What to Know
- The search for survivors at the site of a collapsed Surfside condo reached its seventh day Wednesday
- One more body was recovered Tuesday, bringing the death toll from the collapse to 12. Officials said 149 people remain unaccounted for
- The White House announced that President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will be traveling to Surfside on Thursday
The slow work of sifting through the remnants of a collapsed South Florida condo building stretched into a seventh day Wednesday, as families desperate for progress endured a wrenching wait for answers.
Elected officials pledged to conduct multiple investigations into the collapse of the 12-story Champlain Towers South in Surfside, vowing to convene a grand jury and to look closely “at every possible angle” to prevent any other building from experiencing such a catastrophic failure.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said she and her staff will meet with engineering, construction and geology experts, among others, to review building safety issues and develop recommendations "to ensure a tragedy like this will never, ever happen again.”
State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said she will pursue a grand jury investigation to examine factors and decisions that led to Thursday’s collapse. Another victim was recovered Tuesday, bringing the confirmed death toll to 12, with 149 people unaccounted for.
CONDO COLLAPSE LATEST
“We have people waiting and waiting and waiting for news," Levine Cava told reporters. "We have them coping with the news that they might not have their loved ones come out alive and still hope against hope that they will. They’re learning that some of their loved ones will come out as body parts. This is the kind of information that is just excruciating for everyone.”
The work has been deliberate and treacherous. Thunderstorms rolled through the area Tuesday morning, and debris fell onto the search area overnight from the shattered edge of the part of the building that still stands, forcing rescuers to mark a "don't go beyond here" line and focus their efforts parts of the debris pile that are farther from the structure, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said.
Meanwhile, the White House announced that President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden would be traveling to Surfside on Thursday.
Biden has offered federal help and extended his concerns to the community as people “grieve their lost loved ones and wait anxiously as search and rescue efforts continue,” as he said in one tweet.
One body was recovered Tuesday, raising the count of confirmed dead to 12. That leaves 149 people still unaccounted for in the community of Surfside, just outside Miami. 125 people remain accounted for.
State officials said in Tuesday evening's briefing that they have requested help from the federal government. Kevin Guthries of the Florida Division of Emergency Management said his agency had requested an additional search and rescue team from the federal government, and that one would likely be coming from Virginia.
Guthries said state officials want to rotate some of their teams out, so that they’re on hand in case they have to deal with possible severe weather in the coming days.
Authorities are meeting frequently with families to explain what they're doing and answer questions. They have discussed with families everything from how DNA matches are made to help identify the dead, to how will next of kin be contacted, to going into "extreme detail" about how they are searching the mound, the mayor said.
Armed with that knowledge, she said, families are coming to their own conclusions.
"Some are feeling more hopeful, some less hopeful, because we do not have definitive answers. We give them the facts. We take them to the site," she said. "They have seen the operation. They understand now how it works, and they are preparing themselves for news, one way or the other."
At Tuesday's news conference, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the search would continue as hope remained.
"People ask 'Is there hope?' or 'What's gonna happen?' The way I look at it as an old Navy guy is, when somebody's missing in action in the military, you're missing until you're found, and we don't stop the search," DeSantis said. "Those first responders are breaking their back trying to find anybody they can. They are gonna continue to do that."
Rescuers are using bucket brigades and heavy machinery as they work atop a precarious mound of pulverized concrete, twisted steel and the remnants of dozens of households. The efforts include firefighters, sniffer dogs and search experts using radar and sonar devices.
"We're moving debris piece-by-piece and searching through. We've moved over approximately three million pounds of concrete at this time, which equates to over 850 cubic feet," Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said. "We keep moving, we keep trying. From the get go from what we saw, devastating, okay, but we continue moving forward and continue pushing."
MORE ON THE COLLAPSE VICTIMS
Authorities said it's still a search-and-rescue operation, but no one has been found alive since hours after the collapse on Thursday.
The pancake collapse of the building left layer upon layer of intertwined debris, frustrating efforts to reach anyone who may have survived in a pocket of space.
“Every time there’s an action, there’s a reaction,” Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Ray Jadallah said during a news conference Monday. "It’s not an issue of we could just attach a couple of cords to a concrete boulder and lift it and call it a day." Some of the concrete pieces are smaller, the size of basketballs or baseballs.
From outside a neighboring building on Monday, more than two dozen family members watched teams of searchers excavate the building site. Some held onto each other for support. Others hugged and prayed. Some people took photos.
Authorities insisted they are not losing hope.
Deciding to transition from search-and-rescue work to a recovery operation is agonizing, said Dr. Joseph A. Barbera, a professor at George Washington University. That decision is fraught with considerations, he said, that only those on the ground can make.
Barbera coauthored a study examining disasters where some people survived under rubble for prolonged periods of time. He has also advised teams on where to look for potential survivors and when to conclude “that the probability of continued survival is very, very small.”
“It’s an incredibly difficult decision, and I’ve never had to make that decision,” Barbera said.
The building collapsed just days before a deadline for condo owners to start making steep payments toward more than $9 million in repairs that had been recommended nearly three years earlier, in a report that warned of "major structural damage."
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