Miami, Jun 26 (EFE).- The search for possible survivors of the partial collapse of a 12-story residential building in South Florida reached the critical stage on Saturday.
Nearly three days after the disaster in Surfside, just north of Miami Beach, a fire burning amid the rubble of the Champlain Towers South condominium complex was making it increasingly difficult for rescue crews to work even as 159 people remained unaccounted for.
The official death toll stands at four, while 127 people have been rescued.
“We’re facing incredible difficulties with this fire,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told a press conference at the scene. “It’s a very deep fire.”
“We’re using everything possible to address this fire. We’re using infrared technology, we’re using foam, we’re using water and all the tactics we can to contain the fire,” she said.
The mayor sought to give encouragement to people whose loved ones are feared trapped in the wreckage.
“We continue to have hope. We’re continuing to search. We’re looking for people alive in the rubble. That is our priority and our teams have not stopped,” Levine Cava said.
She was joined at the briefing by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who said that the fire seemed to have grown in the last 48 hours.
“If you were there the morning after, you didn’t see it smoldering like it is now,” he said. “The stench is very thick, and it obviously has created quite an obstacle.”
Spanish chef Jose Andres brought his World Central Kitchen operation to the site on Saturday to provide meals for the teams working around the clock, an effort supported by players from Miami sports teams such as the NBA Heat and the NFL Dolphins.
Reflecting the international character of the area, the list of people unaccounted for includes at least 25 people from Latin America and a score of Israelis.
The Paraguayan government announced that the sister of the country’s first lady was among the missing, along with her husband and the couple’s three children.
Television station Local 10 reported Saturday that the mother of Carlos Noriega, police chief in the Miami-area municipality of North Bay Village, is also missing.
Hilda Noriega, 92, has been a resident of the building for two decades.
Running in parallel with the search for survivors is the search for the cause of the disaster.
Late Friday, the Surfside city government posted on its website the report written by the engineering consultant who conducted an inspection of Champlain Towers South in 2018 pursuant to county regulations requiring recertification of 40-year-old buildings.
Frank Morabito detailed “major structural damage” that included “abundant cracking” in the “concrete columns, beams, and walls” of the ground-floor parking garage.
He stated that repairs would be necessary for “maintaining the structural integrity” of the building.
Kenneth Direktor, an attorney representing the condo association, told The New York Times that the recommended repairs had been scheduled to begin soon. EFE jip/dr