Miami, Jun 30 (EFE).- Rescue teams are tirelessly removing rubble from the huge mound of debris resulting from the partial collapse of a 12-story condo building in Surfside, Florida, and – so far – the confirmed death toll stands at 16, although another 147 people are missing or unaccounted for.
Rescue and recovery efforts are in their seventh day and the task is being made difficult by rain and the threat of a tropical storm moving in the direction of the Miami metro area, where Surfside is located.
At a press conference near site of the Champlain Towers – which collapsed at 1:30 am on June 24 – Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced the new death toll figure of 16, reducing the number of people on the missing list to 147, while 139 people who were in the condo complex – albeit in uncollapsed wings – at the time of the tragedy survived.
Levine Cava promised that authorities would do everything humanly possible to get through this crisis together.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Levine Cava on Wednesday discussed how the tropical waves moving toward the Caribbean across the Atlantic could give rise to named tropical storms and hinder rescue and recovery efforts.
DeSantis said that the Atlantic Hurricane Season has already begun and the systems brewing in the Atlantic Ocean are being taken “very seriously,” adding that the necessary measures will be taken to respond to a potential hurricane.
The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said Wednesday that a low pressure system moving toward the Antilles has an 80 percent probability of becoming a tropical depression within the next five days, a forecast that has put local and state agencies on alert.
Kevin Guthrie, the emergency management director for Florida, said that a federal team will arrive in South Florida on Wednesday to help out if a tropical storm hits the area.
Levine Cava mentioned 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.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said that search dogs being used in the operation are not bothered by bad weather.
Miami-Dade County fire chief Alan Cominsky said that the rescue teams are working hard and are operating at an extremely difficult and dangerous site.
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 two million pounds of debris and rubble.
At the press conference, the first of two being offered by officials each day at the site, the officials also spoke about the attention being provided to the families of the victims and the missing, and the authorities thanked the 26 organizations of all kinds that have personnel at the aid center established in a nearby hotel.
They emphasized that at least 30 families have received economic and emotional support so far.
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.
In the letter, Wodnicki pointed to cracked concrete and rusting metal bars within the reinforced concrete at the base of the structure.
On 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.