping that they will,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine told reporters on Monday evening.

“Their loved ones may come out as body parts,” added Cava, whose office is overseeing the response to the disaster.

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Officials said late on Monday that teams picking through broken concrete, twisted metal and dust from pulverized building materials were still treating the round-the-clock operation — which has employed dog teams, cranes and infrared scanners – as a search-and-rescue effort.

But no one has been extricated alive from the ruins of the oceanfront Champlain Towers South condo in Surfside, adjacent to Miami Beach, since a few hours after one side of the high-rise collapsed early Thursday morning as residents slept.

Fire officials spoke of detecting faint sounds from inside the rubble pile and finding voids deep in the debris large enough to possibly sustain life.

“Not to say that we have seen anyone down there, but we’ve not gotten to the very bottom,” Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told reporters on Monday.

City officials announced that two more bodies were recovered on Monday, bringing the confirmed death toll to 11.

Crowds of rescue workers were standing on top of the debris pile on Tuesday morning, sifting through the rubble. Scattered thunderstorms were expected on Tuesday, potentially slowing search efforts.

A makeshift memorial a block from the site had been replenished with bouquets of fresh hydrangeas tucked into a chain link fence. A poster board with hearts had a message for the first responders: “Thank you for looking for my grandmother.”

ENGINEER’S REPORT

What caused the 40-year-old Surfside high-rise to violently crumble into a heap remained under investigation, but initial attention focused on structural deficiencies identified in a 2018 engineer’s report released by Surfside city officials.

The engineer’s report warned of “major structural damage” to the concrete slab beneath the pool deck and concrete deterioration, including exposed rebar, in the underground parking garage. The report’s author, Frank Morabito, wrote that the deterioration would “expand exponentially” if not repaired.

In April 2021, the condo association president warned residents that the concrete damage had “gotten significantly worse,” along with roof damage, and urged them to pay some $15 million in assessments needed to make repairs, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today each reported on Monday.

The letter’s author, Jean Wodnicki, survived Thursday’s collapse, the newspapers said.

“It’s all starting to come together now, because like I’ve said all along, there was something very, very wrong at this building,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told CNN on Tuesday when asked about the letter. “Buildings in America just don’t fall down like this.”

Burkett said the condominium association officials probably did not grasp the “intensity” of the issue.

“Obviously, that was a fatal mistake,” he said.

A lawyer who works with the association, Donna DiMaggio Berger, previously said the issues outlined in the 2018 were typical for older buildings in the area.

Ross Prieto, then Surfside’s top building official, met residents weeks after the report was produced and assured them the building was “in very good shape,” according to minutes of the meeting released on Monday.

Reuters was unable to reach Prieto, who is no longer employed by Surfside. He told the Miami Herald newspaper he did not remember getting the report.

The tragedy may end up ranking as the greatest loss of life from an accidental building collapse in U.S. history.

Two interior walkways collapsed into the lobby of the Hyatt Regency hotel in Kansas City, Missouri, during a party in July 1981, killing 114. In January 1922, 98 people died when the roof of the Knickerbocker Theatre in Washington, D.C., gave way from the weight of snow during a movie screening.

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