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.”
Meanwhile, 191 people who were living or staying in the condominium at the time of the disaster have been accounted for and are safe, according to Levine Cava, who has stressed that the figures are “very fluid” and “continue to change.”
The number of those accounted for has gone up as detectives continue to audit the list of people reported missing, a development that Levine Cava called “very good news.”
However, no survivors have been discovered in the rubble of the building since the morning it partially collapsed, and the hope that more people would be found alive appeared to be fading Friday.
Cominsky said rescue workers are “emotional” after the discovery of a first responder’s own daughter, which “takes a toll.” But he said that won’t stop them from continuing to search for those who are still missing.
“I just was hoping that we would have some survivors,” Cominsky said at the press briefing on Friday morning.
City of Miami Department of Fire Rescue Chief Joseph Zahralban later confirmed in a statement that a member of the team lost his 7-year-old daughter in the disaster.
Speaking on the signing the emergency order to demolish the remainder of the building earlier this week, Levine Cava said the move will “help us move quickly.”
The structure was cleared by crews last week, and all search and rescue resources have since been shifted to focusing on the pile of rubble. But the two sites are side-by-side and the remaining building has posed challenges for the rescuers trying to locate any survivors or human remains in the wreckage.
“Given our ongoing safety concerns about the integrity of the building, we’re continuing to restrict access to the collapse zone,” Levine Cava said during a press briefing in Surfside on Thursday evening.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden traveled to Surfside on Thursday to meet with officials, first responders, search and rescue teams, as well as families of the victims. Recalling the 1972 car accident that killed his first wife and 1-year-old daughter as well as badly injuring his two sons, the president told reporters: “It’s bad enough to lose somebody but the hard part, the really hard part, is to not know whether they’ll survive or not.”
Built in the 1980s, the Champlain Towers South was up for its 40-year recertification and had been undergoing roof work — with more renovations planned — when it partially collapsed, according to officials.
A structural field survey report from October 2018, which was among hundreds of pages of public documents released by the town of Surfside late Sunday, said the waterproofing below the condominium’s pool deck and entrance drive was failing and causing “major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas.”
A slew of lawsuits against the Champlain Towers South Condo Association have already been filed on behalf of survivors and victims, alleging the partial collapse could have been avoided and that the association knew or should have known about the structural damage. A spokesperson for the association told ABC News they cannot comment on pending litigation but that their “focus remains on caring for our friends and neighbors during this difficult time.”
The association’s board released a statement Friday saying its surviving members “have concluded that, in the best interest of all concerned parties, an independent Receiver should be appointed to oversee the legal and claims process.”
“We know that answers will take time as part of a comprehensive investigation,” the statement continued, “and we will continue to work with city, state, local, and federal officials in their rescue efforts, and to understand the causes of this tragedy.”
In the wake of the Surfside building collapse, the city of North Miami Beach ordered that another condominium close immediately amid safety concerns connected to the 40-year recertification process, officials said.
The Crestview Towers Condominium is “structurally and electrically unsafe,” based on the review of a recertification report submitted Friday, city officials said in a statement.
“The city of North Miami Beach has taken the steps that we recommended to review to make sure that the recertification process was being done in a timely basis. And as I understand it, as a result of that audit, they found a building that had not been recertified, and when the information came in, they took some steps,” Levine Cava said Friday evening.
Some 300 residents have to evacuate, according to ABC Miami affiliate WPLG, while a full structural assessment is conducted.
The 156-unit condo was built in 1972.
ABC News’ Will Gretsky contributed to this report.