Florida condo death toll 32, Storm Elsa complicates search

By: AFP      Published: 11:24 PM, 6 Jul, 2021
Florida condo death toll 32, Storm Elsa complicates search

Rescuers raced Tuesday to search the site of a deadly condo tower collapse in Florida as Tropical Storm Elsa barreled closer, threatening the operation with torrential downpours and strong winds.

The death toll from the June 24 disaster in Surfside rose overnight to 32 as search teams found four more bodies in the rubble, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told reporters.

Twenty-six victims have been identified.

Levine Cava said 113 people are still listed as missing and the authorities have been able to confirm that 70 of that number were in the 12-storey building when it came tumbling down.

She said Tropical Storm Elsa was making the already "challenging and adverse conditions" faced by the search teams even more difficult.

"We're closely monitoring the weather," the mayor said.

Elsa, which has maximum winds of 60 miles (100 kilometers) per hour, is expected to near hurricane strength and make landfall on Florida's west coast on Wednesday morning.

The authorities warned residents to prepare for dangerous storm surge and possible power outages.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said the weather was impacting the search of the debris from the building known as Champlain Towers South. 

"The wind is hampering the large cranes moving very heavy debris," he said. "That's a challenge they're trying to work around right now."

Miami-Dade County fire chief Alan Cominsky said the demolition Sunday night of the still standing portion of the building had allowed search teams to expand their operations.

Cominsky said 200 firefighters were "actively searching on the pile" with assistance from teams around the country and the world.

Cominsky said 124 tons of debris had been removed so far.

Deep concerns

Burkett, the Surfside mayor, said engineers were conducting a "full structural review" of other tall buildings in the city including Champlain Towers North, a sister condo tower to the one that collapsed.

He said the authorities have "deep concerns about that building" and some residents have moved out.

Levine Cava said "numerous investigations" were underway looking into the reasons for the collapse.

"The whole world wants to know what happened here," she said. "I look forward to learning the truth, as do we all."

"It's very early to name any sources but of course everything is under review," she said.

Levine Cava expressed her concern for the families that are awaiting for news about their loved ones.

"We know that the waiting, and the waiting, and the waiting is unbearable," Levine Cava said.

No survivors have been found since the day of the collapse.

A 2018 report released by city officials revealed fears of "major structural damage" in the complex, from the concrete slab under the pool deck to columns and beams in the parking garage. 

In a letter to residents in April, Jean Wodnicki, chair of the condo association, described "accelerating" damage to the 40-year-old building since then, and repairs had been set to begin soon.