The mayor of Surfside has said the remaining condo structure may need to be demolished to stop it falling on rescuers after the search for survivors and victims was halted indefinitely due to safety fears.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told NBC News officials are considering carrying out a controlled demolition of the part of Champlain Towers South that is still standing as the search is yet to resume more than 12 hours after it was called off in the early hours of Thursday morning.
‘If the existing building is a problem, then we need to eliminate that problem quickly,’ he said.
The need to resume the search quickly comes as 145 people remain missing in the rubble more than one week on from the condo tower’s collapse and as the collapse site is now in danger of being hammered by a tropical storm charting its path across the Atlantic this week.
Burkett told NBC’s Geoff Bennett this impending adverse weather was raising further concerns about the structural integrity of the remains of the 12-story tower.
‘If the [remaining] building is going to fall, we should make sure it falls the right way,’ he said.
Rescue efforts were halted and the area around the building was cleared just after 2am Thursday – almost exactly one week to the minute on from the collapse at 1.25am on June 24.
Officials said the site had become unstable and could topple on search and rescue teams, with technology used to monitor cracks sounding alarms about the dangers and on-site experts warning of movements in the structure.
Rescue efforts at the Miami condo tower have been forced to come to a halt amid fears the remaining structure could topple on search and rescue teams
The area around the Champlain Towers South building was cleared and the hunt for victims and survivors among the rubble put on pause just after 2am Thursday. Searchers comb through the rubble Wednesday
Structural engineer Scott Nacheman, who is working at the site with FEMA, told the families desperately waiting for news about their loved ones that demolition of the rest of the building was an option.
‘One of our concepts of operations is exactly what you’re talking about,’ Nacheman said, according to Miami New Times.
‘And the reason it hasn’t been possibly pursued further at this point is we didn’t want to cause any more damage or destruction to the individuals who are trapped in the low portion
‘We’re now getting to a point in the operation where we’re exploring the next phase. One of those possibilities, a very highly likely possibility, is what you just discussed.’
However, demolishing the building could hamper the search further by adding more rubble for teams to wade through and posing a greater risk to anyone who may still be alive in the rubble, the engineer said.
The Champlain Towers South collapse started from the bottom of the central building, with that part of the tower falling from its base down.
Seconds later, the section behind the center collapsed, followed by the east section moments later.
The west section of the building is still standing and has been closely monitored during the search as rescue teams have combed through the rubble round the clock.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said in a Thursday morning press conference that ‘structural concerns’ had led to the halting of the search and rescue operation earlier that morning.
‘We were forced to halt operations on the the collapse in the early hours of the morning due to structural concerns about the standing structure,’ she said.
Cava vowed to resume the search as soon as it is safe to do so as she said the safety of rescue teams was ‘paramount.’
‘We’re doing everything that we can to ensure that the safety of our first responders is paramount and to continue our search and rescue operations as soon as it is safe to do so,’ she said.
‘And our engineers are continuing to monitor the structure as we’ve paused operations to evaluate the situation and all possible options and next steps including with the assistance of the state engineers.’
She added that the disruption was nothing to do with the president’s visit and insisted ‘the search and rescue operation will continue as soon as it is safe to do so’.
‘The only reason for this pause is concerns about the standing structure,’ she added.
‘We’ve already informed the families this morning who were waiting and waiting about this development and we have worked to answer all of the questions that they have about the operation.’
Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Alan Cominsky revealed that first responders had been pulled back when three alarms monitoring cracks in the partially collapsed building went off, signaling crews were in danger.
He said this indicated there had been ‘some expansion’ in the cracks.
Six to 12 inches of movement had also been noted in a large column that was hanging from the structure that experts warned could fall and cause damage to support structures, keeping the shell of the building upright.
Cominsky said search and rescue teams had been ‘working in a very, very, unsafe environment’ as he admitted he did not know how long the operation would be on hold.
‘I don’t have a timeframe now,’ he said.
An aerial view of the site Thursday while the rescue operation remains on hold due to concerns the remaining part of the building will also fall
Officials are now considering a controlled demolition of the rest of the tower so the search can resume
As of 4.30pm local time, the search was yet to resume as experts worked out how to proceed safely – costing valuable time as hopes of finding anyone else alive increasingly fade.
Allyn Kilsheimer, the structural engineer hired by Surfside to investigate the collapse, told CNN that the site needed to be stable for the search to resume.
‘To the extent possible, it has to be determined what caused the movement, and try and make sure that nothing else has been put at risk in the building. Once you feel as comfortable as you can from a safety standpoint, you can begin the operation again,’ Kilsheimer said.
‘Obviously in a situation like this, given the condition of the building that I know about and have seen, the building could have secondary collapse mechanisms. Sometimes that happens.’
He said computer models are being used to determine what wind and storm conditions the remaining structure and collapse site can withstand.
‘We are doing computer models of what kind of wind force causes what kind of stress, and, therefore, it’s possible that at a certain wind force, the building is still standing,’ he said.
Police stand near the condo building early Thursday as the search was halted overnight
Search and rescue teams look for possible survivors in the partially collapsed 12-story condo tower Wednesday
‘For eight or nine or 10 hours, it might have to – the recovery effort might have to stop to get people away from there. But we’re doing the computer modeling to try and confirm those different numbers.’
Officials are facing the prospect that the search could be hampered further over the coming days by a tropical storm that threatens to strike Miami-Dade early next week.
Tropical Storm Elsa formed over the tropical Atlantic early Thursday morning, with all of South Florida now in its potential path.
National Hurricane Center forecasters said Elsa, now the fifth named storm of the season, could take aim at Miami-Dade county by Monday – marking a blow to the county currently grappling with the aftermath of the condo collapse.
Palm Beach and Broward counties are also within its potential path.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said Thursday morning the state was ‘actively monitoring’ the storm and coming up with contingency plans for if and when it strikes.
‘Obviously the state meteorologist team is actively monitoring the storm and will continue to provide updates and our department of emergency management continues to implement contingency plans for potential tropical weather impacts including identifying alternate work facilities,’ he said in the press briefing.
Elsa had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph with higher gusts and was 865 miles east-southeast of the Windward Islands, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 105 miles from the center and it was moving west at 25 mph.
An even faster motion to the west-northwest is expected over the next 24 to 36 hours.
The Caribbean is bracing for heavy rains that may lead to isolated flash flooding and mudslides, with tropical storm warnings issued for Barbados, Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said in a Thursday morning press conference that ‘structural concerns’ had led to the halting of the search and rescue operation which is yet to resume several hours on
A tropical storm watch is also in effect for Guadeloupe.
The storm is expected to pass near or over portions of the Windward Islands or the southern Leeward Islands on Friday, move into the eastern Caribbean Sea late Friday and Friday night, and move near the southern coast of Hispaniola on Saturday.
Elsa is forecast to produce rainfall totals of 3 to 6 inches (7 to 15 centimeters) with maximum totals of 8 inches (20 centimeters) inches on Friday across the Windward and southern Leeward Islands, including Barbados.
The storm – which forecasters warn could increase to a hurricane – could carry on its track to Florida by early next week, with the southern part of the state currently in the cone for potential impacts.
Forecasters said it was too early to tell for certain if Florida will be impacted by the storm.
This will depend on whether Elsa’s track from Saturday. If the storm tracks further south it may well avoid Florida but if it tracks north the area the state will likely be in its path.
WPEC-CBS12 meteorologist Lauren Olesky said the water in the Atlantic seems warm enough to carry the storm all the way to South Florida.
The collapse site is now in danger of being hammered by Tropical Storm Elsa which is charting its path across the Atlantic this week
All of South Florida including Miami-Dade is now in its potential path to be hit Monday or Tuesday
However, either way, it seems likely to at least dump more heavy rain on the hard-hit state.
The potential arrival of Elsa is just the latest issue that has hampered search and rescue efforts at the collapse site, after emergency teams have faced challenging weather during Florida’s rainy season and deep fires within the rubble.
Officials on Saturday said the mission had been made more challenging by raging fires burning beneath the surface of the rubble which firefighters struggled to locate the source of.
Now, more than one week on from the tragedy, 145 people remain missing in the rubble.
More bodies were pulled from the debris Wednesday, taking the confirmed dearth toll to 18.
The latest victims were identified as two young sisters Lucia Guara, 10, and Emma Guara, 4, whose parents were previously also confirmed among the dead.
President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden visited the site Thursday and met with the families of the victims and those still unaccounted for.
He said the families were ‘going through hell’ and called for finding out how and when to bring first responders back to the scene.
Though it is too early to say for certain if the storm will hit the state, it is likely to experience heavy rainfall – further hampering search and rescue efforts
‘The remainder of the building may collapse. We need to determine if it’s safe for first responders to return to the site to continue their rescue mission,’ he said.
Biden met with fire and rescue personnel in Florida Thursday thanking them and telling them ‘what you’re doing is incredible.’
At one point, he recounted how first responders used ‘jaws of life’ to pry his children out of the vehicle during the 1972 car crash that took his first wife, Neilia, as well as his infant daughter, Naomi.
Biden also met with DeSantis, putting on a united front with the president telling him ‘we’re here to help’ and promising the federal aid is ‘not going anywhere.’
Biden declared a state of emergency in Florida in the early hours of Friday morning and sent in federal aid to assist in the search.
The federal government has also sent in a team of scientists and engineers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) as questions continue to mount about what caused the 1980s building to suddenly collapse.
NIST is the federal government agency responsible for leading investigations into building failures and was set up after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
A structural engineer investigating the collapse has suggested that the swimming pool deck may have caved in first and brought down the rest of the building with it.
Allyn E. Kilsheimer told The Washington Post: ‘There is a possibility that part of the pool [area] came down first and then dragged the middle of the building with it, and that made that collapse.
Biden met with responders after a meeting with Florida state and local political leaders about the response
‘What you’re doing is incredible,’ President Joe Biden told first responders are responding to the tragic building collapse in Surfside, Florida
President Biden meets with Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at a briefing at the collapse of the Miami condo
‘And then once the middle of the building collapsed, number two, then the rest of the building didn’t know how to stand up and it fell down also, number three.’
This theory also matches witness accounts who say they saw sections of the pool deck collapse into the garage below.
Investigators are also probing whether there was critical failures in the handling of the building’s maintenance.
A consultant engineer warned in a damning October 2018 report that the Champlain Towers South had ‘major structural damage’ to the pool deck area and underground parking garage.
The structural field survey report, released by the town of Surfside overnight Friday, specifically raised concerns about the pool deck area, in which the waterproofing was failing, and the underground parking garage which was riddled with ‘abundant’ cracking.
It said the 12-story condo was in need of numerous repairs around the base of the structure ‘in a timely fashion.’
Alarming footage taken by a bystander minutes before the collapse shows water flowing rapidly from the roof of the garage.
A structural engineer investigating the collapse has suggested that the swimming pool deck may have caved in first and brought down the rest of the building with it. Above shows how it crumbled – at ground level – into the underground parking level beneath it
A new video purports to show water gushing from the ceiling of the Miami condo building’s garage while concrete debris litters the floor