Disasters & Accidents

Florida condo collapse death toll rises to 12 amid search ‘frustration’

(Update: Adjusts death toll/missing figures, changes lede, headline, minor edits)

Miami, US, Jun 29 (EFE).- The death toll in the collapse of a 12-story apartment building in Surfside, Florida, rose to 12 Tuesday with the discovery of another body in the ruins, and as the number of people listed as missing dropped to 149.

In the first press conference of the day, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said to the despair of the families and friends of the missing that Monday’s figures had not changed, but on Tuesday afternoon she reported a new confirmed fatality.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said on Tuesday that relatives and friends of the missing have been expressing anger and “frustration” as they wait for the seemingly ever-more-unlikely finding of their loved ones alive amid the ruins.

Levine Cava and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appeared before the media along with the heads of the various departments involved in the search and rescue operation, but were able to say only that rescue workers were doing everything in their power and “breaking their backs” to find survivors.

On Tuesday morning 210 emergency personnel were working at the disaster site and they will be relieved after their 12-hour shifts by other personnel, Levine Cava said.

In all, more than 800 people are assigned to the operation, working on different tasks, the officials said at their press conference.

Levine Cava said that they had enough personnel to do the job and they are “the best in the world” at such tasks, going on to express gratitude for President Joe Biden’s announcement that he intends to visit the site “as soon as Thursday.”

Last Thursday at 1.30 am, 55 apartments of the 136 in the Champlain Towers South condo building, built in 1981, collapsed in pancake fashion for as yet undetermined reasons that are being intensively investigated.

As per different sources and documents, it is known at present that since 2018 there have been reports that the building had structural problems that needed to be addressed.

In April 2021, the president of the condo board reported that the deterioration of the reinforced concrete detected by an engineering firm three years prior was progressing rapidly, as local media reported Tuesday.

Levine Cava said on Tuesday that South Florida legal authorities are looking to appoint a grand jury to investigate the tragedy, saying that she supported that move.

The reports, as well as the scanty results of the grueling and difficult search operation, are feeding the frustrations of relatives of the missing.

According to the Miami-Dade County mayor, the list of missing people is not “definitive,” and authorities are trying to gather information from the consulates of several countries to create a more precise list of who might have been staying in their apartments in the building when it collapsed.

Among the missing are people from Israel, Cuba, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Venezuela. There are also foreigners among the known dead.

Miami-Dade fire chief Alan Cominsky emphasized the difficulty and the risks of working on the search teams as well as the great efforts being made by rescue workers, who come not only from the US but also from Mexico and Israel.

He said that workers have been tirelessly removing the mountain of rubble piece by piece for the past six days.

With the help of heavy machinery, tons of debris have been removed so far, but over the past six days difficulties have arisen due to a fire that broke out in the lower portion of the rubble pile, producing potentially toxic smoke, as well as with heavy rain and thunderstorms.

Burkett said that another concern for rescue teams is that pieces of the uncollapsed part of the building are beginning to fall to the ground.

On the day of the collapse, one survivor was found amid the rubble, and the heads of the rescue teams and local authorities have been saying that it remains possible that other people may still be found alive in voids within the ruins, as has occurred in other similar disasters.

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