(Updates with new death toll, press conference, lawsuit, minor edits throughout)
Miami, Jun 30 (EFE).- The seventh day of rescue crews sifting through the debris of the collapsed condo building in Surfside, Florida, brought the number of bodies found to 18, as the authorities Wednesday dealt with rain and the threat of a possible tropical cyclone.
The latest bodies recovered are those of two children, aged 4 and 10, authorities announced.
These are the first minors found so far. Until now, the youngest victim was a 26-year-old of Puerto Rican origin.
At an evening press conference near Champlain Towers South, which collapsed in the early morning of June 24 in a matter of seconds, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced that the number of people missing now sits at 145, with 139 accounted for.
A team from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is already on site to take samples and study aspects of the building’s design and condition, will do its own investigation.
At the press conference it was also reported that there are contingency plans in view of the possibility of a fifth tropical cyclone forming in the Atlantic.
All representatives of emergency management agencies who spoke at the press conference said they have eyes on two systems advancing from the west towards the Caribbean Sea, with one a potential threat.
Levine Cava said that heavy rain has hampered work at the site of the building collapse right from the start, but rescue workers have not halted their efforts and they will continue working.
The rescue teams, using heavy machinery, have begun removing the rubble from the pool area and underground parking garage.
A total of 55 units in the 136-unit condo complex were destroyed in the disaster, creating some 1,000 tons of debris and rubble.
Meanwhile, an investigation into the causes of the collapse is in its early stages, although it has been known since at least 2018 that Champlain Towers – built in 1981 – had “major structural damage” that needed to be rectified.
In addition, when the building collapsed it was undergoing repair work to its roof with an eye toward receiving the required safety certification by local authorities.
Also, the documents on the building found so far suggest potential negligence on the part of a Surfside official who in 2018 said that Champlain Towers was in “good shape” despite the engineering report saying the opposite.
In addition, in a letter dated in April 2021, the president of the building’s condo board, Jean Wodnicki, said that the deterioration of the structure was worsening and repairs totaling up to $15 million would be necessary.
A fourth lawsuit was filed Wednesday by relatives of Harold Rosenberg, who resided in Unit 211 and is missing along with one of his children and his daughter-in-law who were visiting, according to the lawyer who filed the lawsuit, cited by the Miami Herald newspaper.
Also Wednesday, national media outlets reported that a third lawsuit had been filed on Monday against the condo association by Raysa Rodriguez, a resident living on the ninth floor of the building, as well as by other residents.
Levine Cava said at the press conference that local authorities will cooperate with the investigation by a grand jury that the county prosecutor’s office has requested and that an audit of all buildings over four stories in height and 40 years old or more will be conducted.
Experts say that the land is sinking in the area, salt water is corroding local infrastructure and the sea level is rising, all of which they point to as factors that could have been involved in the tragedy. EFE