SURFSIDE, Fla. — Search and rescue operations “temporarily” paused Saturdaywhile engineers prepare to demolish the remaining part of a Miami area condo that collapsed June 24, as the threat of a secondary collapse of the damaged structure looms, potentially endangering rescue crews.
“We will begin the search and rescue once again on any sections of the pile that are safe to access as soon as we’re cleared,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Saturday evening.
Officials abruptly moved up demolition plans early Saturday for fear the approaching Tropical Storm Elsa, which is expected to bring strong winds and heavy rainfall to the area early next week, would topple the structure.
The death toll from the collapse remained the same, officials said: 24 victims, and 124 people remain missing.
A demolition timeframe has not yet been set, but search and rescue efforts paused around 4 p.m. ET Saturday, Levine Cava said. Preparation for the demolition includes drilling into columns in the “unsafe structure,” she said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said early Saturday the state will pay for all costs of the demolition, which he said should take place within 36 hours. He said the tower will likely be brought straight down using some type of explosive charge.
“This building is too unsafe to let people go back in,” he said. “This could protect our search and rescue teams.”
“You’d hate to see there be another disaster out there if this building falls in the wrong way,” he added.
Levine Cava said the National Science Foundation was on scene using lidar – a laser-based system that can scan environments and buildings to create a digital map – and drones to create a 3D-model of the structure to assist engineers in demolition preparation.
“We’re still very hopeful we can do the demolition before the storm,” she said.
Levine Cava said Saturday the contract has been signed with Controlled Demolition, Inc. for the demolition to begin. She signed an order Friday to proceed with the demolition, she said.
The Maryland-based company is more than 70 years old, according to its website. The company has been involved in several high-profile demolitions, including the Plaza Tower in Atlantic City, New Jersey; the One James River Plaza in Richmond, Virginia; the Seattle Kingdome stadium; the remains of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City; and the remains of the World Trade Center in New York.
Controlled Demolition did not immediately respond to USA TODAY requests for comment via phone and email.
“We’re doing everything we can to move forward with demolition as soon as we have a final path to do so,” Levine Cava said.
Friday, she said she did not believe demolition would be possible before the expected storm impacts hit the region. She said new experts came forward late Friday and told her a faster demolition may be possible.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said he met with DeSantis and Levine Cava on Friday to voice concerns about the impending storm affecting the part of the building still standing or causing it to fall in the wrong direction to where search and rescue efforts continue.
“(Levine Cava) went back and took decisive action,” he said. “And instead of waiting weeks and allowing bureaucracy to crawl, she’s made a very dramatic decision and signed the order to get this building taken down immediately.”
Abi Aghayere, a Drexel University engineering professor, told USA TODAY pulling off an implosion demolition in time would require engineers to inspect nearby buildings to determine the potential impact of the explosion, he said.
“The way that the structure came down on itself, that’s what implosion tends to do. That way, the debris field is confined, not scattered all over the place. But when you do that, you may have other buildings impacted,” he said.
Levine Cava said the proposed demolition has a “very narrow footprint” and officials don’t expect additional impacts in the surrounding area or more evacuations.
Burkett said families were updated Saturday afternoon on the status of the demolition project and search and rescue operations. He said he is fielding calls from residents who are worried about demolition impacts on nearby properties and environmental concerns of building debris. But he said testing showed there are no significant problems associated with the debris.
Fire Rescue Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said at a Saturday morning meeting with families the building would be demolished “as soon as possible. First thing tomorrow.”
The remnants of the demolished building would be removed immediately to give rescuers access to the garage area that is the focus of the search, he added.
Aghayere said he had never heard of an implosion demolition project coming together so quickly.
Joshua Galanter, project coordinator at Thunder Demolition Inc. in Miami, said it typically takes months of engineering, preparing and rigging explosives on the main support columns for a controlled implosion.
Tropical Storm Elsa:Elsa downgraded to tropical storm; Florida in path early next week
Second condo evacuated after Surfside collapse prompts audit
City officials in North Miami Beach called for an emergency meeting Saturday after ordering the evacuation of a condominium tower five miles from last week’s building collapse.
Authorities said Friday the closing of the 156-unit Crestview Towers stems from an audit prompted by the Champlain Towers disaster in nearby Surfside.
“In an abundance of caution, the City ordered the building closed immediately and the residents evacuated for their protection, while a full structural assessment is conducted and next steps are determined,” North Miami Beach City Manager Arthur H. Sorey, III said.
North Miami Beach officials said they ordered “a thorough review” of all condo high-rise buildings above five stories high to see if they are in compliance with city and county safety codes.
— Michael James, USA TODAY
Condo developer faces scrutiny for legal, money woes
Developer Nathan Rieber’s background and the history of the towers has come under scrutiny since the collapse.
The Canadian lawyer would come to be hailed for his philanthropy, rubbing elbows with celebrities and world leaders, and donating time and money to charitable causes. His South Florida building career was described as a happy accident, a case of a shrewd retiree spotting a property and launching the second act of his business career.
But by the time Reiber was building the Champlain Towers in Surfside in the 1980s, he was facing tax evasion charges in Ontario stemming from siphoning coin laundry money from his apartment buildings there.
— Katie Wedell and Pat Beall, USA TODAY
New documents show potential flaws in condo’s original design
Condo board members told residents the 40-year-old building had no waterproofing layers over the garage, exposing it to water intrusion from the time construction was completed in 1981.
The revelation, gleaned from an October 2020 slide show presentation, came from a cache of condo documents provided to USA TODAY by relatives of missing residents. It stands out because the concrete that protected the reinforcing steel rods in the ceiling of the garage was only half as thick as would have been required had it been outside and exposed to so much water, engineering experts told USA TODAY.
It’s unclear if those flaws contributed to the building’s June 24 collapse. Investigators said determining the cause of the disaster could take more than a year.
— Elizabeth Weise, Romina Ruiz-Goiriena, Aleszu Bajak and Sudiksha Kochi, USA TODAY
Daughter of Miami firefighter among bodies found
Officials announced Friday the 7-year-old daughter of a Miami firefighter was among the bodies found.
The father was not involved in the recovery process, but he voluntarily joined the search, officials said, hoping he could help find his daughter and others still missing in the wreckage. The Miami Herald reported the father kept vigil for eight nights after his daughter’s home collapsed into the rubble.
Cava called the night “uniquely difficult” for first responders.
“Please keep all of them in your thoughts and prayers,” she said.
When will the rescue operation become a recovery mission?
In the coming days, or possibly hours, authorities may stop rescue missions at the scene of a Miami area condo collapse and begin recovery — a momentous decision that will likely declare that scores of missing people are dead.
Officials have promised not to leave anyone behind. But no one has been found alive since hours after the collapse last Thursday.
Experts say the decision to shift to a recovery mission is complicated and involves hundreds of factors. Among them: weighing the safety of the rescuers against the possibility of finding survivors.
How long to search for survivors?:An agonizing decision is looming for condo rescue teams
Remembering those who died
Of the 24 people confirmed dead, authorities released these names: Stacie Fang, 54; Marcus Joseph Guara, 52, his wife Anaely Rodriguez, 42, and their daughters Lucia Guara, 10, and Emma Guara, 4; Frank Kleiman, 55; Michael Davis Altman, 50; Leon Oliwkowicz, 80, and his wife, Christina Beatriz Elvira de Oliwkowicz, 74; Luis Bermudez, 26, and his mother, Ana Ortiz, 46; Antonio Lozano, 83, and his wife Gladys Lozano, 79; Manuel LaFont, 54; Hilda Noriega, 92; Bonnie Epstein, 56; Claudio Bonnefoy, 85; Maria Obias-Bonnefoy, 69; Graciela Cattarossi, 48 and Gonzalo Torre, 81.
Contributing: The Associated Press