97 dead as recovery effort at collapsed Florida condo nears end

The Surfside collapse has raised alarm and focused scrutiny on other older apartment buildings.

A worker waits to load his truck with debris from the rubble of the Champlain Towers South building, as removal and recovery work continues at the site of the partially collapsed condo building in Surfside, Florida [Lynne Sladky/AP Photo]

Efforts to recover human remains from the debris of a South Florida condo building are nearing an end as Miami-Dade police identify remaining victims of last month’s Surfside condo collapse.

“The total number of confirmed deaths is now 97 – a staggering, heartbreaking loss of life,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said, according to the Reuters news agency.

The updated tally, which includes the identification of 51-year-old Luis F Barth, raised the prospect that officials are close to a final count for confirmed dead.

The death toll now stands at 97, with 92 bodies identified, and next of kin for each of those 92 victims notified, Alvaro Zabaleta, a spokesperson for Miami-Dade Police told the Miami Herald newspaper.

The department only had 97 open missing person reports, although Zabaleta cautioned the match between the number of bodies recovered to the number of people missing does not mean the recovery effort is over yet.

“The numbers line up, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re done. We don’t know,” Zabaleta said.

“Until we pick up every piece of rubble and clear it, we can’t say we’re done.”

County officials have accounted for at least 240 people connected to the building. A statement late Thursday said the task of identifying victims had become increasingly difficult, relying heavily on the medical examiner’s office and expert technical and scientific work.

A judge approved the sale of the oceanfront property with proceeds intended to benefit victims of the deadly disaster. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman ordered that the process begin to sell the site of Champlain Towers South, which could fetch USD $110m, according to court records.

The judge approved returning $2.4m in deposits that some Champlain condo owners had made towards an assessment to pay for $15m in planned major repairs, The Associated Press reported.

More than 12 million kilograms (26 million pounds) of debris and concrete have been removed from the site as recovery work continues.

A cause has not yet been pinpointed for the collapse, although there were several previous warnings of major structural damage at the 40-year-old building.

The Surfside collapse has raised alarm and focused scrutiny on other older apartment buildings. Two high-rises in Miami-Dade County have been evacuated over structural concerns.

A three-story apartment building in northwest Miami-Dade was evacuated Thursday following a partial roof collapse, officials said.

Helicopter footage from WSVN-TV in Miami showed that a long section of roof overhang had fallen off one side of the complex to the ground below.

The roof did not appear to have collapsed into any units. Fire rescue spokesperson Erika Benitez confirmed that the damage was limited to the building’s exterior.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies