Politics

Loss of life toll rises to 20 in Florida rental collapse, 128 persons are nonetheless unaccounted for

People look at a memorial that has pictures of some of the missing from the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on June 30, 2021 in Surfside, Florida.

Joe Raedle | Getty Images

At least 20 people are confirmed dead and 128 are unaccounted more than a week after a 12-story condominium building collapsed in Florida, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a press conference Friday morning. 

Levine Cava and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez noted that one of the new bodies recovered is of a seven-year-old child whose father works for the Miami fire department. 

“It was truly different and more difficult for our first responders,” Levine Cava told reporters.

“These men and women are paying an enormous human toll each and every day and I ask that all of you, please keep all of them in your thoughts and prayers. They truly represent the very best in all of us, and we need to be there for them as they are here for us.”

President Joe Biden, following his visit to Surfside yesterday, formally authorized the federal government on Friday to cover 100% of the cost of debris removal and emergency protective measures at the collapse site under the Public Assistance program for a continuous period of 30 days, beginning June 24.

Levine Cava said the search for more victims is the first priority of authorities, but plans to demolish the building are moving forward. A demolition could take weeks to complete, she added.

“We are going to move expeditiously with decision-making but it will take some time before the demolition occurs,” Levine Cava told reporters, noting that engineers are currently evaluating what the process would look like.

Governor Ron DeSantis also provided additional updates on Hurricane Elsa, noting that Southern Florida could see tropical storm force winds as early as Sunday night. Authorities are currently paying “special attention” to any potential impacts on Miami-Dade County.

The Office of Emergency Management division director Charles Cyrille urged citizens to begin preparing evacuation plans, three to seven days of supplies for each member of a household. Cyrille added that homes should also be prepared for impact by securing objects, such as garbage cans and patio furniture, that can be easily blown away by a hurricane. 

“It is critically important that these preparatory activities begin today,” Cyrille said. 

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett also provided updates on the Champlain Towers North, the sister property of the collapsed condo building. Burkett said arrangements have been made to relocate residents while experts prepare to conduct a forensic study into the structure to evaluate its safety.

Search-and-rescue operations resumed Thursday night after a day-long halt, with authorities hoping to expand the search area safely.

DeSantis added that search-and-rescue teams for Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey will assist the state’s emergency response teams and preparations for Hurricane Elsa. 

In collaboration with the Florida Division of Emergency Management, or FDEM, the Royal Caribbean Group announced Friday that it will provide free housing and resources to search-and-rescue teams at one of its ships now docked at PortMiami.

The halt of search-and-rescue operations Thursday morning was due to structural concerns identified by subject matter experts, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky. 

Investigations are still being conducted on the cause of the collapse. 

Recent evidence indicates that the 40-year-old condominium building had shown signs of major structural damage as far back as 2018, with a report citing issues with waterproofing beneath the pool and cracking in the underground parking garage. 

A video taken on the night of the collapse has also come to light, showing water pouring into the parking garage of the building. 

The National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST, announced Wednesday evening that it had launched a federal investigation team to investigate the cause of the collapse and develop improved building codes. 

Former NIST director Dr. Walter Copan, who led the agency under then-president Donald Trump until Jan. 2021, told the Miami Herald that it could be a matter of months before NIST provides new facts from the probe. 

“Generally, there will be an initial summary within three to six months to provide a status update to the public,” said Copan, according to the Herald. 

“NIST’s job, first and foremost, is to brief the public regularly within NIST’s lane of technical analysis and root cause of the failure.”

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