Miami condo collapse death toll now at 11, full investigation promised
(Update 1: Changes figures of dead and missing in headline, lede and par 2)
Miami, Jun 28 (EFE).- Rescue teams working against the clock for a fifth day at the site of the partial collapse of a 12-story condominium building in Miami’s Surfside neighborhood recovered the bodies of two victims Monday, raising the death toll to 11.
The number of people missing in the building collapse currently stands at 150, while the number of people who were in the building at the time of the disaster but survived stands at 136, according to Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who promised to “get to the bottom” of the matter in the investigation to determine the causes of the tragedy.
Levine Cava, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who represents the Surfside district, and the heads of the rescue teams appeared before reporters after informing the relatives of the known victims and the missing of the latest developments.
Ray Jadallah, the Miami-Dade assistant fire chief, said that on Monday afternoon rescue workers were going to shift their positions on the mountain of debris so that their machinery could lift a huge slab of reinforced concrete off an area where several bodies have been found in recent days.
For as yet undetermined causes, the northeast wing of the Champlain Towers building, constructed in 1981 and with a total of 136 apartments, pancaked down within seconds at 1:30 am last Thursday, June 24, while most of the residents there were sleeping.
Fifty-five apartments were destroyed and now comprise the huge mound of rubble where more than 240 emergency personnel are working on different tasks but with a single priority – finding survivors – according to Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett.
The mayor said that although five days have passed since the collapse it remains possible that survivors may be found in voids amid the ruins, as previous experience with earthquakes and other similar catastrophes has shown.
The majority of the dead identified so far are of Hispanic origin, along with many of the rescue workers, including teams dispatched from other parts of the US and also from Mexico and Israel.
Among the dead are Antonio and Gladyz Lozano, a Cuban-American couple aged 83 and 79, respectively, who – relatives said – were afraid of being separated by the death of one of them and would have celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary in July.
Venezuelans Leon Oliwkowicz, 80, and Cristina Beatriz Elvira, 74, had also been married for many years.
Another identified fatality is Manuel LaFont, 54, from Houston, who liked to play basketball with his son in a nearby park.
Ana Ortiz, 46, and Luis Bermudez, 26, were a mother and son from Puerto Rico.
The first body to be identified was that of American Stacie Dawn Fang, 54, whose 15-year-old sone Johan Handler was pulled alive from the ruins on Thursday and is recovering from his injuries in a local hospital.
The priority remains to find survivors or the remains of victims, but authorities are also examining the wreckage for clues to the possible causes of the building’s collapse.
The Surfside city hall has given a team of engineers headed by veteran Allyn Kilsheimer the task of determining how the building’s northeast wing could have collapsed from top to bottom in just a few seconds.
Kilsheimer, with KCE Structural Engineers, told reporters after visiting the site that no visible evidence has yet been found of any significant structural failure.
In addition, the Surfside city hall on Monday published a new list of documents that are in its files regarding Champlain Towers showing that, as in other documents released earlier, the building had structural and other problems.
Among those problems are some identified in 2019 where the members of the building’s owners association expressed their concern to the municipality about the effects that the construction of another big building nearby could have on Champlain Towers.
A year before, a report by an engineering firm had indicated that the building had suffered “major structural damage” in part due to the fact that an impermeable concrete slab near the pool had been located badly, a situation that prevented water from draining from that spot properly. The firm had recommended that repairs be made to the site to correct the problem.