Death toll rises to 27 as search resumes at Florida condo

Remains of building were demolished overnight as rescuers expanded search to previously unsafe areas of rubble pile.

Search and rescue efforts resume the day after the managed demolition of the remaining part of the Champlain Towers South complex in Surfside, Florida [Marco Bello/Reuters]

Three more bodies have been found in the debris of a partially collapsed condominium in Surfside, Florida, on Monday, bringing the number of confirmed deaths to 27, after the remaining parts of the damaged complex were demolished overnight.

The bodies were found when search and rescue efforts resumed following the demolition of the remaining part of the Champlain Towers South complex in Surfside. The number of people missing fell to 118, officials said.

“To collapse an entire apartment building is a devastating decision and the demolition was in no way a decision that I made lightly,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.

“Bringing the building down in a controlled manner was critical to expanding our scope of search, truly, we could not continue without bringing this building down,” Cava said at a media conference on Monday.

At 10:30pm on Sunday (2:30 GMT on Monday), explosives brought down the rest of the partially collapsed 12-storey building that initially crumbled on June 24.

Video footage of the managed implosion showed the structure falling and throwing up plumes of smoke and dust. Using a method called “energetic felling”, crews used small explosives and relied on gravity to bring down the building in place.

View of the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South residential building as it is demolished, in Surfside, Florida, US [Marco Bello/Reuters]

The fire department thoroughly and repeatedly searched the building for people and pets, used thermal-scanning drones to detect body heat and set traps for live animals on exposed floors, the mayor said.

“We went truly to great lengths to take every step that we could, at great risk to our first responders to ensure that all of the pets that were beloved family members, that none of them were left in the building,” she said.

Search and rescue efforts had been called off during the demolition but those efforts resumed within 15 minutes and focused on an area of the rubble mound that rescue workers could not previously search because of the risks of the rest of the building collapsing, Cava told reporters.

As of Monday morning, Tropical Storm Elsa was nearing Cuba with sustained winds peaking near 100km/h (60mph) and was set to churn across the country on its way to Florida. It was moving northwest at 22km/h (14mph), said Cuba’s Meteorological Institute.

The storm was forecast to approach western Florida north of the city of Tampa on Tuesday or Wednesday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said.

A medical examiner’s vehicle is pictured after the bodies of three more people were found in the rubble of a collapsed high-rise apartment building in Florida [Marco Bello/Reuters]

The National Weather Service projected that, with the storm tracking further west, Miami-Dade would see some rain showers and thunderstorms with occasional strong gusty winds and locally heavy rains and potential flooding.

Ahead of the demolition, residents in nearby buildings were told they did not need to evacuate but were instructed to stay indoors and turn off air conditioning due to dust.

Investigators have not determined what caused the 40-year-old Surfside complex to collapse. A 2018 engineering report found structural deficiencies that are now the focus of inquiries that include a grand jury examination.

The disaster prompted urgent review of other buildings. Residents of Crestview Towers in North Miami Beach, were told on Friday to leave immediately after engineers found serious concrete and electrical problems.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies