The mayor of Surfside, Fla., says rescue workers have stopped combing through the rubble closest to the still-standing portion of a partly collapsed condo building, after pieces of debris fell from the structure and fears mounted that the rest of the complex could come crashing down.
Mayor Charles Burkett toured the site of the disaster in the Miami suburb on Tuesday morning. He said searchers had erected a line of cones cordoning off a section of the rubble pile at the west end of the site after overnight debris strikes.
“It feels like there’s a really long road here,” he told The Globe and Mail near the scene, adding that “there is a worry” the rest of the Champlain Towers South building could collapse. “Nobody knows.”
The fears over rescuers’ safety is the latest hurdle on the sixth day of the search, which has also been held up by daily thunder showers and has previously encountered fires burning in the wreckage.
The White House, meanwhile, announced that President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden will visit Surfside Thursday to meet with families of the dead and missing.
Sixteen people have been confirmed dead since the collapse last Thursday, with 145 – including four Canadians – still missing and believed trapped. Working in 12-hour shifts, with 210 searchers on the mound at a time, workers have so far moved more than 1.3 million kilograms of detritus, the Miami-Dade County Fire Department said.
Mr. Burkett said crews have made progress at the eastern end of the site: Enough rubble there has now been moved that the inside of the underground parking lot is visible.
Colonel Golan Vach, head of an Israeli military rescue team dispatched to the site, said there was still a chance more people would be found alive. Two survivors were pulled from the rubble in the early hours of the rescue. Col. Vach recounted one case in which a man in a collapsed grocery store survived for more than a month.
“The last man to get out alive from this supermarket was after 33 days,” he told the mayor in a brief conversation at a park near the rescuers’ staging area.
Such hopes were sustaining the friends and family of the missing.
Anthony Blate, a retired securities broker, said he awoke at 4 a.m. on the day of the collapse to a text message from a friend alerting him to the disaster. He rushed to the scene, thinking of Arnold and Myriam Notkin, two of his friends who live in Champlain South. Six days later, they have not been found.
“It’s a building I drove by every day. To stand in front of it is a strange experience,” he said on the beach near the site, as cranes and excavators moved atop the debris pile.
Recriminations, meanwhile, mounted.
Katherine Fernandez Rundle, Miami-Dade’s chief prosecutor, announced that she would empower a grand jury to investigate the collapse. A group of building residents, meanwhile, filed a lawsuit against the condo board. And CNN revealed a letter from the board president to neighbours in April warning of worsening damage in the building.
The missive said concrete was cracking, rebar was rusting and the roof needed repair. An engineering inspection from 2018 prepared for the condo board had flagged a problem with the pool deck’s waterproofing that had allowed water to accumulate and deteriorate concrete in the parking garage below.
“The observable damage such as in the garage has gotten significantly worse since the initial inspection,” the letter said.
Carolina Sheir, a Hollywood, Fla., lawyer who specializes in condo-board law, said water damage is relatively common in the state’s condominium buildings. And it isn’t unusual for a board to take years to make major repairs.
“These are not issues that I have not seen before,” she said. “It can be several years, depending on budgeting and the scope of the work, before you can move on it.”
Well-wishers, meanwhile, came from around the state and the country to offer hope that more survivors will be found.
Augustin and Mayra Duran of Dallas had already planned a beach holiday, booking a hotel down the street from Champlain South, when they saw the collapse on television. On Thursday, they stopped by a memorial wall on a chain-link fence near the site, gazing at photos of the missing as their son, Antonio, crossed himself.
“It breaks our hearts,” Mr. Duran said.
Michelle Cash and Rich Gausman, who run a yoga studio up the coast in Fort Lauderdale, held an evening vigil on the beach in Surfside on Monday. Sitting in a circle of candles, Mr. Gausman created vibrations on a series of crystal instruments while Ms. Cash led the crowd through positive-thinking exercises.
“Nobody is unaffected by such a tragedy,” she said.
For some of those most touched, Mayor Burkett said, patience is wearing thin. During a briefing with the families of the missing early Tuesday, he said, one person asked why rescuers couldn’t work through the frequent bouts of bad weather.
“The speaker said: ‘They are already risking their lives anyway,’” Mr. Burkett recounted at a press conference. “‘They’re working in a building that could fall down. Why do we have to stop for lightning?’”
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