Death Toll at 9 at Site of Surfside Collapse; Search Continues for Survivors

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The death toll at the site of the collapsed condo building has risen to 9, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Sunday.

Human remains were also found in the wreckage and DNA samples were being used to try to identify them.

"The process of identifying these victims is very difficult," Levine Cava said at the news briefing Saturday. "We have been gathering samples from family members. This allows us to do rapid testing on site. We identified three bodies in the rubble and have already notified the next of kin."

There are 130 residents accounted for while 156 remain unaccounted for, officials said.

The mayor also said that 130 people are accounted for and 156 people are still unaccounted for.

A smoldering fire, deep within the debris of the building, was creating smoke and air quality issues making it difficult for search and rescue teams to locate possible survivors Saturday. The fire appeared to be out Sunday morning.

"The stench is very, very thick," said Governor Ron DeSantis.

Rescuers were being hampered by the smoke and fire Friday as they combed through the wreckage in an increasingly desperate search for survivors, but Levine Cava said that there was progress that had been made on Saturday.

The mayor said rescuers were using infrared technology to try to locate the source of the fire but that smoke was the biggest barrier.

"This was tampering our search and rescue operation," Levine Cava said. "We tried to minimize the heavy equipment. We’re continuing to focus on the grid approach to the pile. Top priority continues to be search and rescue."

The hope of finding survivors darkened on Friday as search and rescue teams covered more of the debris field and found no signs of life. NBC 6's Carlos Suarez reports

Levine Cava said rescuers were at “extreme risk” going through the rubble.

"At the same time, we want to know, everyone wants to know what is the cause, what has happened here and of course we are going to conduct a full and thorough investigation, " Levine Cava said.

The mayor said she was ordering an immediate audit of all of county buildings built at the 40-year point and beyond to be conducted by the county department of regulatory and economic resources.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said Saturday that he is considering temporarily evacuating residents from the Champlain Towers North building, the building adjacent to the tower that collapsed, in order to give engineers time to check the safety of its structure.

Burkett said an evacuation would be “out of an abundance of caution,” to ensure the safety of the structure and that they're working to bring building inspectors to thoroughly inspect the North Towers over a two-week period.

Burkett also said they've secured federal resources to temporarily relocate residents who feel uncomfortable living in the North Towers.

Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said Saturday that firefighters are continuing to evaluate options and modifying efforts in an attempt to reach survivors.

"As we are moving debris, and as the smoke is increasing, we still haven't come across any sign of life," Cominsky said. " But it's a very difficult situation and we continue to modify and adjust where we need to hopefully save some lives," he said.

"Debris is falling on them as they do their work. We have structural engineers on site to ensure that they will not be injured, but they are proceeding because they are so motivated and they are taking extraordinary risk on the site every day,” Levine Cava said Friday.

Video of the collapse showed the center of the building appearing to tumble down first and a section nearest to the ocean teetering and coming down seconds later, as a huge dust cloud swallowed the neighborhood.

Dozens of fire rescue units responded to a collapse of a condo building in Surfside early Thursday.

It was believed that about 55 units were affected by the partial collapse but Saturday, Mayor Burkett said that number was closer to 72.

Rescuers pulled at least 35 people from the wreckage in the first hours after the collapse.

A 2018 engineering report found ‘major structural damage' in the now-collapsed condo.

The report, from Morabito Consultants, is included in hundreds of pages the Town of Surfside released last Friday in response to public records requests from media, including the NBC 6 Investigators.

President Joe Biden tweeted on Saturday with his condolences and said that he had spoken with Governor DeSantis on Friday.

After Biden's tweet, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Deanne Criswell, announced that she would be visiting the site Sunday at the President's request.

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