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Death toll in Surfside building collapse rises to 64 after search efforts turn from rescue to recovery

Death toll in Surfside building collapse rises to 64 after search efforts turn from rescue to recovery

Posted: Jul 9, 2021 3:51 AM
Updated: Jul 9, 2021 3:51 AM

The death toll in a condo building collapse in Surfside, Florida, has risen to 64, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said, after authorities made the decision to shift the search effort from rescue to recovery.

Four more victims were recovered Thursday, Levine Cava said. The Miami-Dade Police Department also identified five additional victims Thursday evening: Juan Alberto Mora Jr., 32; Andrea Cattarossi, 56; Ruslan Manashirov, 36; Harold Rosenberg, 52; and Gloria Machado, 71. All were recovered recovered from the rubble Wednesday.

Seventy-six people are "potentially unaccounted for," the mayor said at a news conference Thursday afternoon, two weeks after the Champlain Towers South condo building collapse, which is among the deadliest mass casualty building collapses in US history, not including acts of terror or fires.

A total of 200 people have been accounted for, 40 have been identified, and of those, 39 families have been notified, Levine Cava said.

Authorities transitioned to search and recovery at midnight overnight, after determining "the viability of life in the rubble" was low, Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said Wednesday.

Still, Levine Cava said the recovery effort is "proceeding just as rapidly with just as many people on the pile," and authorities are "taking as much care as ever" to find victims.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been scanning the collapse site twice a day and "flying drones to collect essential imaging that will support the fact-finding process," Levine Cava said. So far, NIST has tagged 182 specimens.

Levine Cava told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that victim families have been meeting with NIST and other experts and understand the need to transition from rescue to recovery.

"They understood there was no more hope or possibility of finding someone alive," she said. "So they are just now waiting for closure, they're waiting to have a chance to find the victims and put this to rest."

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said that a representative from the fire department told the families "the Miami-Dade Fire Department will not stop working until they've gotten to the bottom of the pile and recovered every single one of the family's missing loved ones."

"The speaker further said that 'I can assure you, we are not stopping. And your missing children are coming back to your family,'" Burkett said.

How to help Surfside victims

A moment of silence

Search and recovery teams paused work around 1:20 a.m. to honor the victims, the mayor said.

At the edge of the rubble, first responders, officials, faith leaders and journalists bowed their heads for a moment of silence Wednesday evening, honoring those who lost their lives under the debris.

The scene was largely monochromatic: gray concrete, gray dry wall, gray rebar and gray dust still on the paws of a search dog who stood at attention for the moment of silence.

But color could be found just around the corner, where a makeshift shrine adorned the fence of a tennis court with flowers, photos and a sign that read, "Miami-Dade Search and Rescue mourns with you."

Faith leaders offered prayers, and at one point an impromptu religious procession unfolded as sisters in brown robes lit candles and marched with a priest holding a statue of Our Lady of Fatima.

Some of the families who lost loved ones were brought to the site Thursday for a visit at their request, Levine Cava said.

"We held a moment of silence with our first responders. They paused their work on the pile briefly to honor the victims and their families and they received an aerial salute by Miami-Dade County Police Department," the mayor said.

Each victim recovered is "handled with extreme care and compassion," Levine Cava said in Thursday's news conference. Faith leaders, including rabbis, have been embedded with search and recovery workers and they're working with police to handle the remains of Jewish victims in a way that's consistent with their faith, she said.

"We have a tent designated on-site and when a Jewish body is discovered, a prayer is performed and specific protocols are followed to honor both the faith traditions and the integrity of the investigation," Levine Cava said.

Authorities are also collecting all manner of personal items, like legal or identifying documents, photos, wallets and credit cards, cell phone and tablets. Any currency, firearms and safes are also being set aside.

The way the building collapsed gave people inside the lowest probability of survival, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Fire Chief of Operations Raide Jadallah said Wednesday, referring to it as a "pancake."

"The other factors that we have to include, you know, the fact that we did not get in the alert (from) a K-9, a sensor trip forward, sound, and any visual utilizing our cameras. The last known alert that we received was in the initial hours the day of the collapse," Jadallah said.

Surfside urges condos to hire engineers, inspect foundations

Condo associations in Surfside will soon receive letters signed by the town mayor advising them to take steps to give residents confidence their buildings are safe.

The Town of Surfside shared a copy of the letter with CNN. It provides recommendations for all buildings east of Collins Avenue, regardless of the age of the building, including retaining a structural engineer to review structural drawings and perform a basement review, as well as a geotechnical engineer to review the foundation.

"The recommendations are made in an abundance of caution based on the current status of the investigation," the letter said. "They are intended to serve as an interim methodology to afford residents some peace of mind until the forensic investigation progresses further."

The town hired Allyn Kilsheimer of KCE Engineering, a structural engineering firm, to lead the investigation into what caused the collapse. The investigation is ongoing, per the letter.

City and county officials have launched audits and inspections of residential condo buildings in the surrounding areas, and so far, three have generated concern.

One in Miami-Dade County had an issue with four balconies. Another in Miami Beach required the evacuation of a three-story building.

The largest impact has been in North Miami Beach, where all 156 units of Crestview Towers south were evacuated Friday after officials there said the building was deemed structurally and electrically unsafe. According to an inspection report by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, the building, built in 1972, has 18 pending code violations, various fines and liens.

Eyes are also on the collapsed structure's sister building, Champlain Towers North, which Burkett has previously described as "substantially the same" as Chaplain Towers South, with "the same construction, the same developer, the same name, probably the same materials."

On Thursday, Burkett told reporters that experts are collecting samples of concrete from Champlain Towers North to look for potential salt contamination, "which can significantly compromise the structure."

Report of damage in the garage emerges

Approximately 55 of the building's 136 units collapsed early June 24, leaving many officials and residents asking: What caused the collapse and did the building association do enough to prevent it from happening?

The top prosecutor in Miami-Dade County said Wednesday she has formally tasked a grand jury with investigating the cause of the collapse.

In a statement, State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said she also asked the grand jury to "look into how we can prevent such a disaster from occurring again, not just in Surfside, and not just in condominiums, but in all buildings and structures in the coastal, intercoastal and surrounding areas of our county, state and nation."

Grand juries are groups of residents who typically have subpoena power and work in secret with local prosecutors to investigate issues. In Florida, they can produce a report on a topic that does not necessarily pair with criminal charges.

Reports of damage to the building, cracks in the concrete and disputes over repair work have surfaced in the weeks since the collapse. And while they have prompted speculation about a potential cause, officials have said they have not identified a single trigger for the collapse.

A new detail emerged Wednesday via a police report released by the town of Surfside to CNN, which disclosed a car crash in the basement garage in 2016 caused visible damage to a cement pole.

The driver of a BMW sedan said he "accidentally hit the accelerator instead of the brake" before crashing into a second car and then the pole, according to the report filed just after the crash.

A crash in the garage has been among the theories floated by engineers reviewing the collapse as a possible contributing factor, and the 2016 accident, which has not been previously reported, would likely be another piece of evidence considered by investigators. But engineers who spoke to CNN cautioned it could be insignificant, especially considering when it took place.

"I would think that if the vehicle impacting the column was a factor, that you would usually find that within close proximity to the time of the accident," said Richard Slider, a structural engineer who consults on building construction.

CNN has reached out to a spokesman for the building's condominium board for comment and the town for more information.

The-CNN-Wire
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Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 515504

Reported Deaths: 10296
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34999558
DeSoto33360432
Hinds32743643
Jackson24906392
Rankin22565405
Lee16455245
Madison14954283
Jones14158248
Forrest13834260
Lauderdale12311323
Lowndes11357193
Lamar10693140
Pearl River9748244
Lafayette8868143
Hancock7849132
Washington7559169
Oktibbeha7229138
Monroe7068179
Pontotoc7033110
Warren6885178
Panola6791135
Neshoba6744210
Marshall6707142
Bolivar6468151
Union643598
Pike5942157
Alcorn5921107
Lincoln5540136
George510680
Prentiss508285
Tippah495683
Itawamba4884107
Scott478999
Tate4777117
Adams4776125
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Copiah458195
Yazoo458092
Simpson4566117
Wayne443472
Covington434895
Sunflower4319106
Marion4295112
Coahoma4244110
Leake414191
Newton396182
Tishomingo386894
Grenada3789109
Stone366166
Jasper341266
Attala340490
Chickasaw318367
Winston318392
Clay312978
Clarke301695
Calhoun286850
Holmes272889
Smith270552
Yalobusha244947
Tallahatchie232353
Greene225149
Walthall222166
Lawrence220242
Perry214556
Amite210357
Webster206548
Noxubee188843
Montgomery182157
Carroll175441
Jefferson Davis174343
Tunica163539
Benton153139
Kemper145441
Choctaw137027
Claiborne134839
Humphreys132239
Franklin126530
Quitman107828
Wilkinson106139
Jefferson97134
Sharkey65321
Issaquena1957
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 848137

Reported Deaths: 16185
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1164052005
Mobile743681384
Madison53497738
Shelby38435371
Baldwin38195589
Tuscaloosa36152644
Montgomery34562782
Lee25655264
Calhoun22630520
Morgan22530411
Etowah20069520
Marshall18846318
Houston17777426
St. Clair16958359
Limestone16195220
Cullman16157306
Elmore15940295
Lauderdale15069307
Talladega14260302
DeKalb13083271
Walker12168380
Blount10779193
Autauga10560157
Jackson10214196
Coffee9435192
Colbert9366210
Dale9044192
Tallapoosa7285202
Russell710065
Chilton7090170
Covington6969197
Escambia6967144
Franklin6364108
Chambers5801142
Marion5437132
Dallas5302210
Pike5129109
Clarke485786
Lawrence4850130
Winston4793110
Geneva4655136
Bibb435795
Barbour370680
Butler3444101
Marengo342993
Monroe338366
Randolph337867
Pickens334890
Fayette331785
Henry321166
Cherokee320364
Hale319189
Crenshaw261678
Washington256852
Cleburne255460
Lamar253555
Clay252969
Macon246367
Conecuh193562
Coosa186048
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