What to Know
- Concerns over the stability of the still standing portion of the collapsed Surfside condominium complex led to a halt in operations at the site early Thursday, officials said
- Surfside's mayor said Thursday evening that search-and-rescue operations were back at "full power"
- The death toll rose to 18 and the number of residents unaccounted for stands at 145 as President Biden met with rescue crews and relatives
Rescue efforts at the site of a partially collapsed Surfside condominium building, halted after crews noticed widening cracks and up to a foot of movement in a large column, resumed Thursday evening, officials said.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said search-and-rescue operations were back on "full power" as workers were seen returning to the pile of rubble Thursday evening.
At a news conference Thursday morning, officials said the work on the site halted shortly after 2 a.m. and threatened to keep search teams off the rubble pile for an unknown period. Work resumed nearly 15 hours later, at 4:45 p.m.
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"Today we reserve resumed our search and rescue efforts, and I have to tell you that our firefighters looked really, really excited to get back out there," Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said during an evening news conference. "This was following the recommendations of our structural engineers, they had taken the time to study the conditions to make sure things were safe."
Planning is also underway for the likely demolition of the remaining Champlain Towers, Levine Cava said.
"This is a decision that we need to make extremely carefully and methodically, as we consider all the possible impacts to the pile of debris and to our search and rescue operation, as well as considerations of how to best manage the demolition in order to safeguard the integrity of the existing debris field," she said.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said the rescue work was halted after engineers discovered 6 to 12 inches of movement in a large column hanging from the structure that could fall and cause damage to the support columns in the sub-terrain garage area, as well as slight movement in concrete floor slabs on the south side of the structure near north and south corner of building that could cause additional failure of the building.
Critical points around the site have been monitored with sensors since the rescue operation began, said Scott Nacheman, a structures specialist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He said there were alarming indications of movement Wednesday night at three locations.
“What was of specific concern was that over the last six days we had not seen that type of significant movement, or in some locations any movement in those elements of the structure,” Nacheman said Thursday during a briefing for family members.
Rescuers also use laser devices that can detect shifts of a few millimeters, Cominsky said.
“We are constantly monitoring the building,” he said.
Heavy equipment in the rubble pile caused vibrations, according to Nacheman. Rain has also been entering exposed parts of the building, saturating items and adding weight to the floors.
Covering parts of the structure to prevent further water damage or tearing down the building risks additional loss of life because those steps would require sending people back inside, Nacheman said. Demolition would also add debris on top of areas that have already been cleared of rubble.
The halt came as rescue crews and relatives of those still missing were meeting with President Joe Biden on Thursday, while the death toll from the tragedy stood at 18 but was expected to rise.
Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrived in South Florida to thank first responders and search and rescue teams, and to meet with the families of victims.
"This is life and death,” Biden said. “We can do it, just the simple act of everyone doing what needs to be done, makes a difference.”
“There’s gonna be a lot of pain and anxiety and suffering and even the need for psychological help in the days and months that follow," he said. "And so, we’re not going anywhere.”
At a meeting Thursday morning, Biden spoke with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who thanked the president for the federal support in the aftermath.
"You recognized the severity of this tragedy from day one and you’ve been very supportive," DeSantis said.
Biden said his administration would continue to help in any way they can and mentioned that the federal government could pay for the rescue operations.
“I think I have the power…to pick up 100% of the cost,” Biden said. "We're not going anywhere."
The president's visit comes a week after Champlain Towers South, a 12-story beachfront condominium building in Surfside, suddenly came crashing down, leaving a pancaked rubble.
Search crews going through the ruins found the remains of six people Wednesday, bringing the number of confirmed dead to 18. The number of residents unaccounted for stands at 145.
Magaly Delgado, 80, was the latest victim police identified Thursday night. Delgado lived in unit 911, her daughter told NBC 6. Crews recovered her body on Wednesday.
Friday, St. Joseph Catholic Church announced a new schedule of prayer services that can be seen by clicking on this link.
Levine Cava said during a Wednesday evening briefing that two children were among the dead. Sisters Lucia Guara, 10, and Emma Guara, 4, were recovered Wednesday, as well as their mother, 42-year-old Anaely Rodriguez, who is also known as Ana Guara. The remains of their father, Marcus Guara, 52, were pulled from the rubble Saturday.
During a meeting with families Wednesday, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Ray Jadallah said officials are concerned about the stability of the portion of the building that was still standing.
“What we know is that the columns on the east side of the building are kind of, of concern, not compromised, but just right now of concern," Jadallah said. “Hypothetically, worst-case scenario: If these columns are truly really bad, we are worried they could collapse right back into the parking garage.”
Families were asking if they could add tensions rods but he said structural engineers say that is not possible.
DeSantis said state engineers, the fire department and county officials are exploring options on how to deal with the structural concerns.
“Obviously, we believe that continuing searching is very, very important,” DeSantis said, adding that the state will ”provide whatever resources they need" to allow the search to continue.
A team of technical experts from the federal government and outside specialists are going to gather building material samples and study soil conditions in order to determine the engineering reasons behind the collapse.
The team assembled by the National Institute of Standards and Technology will gather evidence and analyze data in order to determine the cause of the collapse. Team members also will evaluate whether building codes, standards and practices need to be changed.
A 2018 engineering report found that the building's ground-floor pool deck was resting on a concrete slab that had “major structural damage” and needed extensive repairs. The report also found “abundant cracking" of concrete columns, beams and walls in the parking garage.
Just two months before the building came down, the president of its board wrote a letter to residents saying that structural problems identified in the 2018 inspection had “gotten significantly worse” and that major repairs would cost at least $15.5 million. With bids for the work still pending, the building suddenly collapsed last Thursday.
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