Florida Building Collapse Death Toll Rises to 36, 109 People Unaccounted For
The governor said they are monitoring the hurricane closely and that Tropical Storm Elsa will most likely bring heavy rain and winds to the Surfside area, but said he will be removing Miami-Dade from the list of affecting counties.
More victims have been pulled from the Florida condominium collapse, bringing the total death toll to 36, including children, with 109 people still unaccounted for, according to Miami-Dade County Mayor Danielle Levine Cava.
On Sunday just before 10:30 p.m., the remaining portion of the Champlain Towers South condo building was demolished, giving search and rescue crews greater access to expand their search, officials said.
“Since the first responders were able to resume their work on the collapse last night, we have very sadly recovered three additional victims,” Levine Cava said Monday during a press conference, CNN reported.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said crews now have access to the pile and are making “a lot of progress.”
“It was a good effort. It was the right thing to do. It will help us move forward unimpeded and really be able to get the job done for the families, for the community of Surfside, Miami-Dade, and the State of Florida,” DeSantis said.
Search efforts had been halted on Saturday to prepare for the demolition of the remaining structure, where 55 of the building’s 136 units collapsed, CNN reported.
Relatives of the missing were being housed at a nearby hotel. Many waited for a miracle and prayed that their loved ones would be found.
“I believe right now that the chances are close to zero, unfortunately,” Col. Golan Vach, who is leading an Israeli rescue team at the site, told The New York Post. When asked about finding survivors, Vach said, "right now the chances are close to zero, unfortunately."
Though reports of survivors of the deadly 2010 earthquake in Haiti being found alive after a week or more have been circulating, it’s unlikely that would be the case here after 10 days, Vach told the Post.
On Thursday night, search and rescue crews found the body of 7-year-old Stella Cattarossi, daughter of a veteran Miami firefighter. She was in unit 501, with her mother, grandparents and aunt when the building collapsed, ABC affiliate Local 10 News reported. Earlier that day, Levine Cava said rescue operations were paused at the site due to concerns about the stability of the section still standing, CNN reported.
On Wednesday, rescuers found the bodies of sisters 10-year-old Lucia Guara and her 4-year-old Emma Guara, the Miami Herald reported.
The discovery of the children's remains came after four other victims' bodies were found Wednesday night, Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said, according to the Associated Press. They were identified as Leon Oliwkowicz, 80, and his wife, Christina Beatriz Elvira Oliwkowicz, 74; and Ana Ortiz, 46, and her son Luis Bermudez, 26, the Associated Press reported.
In addition to those four bodies, crews also found other human remains Tuesday, Jadallah said.
On Wednesday, Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told family members of those missing that a ramp built onto the pile overnight allowed rescuers to use a crane on sections that were not previously accessible, the Associated Press reported.
President Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden visited the site on Thursday.
As of Tuesday, more than 3 million pounds of concrete had been moved from the pile, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said, ABC News reported.
On June 27, three days after the building collapsed, families rode buses to a nearby site to see crews, including firefighters, sniffer dogs, and search experts, using radar and sonar devices in the area.
Levine Cava said at a previous press conference that family members were able to visit the site privately. "This was something many of the family members requested," she said, “I think it turned out very well and they were very grateful for the opportunity.”
Cava praised the bravery and selflessness of the rescue crews who had been working rotating 12-hour shifts. “These people live to save lives. It is an inspiration to all of us and to people all around the world,” Cava said.
“We ask you to continue to pray for all of the families during this impossibly difficult time as they are waiting for news and to continue to pray for our first responders who continue to toil to find loved ones.”
Overwhelmed by the generous support from all over the country and the globe, the mayor said the SupportSurfside.org fundraised, as of Wednesday, more than $2 million. The Miami Foundation wrote on Twitter that there have been more than 9,500 donors with financial support distributed to more than 62 individuals at the center of the crisis.
Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz also spoke at the press conference. She referred to the devastation of the South Champlain Towers South as an “unprecedented crisis and tragedy and one that is incomparable anywhere in the U.S. before now,” and said that “we have to hold onto hope.”
In a tragedy or disaster situation, Schultz said, the normal procedure is to register the person's name on a website or through an 800-number but in this situation, all registrations are being done face-to-face, a decision, she said, which was made early on.
“This crisis happened to people just living the normalcy of their lives,” Shultz said. “The gut of this community was cut out in an instant so recognizing and making sure we keep the humanity threaded through the process is critical.”
At the press briefing, Burkett also commended the rescue crews on the ground working tirelessly to bring the families some closure.
“Today, I started my day visiting the families and ended my day visiting with the families and learned a lot,” Burkett said. “What I learned that there was a source of optimism injected into the conversation. The Israeli search and rescue teams were in the meeting and the families were encouraged I could see it on their faces,” Burkett said.
Burkett said search and rescue teams from Mexico also joined the operation and added, "like I’ve said all along, we don’t have a resource problem; we’ve only had a luck problem."
Miami-Dade Commissioner Vice Chairman Oliver G. Gilbert said he and many of his constituents went to the beach with a group of clergy to hold hands and pray.
“God doesn’t have a gender or race or color he doesn’t know city counties countries. God is love. We can petition god right now in this place,” Gilbert said. “We look at things and define ourselves by differences but when tragedy confronts us we are best defined by how we come together and so that is what you see right now.”
During his tour of the site with the fire marshal, he said he saw humanity.
“For the men and women out there putting their lives at risk and doing it for the families who need closure,” he said. “It is a calling and it is a duty.”
Four days after the deadly collapse, a crane lifted large slabs of concrete from the debris pile as dozens of rescuers using red buckets tediously removed smaller pieces of debris they found that were emptied into a large bin for the crane to remove, the Associated Press reported.
Some of the residents who did make it out were still in disbelief and recalled the harrowing scenes of the walls cracking and deafening noise that jolted them from their sleep.
Raysa Rodriguez ran out of the building in time and left a message on her brother’s phone, CBS reported. “Anybody over there? Hello?" she said. "Oh my God! What the hell? The whole entire building is gone!"
As of Monday, hundreds of rescuers from all across the U.S. and other parts of the world continued to gather and work around the clock in Surfside. Captain Ignatius Carroll with Florida Task Force told WPTV NBC News 5 they are "mission-driven."
"This one hits home with us because it is in our backyard, we have people that are out here that know people that are affected by this or a family member who lost their life," Carroll said.
At the end of Monday’s press conference, the mayor asked everyone to pray.
“Please join me in praying for those who lost their lives and the families who mourn and for all of those who are still waiting,” Levine Cava said.
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