Rescuers have been searching through fresh piles of rubble after the last of the collapsed Florida condo building was demolished but the crews have faced a new challenge from thunderstorms and strong winds which have now hit the area as Tropical Storm Elsa approaches.
The National Weather Service said there is a slight risk of severe thunderstorms across portions of South Florida on Tuesday ‘due to an elevated tornado threat’ associated with the storm.
A video tweeted by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue shows workers battling strong winds even whilst standing on top of the debris of what was Champlain Towers South building in Surfside.
Despite the arrival of inclement weather due to Tropical Storm Elsa, first responders continue working on the debris pile of the Champlain Towers building collapse in Surfside
The approach of the storm forced Florida officials to demolish the remaining portion of a condo building that collapsed 11 days ago
Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said rescuers were focusing on a stairwell section, but inclement weather was hampering the search, particularly in a garage area that was filling with water which crews had to pump out water.
The latest forecasts showed the storm moving westward, mostly sparing south Florida, but the area near the collapsed building experienced thunderstorms, and the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for Miami Beach, which is just south of Surfside, where Champlain Towers South was located.
Mr Jadallah said rescuers planned to continue.
‘Now that we don’t have an issue with the building, the only time that we’re stopping is lightning,’ he said.
Although updated forecasts predict the Surfside area is likely to avoid the brunt of the storm on its projected course to the north from Cuba, scattered showers and thunderstorms were forecast.
Strong winds have now hit the area as Tropical Storm Elsa approaches
Video shot by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue shows weather conditions were slowly getting worse
Tropical Storm Elsa swept over western Cuba near Havana with strong rain and winds on Monday night, with forecasters saying it would move on to the Florida Keys on Tuesday and Florida’s central Gulf coast by Wednesday
Elsa is heading out into the Gulf of Mexico with storm force winds hitting Florida’s west coast
Flood warnings were in effect for the western part of the state with the Miami area largely unaffected
Tropical Storm Watches and Tropical Storm Warnings were in effect for western Florida
Between 3-5″ of rain is expected to fall on the area by Thursday of this week
Tropical Storm Elsa swept over western Cuba near Havana with strong rain and winds on Monday night, with forecasters saying it would move on to the Florida Keys on Tuesday and Florida’s central Gulf coast by Wednesday.
Elsa has left a trail of destruction through the Caribbean, claiming at least three lives, and is expected to gain strength as it emerges off the coast of western Cuba Monday evening.
Over 100,000 people were evacuated from coastal or low-lying areas as the storm cut through the island, with Cuba’s meteorological institute Insmet reporting winds of up to 100 kilometers an hour.
Back in Surfside, four more victims were discovered in the new pile, Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told family members, raising the death toll to 28 people. Another 117 people remain unaccounted for.
Search-and-rescue efforts resume the day after the managed demolition of the remaining part of Champlain Towers South complex in Surfside, Florida on Monday
The rubble pile had become unstable and with fears of the approaching storm it made sense to demolish the rest of the structure
A rescue worker talks on his phone as search-and-rescue efforts resume
The demolition that took place late on Sunday was crucial to the search-and-rescue effort, officials said, and raised the prospect that crews could increase the pace of their work and the number of searchers at the site, although the chance of finding survivors 12 days after the June 24 collapse has diminished.
‘We know that with every day that goes by, it is harder to see a miracle happening,’ said Maggie Castro, a firefighter and paramedic with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue who briefs families daily.
Teams had been unable to access areas closest to the remaining structure because of its instability, Miami-Dade County mayor Daniella Levine Cava said.
‘Truly we could not continue without bringing this building down,’ she said at a news conference on Monday.
‘Truly they live to save lives, and they’ve pushed ahead no matter what is thrown in their way.’
Part of the existing debris pile was also helping to support the remaining structure, City of Miami Fire Rescue Captain Ignatius Carroll said. Rescuers were still holding out hope of reuniting loved ones.
‘We continue to remain focused on our primary mission, and that is to leave no stone unturned and to find as many people as we can and to help bring either some answers to family and loved ones or to bring some closure to them,’ he said.
The newly accessible area includes master bedrooms where people were believed to be sleeping when the building collapsed, Florida governor Ron DeSantis said.
‘We will be able to access every part of that pile, which they hadn’t been able to do up to this point,’ he said. ‘I think it’s going to move the pace. I think the momentum is very strong.’
Crews could be seen climbing a mound of debris at the site on Monday alongside a piece of heavy equipment that was picking up rubble.
No one has been rescued alive since the first hours after the collapse.
After the demolition, workers immediately began clearing some of the new debris, and the search resumed around midnight on Sunday night, officials said. It had been called off Saturday to allow specialists to drill holes for explosives needed for the demolition.
‘As a result of the contractor who brought it down, he did it in such a way that literally we actually were back on the original pile in less than 20 minutes,’ Jadallah told family members of those missing earlier Monday, drawing applause in a rare upbeat moment for the twice-daily meetings.
Rescuers hoped to get a clearer picture of voids that may exist in the rubble as they search for those believed to be trapped under the fallen wing of the Champlain Towers South. Crews, however, have found very few voids, Jadallah said.
During the demolition, a loud rat-a-tat of explosions echoed from the structure. Then the building began to fall, one floor after another, cascading into an explosion of dust. Plumes billowed into the air as crowds watched the scene from afar.
Some residents had pleaded to return to their homes one last time before the demolition to retrieve belongings, but they were denied. Others wondered about the pets left behind. Officials said they found no signs of animals after making three final sweeps, including the use of drones to peer into the abandoned structure.
Levine Cava said teams are working to save personal items and have asked residents to catalog what they’re missing to match with items as soon as they are recovered.
‘The world is mourning for those who lost their loved ones and for those who are waiting for news from the collapse,’ she said at the news conference. ‘To lose your home and all your belongings in this manner is a great loss as well.’
Rescuers hoped the demolition will open up areas such as parts of the garage section of the building for the first time
Search and rescue operations resumed soon after the remaining structure was razed
The decision to demolish the remnants of the building came after concerns mounted that the damaged structure was at risk of falling, endangering the crews below. Parts of the remaining building shifted last Thursday, prompting a 15-hour suspension in the work.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said the site was ‘busier and more active now’ than when the rescue effort began.
‘The heavy equipment is now able to move around the site as needed,’ he said. ‘The looming threat of that building, the dangerous situation where debris could fall down is now eliminated. We’re operating at 100% capacity.’
‘I’m very excited about that and I believe, I sense that the families were too,’ he added.
Investigators have not determined what caused the 40-year-old complex to collapse. A 2018 engineering report found structural deficiencies that are now the focus of inquiries that include a grand jury examination.