Live Updates: Death Toll Rises to 60 as Workers at Florida Condo Turn to Recovery

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Officials Will End Search Efforts After Condominium Collapse

Officials in Florida said after two weeks of searching for victims they would shift their focus to recovery efforts after assessing that no survivors would be found.

It is with deep, profound sadness that this afternoon, I’m able to share that we made the extremely difficult decision to transition from operation search and rescue to recovery. It’s now been exactly two weeks since Champlain Towers South collapsed, and over the last 14 days you all know that our search and rescue teams from our local community, from around Florida, from around the country and in fact, around the world have been digging through this collapse. They’ve used every possible strategy and every piece of technology available to them. And through these efforts, we have recovered eight more victims, so the total number of confirmed deaths is now at 54. 33 of those victims have been identified, and 33 next-of-kin notifications have been made. At this time, 200 people have been accounted for and 86 people are potentially unaccounted for. So please join me in praying for those we have lost and those we are mourning.

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Officials in Florida said after two weeks of searching for victims they would shift their focus to recovery efforts after assessing that no survivors would be found.CreditCredit…Saul Martinez for The New York Times

For two weeks, crews from around the world have scoured the rubble of the Champlain Towers South, an oceanfront condominium complex in Surfside, Fla., that inexplicably collapsed in the middle of the night. They have recovered dozens of bodies, moved tons of concrete and salvaged precious family heirlooms.

Those efforts continued on Thursday. But the searchers are no longer looking for survivors.

After long insisting that they were maintaining a search-and-rescue effort even as it became increasingly hopeless, officials made the announcement on Wednesday that they were now focused solely on recovery efforts. They said there had been no signs of life in the wreckage since the hours immediately after much of the building tumbled down on June 24.

“At this point,” Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County said, “we have truly exhausted every option available to us in the search-and-rescue mission.”

By midmorning Thursday, the death toll had risen to 60, with 35 victims identified. Eighty people are still classified as potentially missing.

“We are working around the clock to recover victims and to bring closure to the families as fast as we can,” Ms. Levine Cava said at a news conference, adding that rescue teams also have been working to recover personal belongings.

Searchers paused their work at 1:20 a.m. Thursday for a moment of silence to mark two weeks since the building collapsed.

One relative of a victim said rescue officials had clung to hope that the demolition of the remainder of the building on Sunday would lead to the discovery of survivors in a stairwell or perhaps in basement areas, in the voids between cars.

Instead, he said, “There was nothing. It was all rubble, and crushed. Nothing.”

Rescue teams had come from all over Florida, as well as Texas, Israel and Mexico, driven on by the anguish of onlooking family members who yelled out the names of their missing loved ones and stories of unlikely survivals from disasters past. The work was grueling and dangerous, with fires that burned in the rubble and the constant possibility of mounds of debris giving way.

“They did all that they could,” Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida told reporters on Thursday morning. He said search crews would continue to dig through the rubble until the remains of “every single person” has been found and identified.

“We are all still praying for a miracle,” Mayor Charles W. Burkett of Surfside said. “We have not given up all hope.”

As workers continued this week to look for pockets in the debris where survivors might be found, the prospect of finding anyone alive grew increasingly unlikely.

“Just based on the facts, there’s zero chance of survival,” Assistant Chief Ray Jadallah of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue told families in a private briefing.

The rescue work continued after dark on Tuesday at the collapse site in Surfside, Fla.
Credit…Eva Marie Uzcategui/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

It could take months for investigators to determine precisely why a significant portion of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fla., collapsed without warning last month. But there are already some clues about potential reasons, including design or construction flaws, for the disaster.

Engineers who have visited the wreckage or viewed photos of it say that damaged columns at the building’s base may have less steel reinforcement than was originally planned. Even if there was a shortfall, some experts said it was unlikely to be the primary cause of the collapse.

Florida has some of the country’s strictest regulations on high-rise buildings, where coveted oceanfront views bring the sun, rain, wind and salty air that can cause structural damage. But the rules are not always enforced, with compliance sometimes taking years longer than required.

The condo board at the Champlain Towers South had for years struggled to convince homeowners to pay special assessments of up to $200,000 in order to begin major renovation projects. Delayed maintenance is an issue for homeowners’ associations around the country, with residents often hoping that future owners will pick up the tab for infrastructure repairs.

In the initial days after the collapse, experts began focusing on the bottom levels of the building where an initial failure could have set off a structural avalanche. Three years before the collapse, a consultant found evidence of “major structural damage” to the concrete slab below the pool deck and “abundant” cracking and crumbling of the columns, beams and walls of the parking garage.

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Commemoration Held for Surfside Victims

A moment of silence and a vigil were held at the site of the condo collapse in Surfside, Fla., after the operation formally transitioned from searching for survivors to recovering the remains of the victims.

“Lord, in the midst of the difficulty here and the unexplainable tragedy that we all face, we trust that our loved ones have entered into that special room that you have prepared for them, that they are embraced by the father’s love.” “My sister and my brother-in-law are in that building right now. You never expect to be put in a place like this overnight. I got the news at 3 in the morning, the day of. And I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this. You can’t express what emotions you feel — angry, sad. You can’t express what all the families in there are are going through.”

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A moment of silence and a vigil were held at the site of the condo collapse in Surfside, Fla., after the operation formally transitioned from searching for survivors to recovering the remains of the victims.CreditCredit…Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Stacie Dawn 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.

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.

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.

Also killed in the collapse were Ingrid Ainsworth, 66, and Tzvi Ainsworth, 68; Claudio Bonnefoy, 85, and Maria Obias-Bonnefoy, 69; Graciela Cattarossi, 48, Gino Cattarossi, 89, and Graciela Cattarossi, 86; Gary Cohen, 58; Magaly Elena Delgado, 80; Bonnie Epstein, 56, and David Epstein, 58; Francis Fernandez, 67; Nancy Kress Levin, 76, and Jay Kleiman, 52; Elaine Sabino, 71; Simon Segal, 80; Gonzalo Torre, 81; and the 7-year-old daughter of a Miami firefighter, whom the authorities declined to name.

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‘No One Budgets for This’: Officials Hold Update on Surfside Collapse

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke at a briefing outside the Surfside, Fla., condo collapse site about the budget and resources available to the families of the victims.

“No one budgets for this. No one plans for the kind of response that is necessary. And so making sure that we stay in this for the long haul is going to be absolutely essential. Now, we don’t know just what the needs are going to be. Some of them are going to be needs that we can accommodate, try to accommodate by adding to the federal budget. Some of them may ultimately end up requiring an emergency supplemental appropriations bill. I’m going to be continuing to work with my colleagues here to make those determinations, and also working at the very most personal level with my constituents to see how we can help them just get through the overwhelming bureaucracy that this tragedy has represented. Because imagine being a family who has lost everything, including loved ones.” “And we obviously want to do all we can for the survivors and the family members to get them on their feet as best as we possibly can. It is not going to be easy. This is a big void that’s going to be felt not just in these families, but in this community as a whole. But we understand this is not something that — pretty soon there won’t be cameras here, but we understand that this is something where the needs are going to continue. And so we want to be there, and we to be helpful for folks.”

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Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke at a briefing outside the Surfside, Fla., condo collapse site about the budget and resources available to the families of the victims.CreditCredit…Maria Alejandra Cardona for The New York Times

In between briefings and paperwork one day last week, Steve Rosenthal received a phone call from FedEx: A driver could not deliver his package of bedsheets. Was there a better time or address to reach him?

But his bed, along with the family porcelain, photo albums and the possessions accumulated over two decades of homeownership, was buried somewhere in the rubble of Champlain Towers South.

Mr. Rosenthal escaped the tower’s collapse in Surfside, Fla., with a change of clothes and his wallet, iPad and phone. He was not even sure if he could get the FedEx package delivered to the hotel where he was staying.

“You’ve got to cancel the power bill, you’ve got to cancel The Wall Street Journal, you’ve got to talk to your mortgage company,” Mr. Rosenthal said. “They’ve never dealt with anything like this.”

From a hotel lobby and temporary apartments across Miami, survivors of the condo collapse are now trying to reconstruct their lives: replacing crucial identification cards, canceling utility bills and tracking down prescriptions and medication.

The Miami community has galvanized to support them, donating thousands of dollars, distributing free food and supplies, supplying housing for survivors and for out-of-town families awaiting news of their loved ones, and tunneling through the mountain of paperwork to replace medications.

“The moment we speak into the universe and say we need X, people fill the gap,” said Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, president and chief executive of the Miami Foundation, which has helped coordinate donations.

The victims have been visiting what one person compared to a somber college fair: a room lined with tables, set up by companies, grief counselors and official organizations to help both survivors and families of the missing begin to move forward. Neighboring churches and synagogues have also become centers for donations, collecting food and supplies and distributing it around the community.

Mental health and trauma counseling, officials said, should remain a priority for the community going forward. Therapists and grief counselors, as well as therapy dogs, have been present as well, to offer support to the families.

The remainder of the Champlain Towers South was demolished on Sunday.
Credit…Mark Abramson for The New York Times

The job offer came when Mark Loizeaux was driving back to his office after obliterating a 400-foot chimney at a coal-fired power station in Virginia. And it needed to be done quickly, which allowed him to squeeze the project in before taking down 33 wind turbines outside Chicago.

Mr. Loizeaux, the president of Controlled Demolition, is no stranger to destroying structures — including power plants, bridges and university dormitories — that are no longer considered safe or desirable, making his small family business an ideal one to implode what remained of the Champlain Towers South.

“We perform structural origami,” he said. “We fold buildings up.”

The demolition took 6.5 seconds on Sunday evening, when local officials were fearful that an incoming storm would topple what remained of the condominium building, threatening the laborious search for victims and survivors.

By knocking down the structure, Mr. Loizeaux enabled rescue crews to safely reach new parts of the rubble. Twenty-four people had been pronounced dead before the demolition; 30 more victims have been found in the three days since.

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The portion of Champlain Towers South left standing after a deadly collapse was brought down Sunday night amid concerns over its stability as Tropical Storm Elsa approaches Florida.CreditCredit…Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Mr. Loizeaux ordinarily has access to multiple floors, but because of the precarious state of the condo building in Surfside, Fla., his workers could enter only its lobby and basement. They filled holes in columns and walls with 128 pounds of dynamite.

“What brings the building down is gravity not explosions,” he said.

Mr. Loizeaux’s inbox was flooded by people urging him to postpone the demolition until more pets had been located, and he knew that residents who survived might be losing everything they had left behind, including cherished family photographs.

But with storm warnings flaring, an engineer told him the remaining structure would not withstand 45-mile-per-hour winds. After waiting for authorities to clear the area, one of his “blasters” pressed the button initiating the collapse.

They had designed the explosion so parts of the building would fall at different velocities, enabling them to “twist and curl” it away from the large expanse of rubble — protected by black industrial fabric — that still needed to be searched.

From about 300 feet away, Mr. Loizeaux watched the building fall.

Because it was a still night, it took only 15 minutes for the dust to clear. When it did, he was pleased to see that the black tarp covering the original rubble was free of debris.

A view of the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South building on June 25, the day after the collapse.
Credit…Saul Martinez for The New York Times

Patricia Mazzei has spent her entire career reporting from South Florida, first as a reporter at The Miami Herald and for nearly four years as the Miami bureau chief at The New York Times. She is no stranger to breaking news coverage, from the death of Fidel Castro in Cuba to the devastation of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico to the horrific shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla. For the past two weeks, she has anchored The Times’s coverage of the condo collapse in Surfside, Fla. We asked her for some insights into the experience.

Erin McCann, an editor in the London bureau of The Times, called at 6 a.m. Eastern. Her team had covered the story for about four hours by that point, allowing me a few more hours of sleep on what would turn out to be a very long day.

It’s never good when an editor calls at dawn; seeing the country code for England on my phone made my heart drop. This news sounded terrible, but it wasn’t until I saw the images of the half-collapsed building that I realized the enormity of the tragedy.

I realized shortly after starting to look for names of people who lived in Champlain Towers South that I had been in that building before, or at least out front and in the back. Years ago, when I was in college, a friend from high school was staying there with her family one summer. We went with other former classmates and hung out by the beach. Her parents were among the victims of the collapse. So many longtime Miamians knew people at the Champlain Towers South, or had connections to them. It’s been heartbreaking.

At one point, I think The Times had nine or 10 staffers here, plus a crew of incredible freelance reporters and photographers. We have had other colleagues rotate in and out since then.

There is a crush of media at a staging area about a block south of the building. Especially the first few days, a number of international outlets showed up, too, in part because the building had residents from many countries.

As long as it takes to recover every victim possible, according to the authorities. That seemed like it might take many weeks, but the search sped up dramatically after officials demolished the remaining structure of the building over the weekend. Once the tottering floors were gone, rescue teams could fully search the whole site, something that had previously been too dangerous. As long as those teams are out there, we will be there too.



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Newsrust - US Top News: Live Updates: Death Toll Rises to 60 as Workers at Florida Condo Turn to Recovery
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