The remaining section of the partly collapsed building in Surfside, Fla., is too unsound to leave standing through high winds and heavy rain expected as early as Monday, officials said. The death toll from the collapse rose to at least 24.
Here’s what you need to know:
The rest of the Surfside condo will be demolished within days, in a rush to beat a storm, officials say.
After another day without finding survivors, the rescue enters a delicate phase.
Tropical Storm Elsa’s path adds uncertainty for rescue workers.
A North Miami Beach condo tower was evacuated over safety concerns.
Six rescue workers test positive for coronavirus at the Florida condo collapse site.
An improvised memorial to the dead and missing grows along a fence in Surfside.
What we know about those who were killed.
Engineers see inconsistencies between the building design and the amount of steel reinforcement in some areas.
Remaining Portion of Surfside Condo to Be Demolished Within Days
Officials in Florida said they planned to quickly demolish the section of Champlain Towers South that was still standing to avoid complications from Tropical Storm Elsa, which could reach the state as early as Monday.
We have a building here in Surfside that is tottering, it is structurally unsound, and although the eye of this storm is not likely to pass over this direction, you could feel gusts in this area. We spoke with both County Mayor Cava and City Mayor Burkett’s teams, who made the decision to pursue the demolition for the building. I’m supportive of it. I think it’s the right thing to do. At the end of the day, that building is too unsafe to let people go back in. I know there’s a lot of people who were able to get out, fortunately, who have things there. We’re very sensitive to that, but I don’t think there’s any way you could let somebody go up in that building. This will protect our search and rescue teams, because we don’t know when it could fall over. And, of course, with these gusts, potentially, you know, that would create a really severe hazard. So our mission is to expedite it as soon as possible. Kevin Guthrie reports to me that once everything is ready to go, that it can be brought down within 36 hours. As we continue to search through the night, our teams recovered two additional victims. The number of confirmed victims now stands at 24. That’s 188 accounted for and 124 unaccounted for. The numbers are fluid and will continue to change, as we’ve told you repeatedly. As the governor mentioned, we’re doing everything we can to move forward with demolition. We did speak to the families this morning, both the survivors, who still have their belongings in that tower, and to the family members who are waiting for the search and rescue to continue. So they have all been informed and are aware.
Officials in Florida said they planned to quickly demolish the section of Champlain Towers South that was still standing to avoid complications from Tropical Storm Elsa, which could reach the state as early as Monday.CreditCredit…Angel Valentin for The New York Times
Florida officials said on Saturday that they were rushing to demolish the part of Champlain Towers South that is still standing because of worries that the partially collapsed structure would not withstand the powerful winds of an approaching tropical storm.
“It’s structurally unsound,” Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida said of the building during a morning news briefing.
Officials said preparations for the demolition could be completed within roughly 36 hours, allowing for the building to be brought down before Tropical Storm Elsa is expected to reach South Florida.
Demolition could begin as early as Sunday, according to Mayor Charles W. Burkett of Surfside.
Mr. DeSantis acknowledged the added hardship the demolition would create for families who had fled the collapse, leaving behind most of their possessions. But he said the danger the building posed left no other option.
“At the end of the day, that building is too unsafe to let people go back in,” the governor said. “I know there’s a lot of people who were able to get out, fortunately, who have things there. We’re very sensitive to that. But I don’t think that there’s any way you could let someone go back up into that building given the shape that it’s in now.”
Mr. DeSantis said that while Surfside was not expected to bear the brunt of the storm, the city could still experience strong winds and heavy rain. Elsa was downgraded to a tropical storm from a Category 1 hurricane as it battered Caribbean islands. It could reach Florida as early as Monday, causing flooding and possible tornadoes.
Officials said a Maryland-based contractor, Controlled Demolition Inc., would use explosives to bring the remainder of the building down, and that the demolition would cause the “most minimal interruption” of search and rescue work at the site.
Emergency responders are continuing to work on Saturday, according to the Miami-Dade fire chief, Alan Cominsky, but have been unable to expand operations to any additional parts of the building.
Search-and-rescue personnel on top of the rubble of the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Fla., on Friday.Credit…Mark Humphrey/Associated Press
Following another painstaking, dangerous and ultimately fruitless day in the search for survivors, the rescue effort at the site of the Champlain Towers South collapse appeared to be entering a delicate new phase, as officials and rescuers continued to quietly acknowledge the possibility that no more victims would be found alive, though they refused to abandon all hope.
No survivors have been found since the day of the disaster in Surfside, Fla., more than a week ago, and although federal, state and local officials said they remained committed to the rescue effort, there was no sign of letup in the extraordinary challenges at the site of the condominium collapse.
Rescue workers have found it extremely difficult to tunnel through the layers of flattened concrete without putting people in danger, amid rubble that is so unstable that work was suspended for at least 12 hours on Thursday because of fears that it could collapse further. And the thunderstorms that have plagued the mission could soon worsen with the approach of Hurricane Elsa, which hammered the eastern Caribbean on Friday and could affect parts of Florida early next week, forecasters said.
Officials said on Saturday that the uncollapsed portion of the building was too unsound to withstand a tropical storm, and that they were accelerating plans to demolish it before the storm arrives. But they said the demolition would only minimally disrupt rescue work.
After meeting on Thursday with families of the missing, President Biden said: “They know that the chances are, as each day goes by, diminished slightly.”
The agencies involved in the rescue — including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Florida Division of Emergency Management and Miami-Dade Fire Rescue — have mostly declined to answer questions about when the search might shift to a recovery mission. Such a designation could unlock new and potentially faster ways of tunneling through the concrete to find remains, including the use of heavier machinery, and could also help families move forward in the grieving process.
On Friday, the bodies of six more victims were found, including that of the 7-year-old daughter of a Miami firefighter. Police officers, firefighters and emergency medical workers paused the search to pay their respects and flank her removal from the scene. The police did not identify the girl.
The police also confirmed the deaths of Bonnie Epstein, 56, and the married couple Maria Obias-Bonnefoy, 69, and Claudio Bonnefoy, 85.
Two of the victims found on Friday night were announced on Saturday, bringing the total to 24. As many as 124 people are still unaccounted for, a number that was revised down on Friday after officials determined that some people included in earlier tallies had been located.
Publicly, rescuers and emergency medical workers refused to abandon hope. People have survived for many days after building collapses elsewhere, including after earthquakes in Haiti and Mexico. Additional urban search-and-rescue teams, activated by FEMA this week, have headed down to Surfside to assist with the effort and with hurricane preparations.
“I’m not going here right now with the hopes of finding victims — we’re going down there with the goal of finding survivors,” Ken Pagurek, the leader of Pennsylvania Task Force 1, said as he drove down to Florida on Thursday with more than 70 engineers, doctors, logistics experts and other specialists. “I still think there’s a slim chance. A slim chance is better than no chance.”
Elsa moving through the Caribbean on Tuesday, when it was still classified as a hurricane.Credit…NOAA, via Associated Press
Tropical Storm Elsa is continuing on a path across the Caribbean, and may break northward toward Florida, further complicating search and rescue efforts at the Champlain Towers South condominium building.
Rescuers warned that the heavy rain and gusting winds it could bring to South Florida as soon as Sunday evening could hinder the work at the partially collapsed building. Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on Saturday that the part of the building that was still standing could not withstand the storm and that a contractor would demolish it before the storm arrived.
At a news conference on Friday, local leaders pledged to redouble rescue efforts in spite of the predicted weather. Thunderstorms and rain slowed the work at the site during the week, and no survivors were found.
“We’re not just running an emergency response, as you can see,” Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County said on Friday. “We’re also preparing our whole community for a possible storm at the same time.”
The storm, which had been a Category 1 hurricane, weakened slightly overnight Friday to Saturday, with its center passing south of the Dominican Republic. But it continued to pack near-hurricane winds as it tracked west-northwest toward Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba.
Forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expected the storm to gradually turn northward, with storm-force winds reaching South Florida early Monday and the storm’s center crossing the Florida Keys and heading up the state’s west coast on Tuesday.
Crestview Towers in North Miami Beach, Fla., after it was ordered to close and evacuate its residents on Friday.Credit…Giulia Heyward/The New York Times
NORTH MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — A 10-story condominium complex in North Miami Beach was ordered to close and evacuate its residents on Friday after the building submitted a recertification report, based on a January inspection, that documented “unsafe structural and electrical conditions.”
The 156-unit building, Crestview Towers, was built in 1972 and is about a seven-mile drive from the collapse site in Surfside. The condominium submitted the report as part of an audit recommended by the office of Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County.
“In an abundance of caution, the city ordered the building closed immediately and the residents evacuated for their protection, while a full structural assessment is conducted and next steps are determined,” Arthur H. Sorey, the North Miami Beach city manager, said in a statement. “Nothing is more important than the safety and lives of our residents, and we will not rest until we ensure this building is 100 percent safe.”
The recertification report, which the city received on Friday, documented cracks and corrosion in the building’s structure, and noted that repairs would be required to shore up the building’s concrete frame.
In the building’s parking lot, Chief Richard Rand of the North Miami Beach Police told dozens of residents that officers would be delivering boxes of pizza to them and would not ticket cars left overnight.
“As you all know, this building has become unsafe,” Chief Rand said. “The last thing I want to do is need to find out that another building collapsed, and multiple people are dead.”
Residents of the Crestview Towers as they left the building on Friday.Credit…Giorgio Viera/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The evacuation of Crestview Towers came as Miami-Dade County is re-evaluating the safety of older structures. Ms. Levine Cava announced a 30-day audit of all oceanfront buildings that are at 40 or more years older and are under the county’s jurisdiction, meaning that they are not located within cities like Miami or Surfside, where the Champlain Towers South fell.
Though it is outside the county’s jurisdiction, North Miami Beach undertook the building audit recommended by Ms. Levine Cava’s office, the mayor said. A notice posted on North Miami Beach’s website said a special City Council meeting has been called for Saturday evening at 6 p.m. to discuss the evacuation.
Residents hurried to leave the building on Friday, scrambling to pack necessities and trying to coordinate lodging for the night. In the parking lot, children played blissfully on tablets while their parents talked rapidly on the phone, in English or Spanish.
“I had picked up my son from summer camp when I saw all the cops here,” Harold J. Dauphin, 46, said. “I thought there had been a shooting — my only thought was ‘Where am I going to go?’ I have no idea.”
Search and rescue crews exiting the site of the Champlain Towers South collapse in Surfside, Fla., on Monday.Credit…Scott McIntyre for The New York Times
Six emergency medical workers helping with rescue efforts at the site of a collapsed condo in Surfside, Fla., have tested positive for the coronavirus, Alan R. Cominsky, the chief of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, said at a news conference on Saturday.
The workers, who were all part of the same task force, were no longer at the site, Chief Cominsky said, adding that contact tracing had been performed and that 424 members of other Florida task force teams responding to the site had been tested.
Chief Cominsky did not address the conditions of the six workers in his comments. It was unclear whether they had been vaccinated.
The chief told The Miami Herald on Friday that the six emergency medical workers were firefighters from Florida, but that they were not from Miami-Dade.
“We do have our medical procedures in place,” he told the newspaper. “Unfortunately, this is another challenge, but something we’ve been dealing with for over the past year.”
Average daily reports of new cases in Florida have risen by 55 percent in the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database. Across the state, 65 percent of residents 18 and older have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and 56 percent are fully vaccinated.
At the news conference on Saturday, Chief Cominsky said the rescue effort would continue with teams from Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey and Indiana in addition to those from Florida.
Miami-Dade fire rescue officers standing by emergency trucks as search and rescue teams search the rubble of the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Fla., on Friday.Credit…Giorgio Viera/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
California sent nine emergency specialists to help search the rubble of the collapsed condo tower in Surfside on Friday, nearly a week after Florida authorities turned down an offer of help from the state.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s deployment of five urban search-and-rescue crew members and four structural specialists from fire departments in Orange County, Sacramento, San Diego and Oakland came as Hurricane Elsa threatened Florida and as the death toll in Surfside mounted. At least 24 people have been confirmed dead and as many as 124 people remain unaccounted for in the collapse.
Last weekend, in the early days of the search, the California Office of Emergency Services offered assistance, including state-of-the-art DNA analysis to help rescuers identify remains found in the rubble. The offer was turned down by Florida officials on Monday, as California restricted state-funded travel to Florida and four other states in response to anti-L.G.B.T.Q. legislation in those places.
Officials in Florida’s Division of Emergency Management said the refusal was apolitical and done at the behest of local emergency authorities in Miami-Dade County. “They had plenty of resources,” said Samantha Bequer, spokeswoman for the Florida emergency-management division, adding the state authorities didn’t “want to overwhelm them.”
Florida has accepted help in the disaster effort from some of the world’s most skilled and experienced search-and-rescue crews, including from Israel and Mexico. But state officials have also turned away some offers of aid, saying they were wary of complicating the delicate search for survivors by inundating the unstable search site with too many workers and too much equipment.
The initial California offer would have brought to bear technology that has been used in recent years to identify remains of victims from that state’s catastrophic disasters, including those who died in the 2018 wildfire in Paradise, Calif. Experts say the effort to clear the site and identify remains may take months, based on similar efforts at collapsed buildings. Identifying bodies with DNA provided by family members takes about 90 minutes, but additional confirmation of the remains by the medical examiner can take a day or longer.
Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the California Office of Emergency Services, said Florida emergency-management officials first contacted California requesting possible assistance. California officials determined what “specialized victim-identification capabilities” would be available for use and offered to share its expertise and equipment last weekend, he said.
However, he said, emergency managers in Florida later informed California that they had received an outpouring of support and no longer needed assistance. By Friday, that had changed, as the mayor of Miami-Dade County ordered the demolition of the portion of Champlain Towers South that is still standing and the nearby city of North Miami Beach undertook a building audit.
At least four of the California-based workers are specialists trained to assess buildings after disasters to determine whether it is safe to operate in them.
Neighbors, friends and relatives have turned a fence near the collapsed Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, Fla., into a memorial for the dead and missing. Victoria Cavero of Surfside added some flowers to the memorial on Thursday.Credit…Scott McIntyre for The New York Times
Every day for the past week, Maria Noble has carried flowers two blocks from her house to the Surfside Tennis Center, where the black chain-link fence has been transformed into a makeshift memorial to victims of the Champlain Towers South disaster.
Ms. Noble, 71, did not know any residents of the collapsed condominium personally. But she has lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years.
“So many people don’t know Surfside,” Ms. Noble said on Friday after carefully arranging three bouquets of white flowers — two hanging from the fence and one in a vase at its base. “It’s a friendly, friendly city and it’s too bad that what happened here is the way the world knows Surfside.”
Along with other neighbors and family members, Ms. Noble has helped expand the memorial from a smattering of paper fliers with photos of missing people and a small row of flowers beneath them into a vast array of bouquets affixed to the fence, interspersed with messages and prayers for the victims and their families.
Different people are remembered in different sections of the memorial. Ms. Noble has contributed flowers to many of them.
“One day I’m coming for one, later I go to another group, another group,” Ms. Noble said, motioning down the length of the fence.
On Friday morning, she brought flowers, a rosary and a votive candle with a lantern to protect the candle from the expected rain. She lay them by a photo of Leidy Luna Villalba, a 23-year-old woman who had arrived in Miami from Paraguay on June 23 to work as a nanny for the first lady of Paraguay’s family. The family and Ms. Villalba were sleeping at the condo when it collapsed, and are listed as missing.
“You imagine she was alone, maybe with family coming,” said Ms. Noble, who immigrated to the United States from Paraguay herself in 1982.
Ms. Villalba was studying to become a nurse, she added. “You imagine her coming for more success, and that happened,” she said, nodding to the memorial.
Stacie Fang, 54, was the first victim identified in the condo collapse. She was the mother of Jonah Handler, a 15-year-old boy who was pulled alive from the rubble in a dramatic rescue as he begged rescuers, “Please don’t leave me.”
Antonio Lozano, 83, and Gladys Lozano, 79, were confirmed dead by Mr. Lozano’s nephew, Phil Ferro, the chief meteorologist on WSVN Channel 7 in Miami. Mr. Ferro wrote on Instagram: “They were such beautiful people. May they rest in peace.”
Luis Andres Bermudez, 26, lived with his mother, Ana Ortiz, 46, and stepfather, Frank Kleiman, 55. Mr. Bermudez’s father confirmed his son’s death on social media, writing in Spanish: “My Luiyo. You gave me everything … I will miss you all of my life. We’ll see each other soon. I will never leave you alone.”
Manuel LaFont, 54, was a businessman who worked with Latin American companies. His former wife, Adriana LaFont, described him as “the best dad.” Mr. LaFont’s son, 10, and daughter, 13, were with Ms. LaFont when the building collapsed.
Leon Oliwkowicz, 80, and Cristina Beatriz Elvira, 74, were from Venezuela and had recently moved to Surfside, according to Chabadinfo.com, which said they were active in the Orthodox Jewish community in greater Chicago, where one of their daughters lives.
Marcus Joseph Guara, 52, lived with his wife, Anaely Rodriguez, 42, and their two daughters, Lucia Guara, 10, and Emma Guara, 4. Mr. Guara was remembered as a kind and generous man, a godfather to twins and a fan of hard rock music.
Hilda Noriega, 92, was a longtime resident of Champlain Towers South who enjoyed traveling and whose family described her “unconditional love.” Hours before the collapse, she attended a celebration with relatives.
Michael David Altman, 50, came from Costa Rica to the United States as a child, and was an avid racquetball player as a youth. “He was a warm man. He conquered a lot of obstacles in his life, and always came out on top,” his son, Nicholas, told The Miami Herald.
Andreas Giannitsopoulos, 21, was in South Florida visiting Mr. LaFont, a close friend of his father’s. He was studying economics at Vanderbilt University and had been a decathlon athlete at his high school. An image of him is on a mural outside the school’s athletic facility.
Also killed in the collapse was Magaly Elena Delgado, 80.
— The New York Times
Engineers said that damaged columns at the collapse site appeared to have less steel reinforcement than what the design drawings called for.Credit…Jason Pizzo
Engineers who have visited the scene or examined photos of the wreckage of the Champlain Towers South condominium complex have been struck by a possible flaw in its construction: Critical places near the base of the building appeared to use less steel reinforcement than called for in the project’s original design drawings.
The observation is the first detail to emerge pointing to a potential problem in the quality of construction of the 13-story condo tower in Surfside, Fla.
Allyn E. Kilsheimer, a forensic engineering expert hired by the town of Surfside to investigate the collapse, said the investigation was still in its early stages. But he confirmed there were signs that the amount of steel used to connect concrete slabs below a parking deck to the building’s vertical columns might be less than what the project’s initial plans specified.
“The bars might not be arranged like the original drawings call for,” Mr. Kilsheimer said in an interview. He said he would need to inspect the rubble more closely to determine whether in fact the slab-to-column connections contained less steel than expected.
The condo tower’s 1979 design drawings, provided by the town of Surfside and reviewed by structural engineers and The New York Times, indicate that the vertical columns in many parts of the building were supposed to provide a critical structural connection to horizontal slabs, embedded with eight rods of reinforcing steel — four in one direction, four in the other — near the tops of the slabs. But the reinforcing rods in the parking area, left exposed in many places after the parking deck slab slammed down to the lower level, appear to be fewer in number.
The investigation of the collapse could take months, so preliminary observations and findings could change. Some engineers said the possible shortfall in steel rebar in the relatively small part of the building they had examined should be seen not as a cause of the collapse, but it could potentially have been one of several factors that allowed whatever initiated the problem to accelerate into a catastrophic failure.