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Ken Cocker
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Surfside building collapse latest: Death toll rises to 24 as search effort pauses during demolition prep


(SURFSIDE, Fla.) — The death toll at the 12-story residential building that partially collapsed in South Florida’s Miami-Dade County last week has risen to 24, leaving 121 unaccounted for, as search and rescue efforts paused amid preparations to demolish the remaining structure, officials said Saturday.

The partial collapse occurred around 1:15 a.m. on June 24 at the Champlain Towers South condominium in the small, beachside town of Surfside, about 6 miles north of Miami Beach. Approximately 55 of the oceanfront complex’s 136 units were destroyed, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Raide Jadallah. Since then, hundreds of first responders have been carefully combing through the debris in hopes of finding survivors.

Two more bodies were pulled from the rubble overnight, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said in a press briefing Saturday morning, as the rescue effort entered its 10th day.

No further victims were found Saturday, and search and rescue efforts were halted at 4 p.m. due to preparations for the demolition, Levine Cava said during a press briefing Saturday evening.

Preparation work for demolishing the remaining structure, such as drilling into columns, presents a threat to the standing building, she said. The search crews have temporarily left the area as a precaution.

Search and rescue will resume once the demolition team has cleared the site, according to the mayor. She did not have a definite timeline for the demolition, though said she was “hopeful” it could happen before Tropical Storm Elsa approaches.

“We are proceeding as quickly as we possibly can,” she said.

Levine Cava said that the contract has been signed for the demolition of the building and Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state will pay for the costs of the demolition and it will “minimally” affect rescue efforts. It comes after the mayor signed an emergency order authorizing the demolition of the rest of the condominium “in the interest of public health and safety” on Friday.

“The building is too unsafe to let people in,” DeSantis said. “This will protect our search and rescue teams because we don’t know when it will fall over.”

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said that the remainder of the building could be coming down “as early as tomorrow.” Experts continue on the scene to evaluate how the building will be brought down.

Burkett noted that the push to take down the building faster than originally stated was because of Tropical Storm Elsa’s winds.

The demolition will occur via a “charge,” likely using explosives, not a wrecking ball or another method, Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said Saturday.

The fire rescue chief said that a tarp will cover the area that has been searched, noting that some areas of the wreckage has not yet been searched.

Officials also said six rescue workers from one task force have tested positive for COVID-19 and have since left the scene.
Preparations are now being made for Elsa, which weakened from a hurricane to a tropical storm in the morning and is expected to come near Southern Florida Monday into Tuesday.

On Saturday, DeSantis declared a state of emergency for several counties in anticipation of Tropical Storm Elsa. Heat, humidity, heavy rain, strong winds and lightning storms have also made the conditions difficult for rescuers, periodically forcing them to pause their round-the-clock efforts in recent days.

On Friday, two more bodies were found in the wreckage as crews search the area of the collapse, officials said.

It follows another two bodies found Thursday evening, including that of a 7-year-old girl who was the daughter of a Miami firefighter, according to Levine Cava. The firefighter was not part of the crew that discovered the girl’s body but he was notified, according to Cominsky.

“It goes without saying that every night since this last Wednesday has been immensely difficult,” Levine Cava said during a press briefing in Surfside on Friday morning. “But last night was uniquely different. It was truly different and more difficult for our first responders.”

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